Wildlife Summit to Vote on Shark Protections 

Delegates at a global summit on trade in endangered species were scheduled to decide Thursday whether to approve a proposal to protect sharks, a move that could drastically reduce the lucrative and often cruel shark fin trade. The proposal would place dozens of species of the requiem shark and the hammerhead shark families on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The appendix lists species that may not yet be threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade in them is closely controlled. If Thursday’s plenary meeting gives the green light, “it would be a historic decision,” Panamanian delegate Shirley Binder told AFP. “For the first time, CITES would be handling a very large number of shark species, which would be approximately 90% of the market,” she said. Spurring the trade is the insatiable Asian appetite for shark fins, which make their way onto dinner tables in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Despite being described as gelatinous and almost tasteless, shark fin soup is viewed as a delicacy and is enjoyed by the very wealthy, often at weddings and expensive banquets. Shark fins, representing a market of about $500 million per year, can sell for about $1,000 a kilogram. From villain to conservation darling Sharks have long been seen as the villain of the seas they have occupied for more than 400 million years, terrifying people with their depiction in films such as “Jaws” and their occasional attacks on humans. However, these ancient predators …

Eco-warrior Paul Watson, Scourge of Whalers, Returns to the Seas

Canadian-American eco-warrior Paul Watson, ousted from the Sea Shepherd conservationist organization he founded, says he is back in business with a new ship and crew and is ready to resume tormenting the world’s whalers and others he sees as despoilers of the world’s oceans.  “After being knocked down, we have fully recovered and we’re ready to return to battle on the high seas,” Watson declared in a digital announcement earlier this month. “The new Captain Paul Watson Foundation is here and it’s ready to aggressively take on all enemies that look to do harm to our ocean and our planet.” Watson is among the most controversial figures in the environmental movement, in and out of legal trouble on several continents over aggressive tactics, which have included ramming and sinking or fouling the propellers of whaling vessels. Some of his exploits have been portrayed in the reality TV series Whale Wars, shown on Animal Planet. His advocacy of “direct action” led to him being ousted in 1977 from the board of Greenpeace, where he was an early member, and his founding of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society where he gained notoriety as a scourge of Norwegian, Japanese and Icelandic whalers, who operate despite global ban on whaling under an exception allowing for research. Among his most dramatic actions was the sinking of two whaling vessels in a harbor in Iceland by his society members – an action for which Watson claimed personal responsibility. Over his career, such tactics led to legal …

Salt, Drought Decimate Buffaloes in Iraq’s Southern Marshes

Abbas Hashem fixed his worried gaze on the horizon — the day was almost gone and still, there was no sign of the last of his water buffaloes. He knows that when his animals don’t come back from roaming the marshes of this part of Iraq, they must be dead. The dry earth is cracked beneath his feet and thick layers of salt coat shriveled reeds in the Chibayish wetlands amid this year’s dire shortages in fresh water flows from the Tigris River. Hashem already lost five buffaloes from his herd of 20 since May, weakened with hunger and poisoned by the salty water seeping into the low-lying marshes. Other buffalo herders in the area say their animals have died, too, or produce milk that’s unfit to sell. “This place used to be full of life,” he said. “Now it’s a desert, a graveyard.” The wetlands — a lush remnant of the cradle of civilization and a sharp contrast to the desert that prevails elsewhere in the Middle East — were reborn after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, when dams he had built to drain the area and root out Shiite rebels were dismantled. But today, drought that experts believe is spurred by climate change and invading salt, coupled with lack of political agreement between Iraq and Turkey, are endangering the marshes, which surround the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Iraq. This year, acute water shortages — the worst in 40 years, according to the Food and Agriculture …

Senegal’s Women Gold Miners Carry Heavy Burden

Every few minutes, 14-month-old Awa coughs, the phlegm rising from deep within her chest. Her mother, Meta Ba, says Awa’s been coughing that way for as long as she can remember. Ba, who suffers from chronic migraines, works as an artisanal gold miner in Senegal’s far eastern region of Kedougou, near the borders of Mali and Guinea. Gold mining in Senegal plays a key role in the country’s economy, but the use of mercury during the treatment process is harming the environment and the health of the miners. In Kedougou, home to 98% of Senegal’s gold mines, more than five tons of mercury are used annually. Health experts say the heavy metal attacks the nervous, digestive and immune systems. It can harm the lungs and kidneys and impair hearing, balance, vision, thinking and breathing. It can also cause birth defects. Women make up half of the miners and are charged with treating the gold after it is mined, which involves mixing mercury with ore, then vaporizing the mercury to isolate the gold. They do so without gloves or masks. Some of the female miners have visible health conditions, such large growths stemming from their throats and drooping red eyes. They often carry their children with them to work, causing both to suffer the health consequences. “She is still breastfeeding, so I can’t leave her at home,” Ba said. “If I don’t come here to work, how will I survive? How will I make a living?” But Kedougou’s gold mines are …

China’s Daily COVID Cases Highest Since Pandemic Began

China’s daily COVID cases have climbed to the highest since the pandemic began, official data showed Thursday, despite the government persisting with a zero-tolerance approach involving grueling lockdowns and travel restrictions. The numbers are relatively small when compared with China’s vast population of 1.4 billion and the caseloads seen in Western countries at the height of the pandemic. But under Beijing’s strict zero-COVID policy, even small outbreaks can shut down entire cities and place contacts of infected patients into strict quarantine. The country recorded 31,454 domestic cases — 27,517 without symptoms — on Wednesday, the National Health Bureau said. The unrelenting zero-COVID push has caused fatigue and resentment among swathes of the population as the pandemic’s third anniversary approaches, sparking sporadic protests and hitting productivity in the world’s second-largest economy. On Wednesday, violent protests erupted at Foxconn’s vast iPhone factory in central China, with video showing dozens of hazmat-clad personnel wielding batons and chasing employees. The latest figures exceed the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when megacity Shanghai was under lockdown, with residents struggling to buy food and access medical care. Several cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing have tightened COVID restrictions as cases surge. The capital now requires a negative PCR test result within 48 hours for those seeking to enter public places such as shopping malls, hotels and government buildings, Beijing authorities said. Schools across the city have moved to online classes. The southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou — where nearly a third of the latest COVID …

40 Million Children Face Growing Threat of Measles, WHO Warns

More than 40 million children missed getting vaccinated against measles last year, prompting a significant setback in global efforts to eradicate the highly contagious disease worldwide, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint report Wednesday. Vaccination campaigns were disrupted in several countries because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, dropping global measles-containing vaccine (MCV) coverage from 86% in 2019 to 81% in 2021, the lowest coverage rate since 2008.    Now, nearly all of the 40 million children who missed their first or second doses of the MCV are “dangerously susceptible to [a] growing measles threat,” the report warned.     “The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on lifesaving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.    “The record number of children underimmunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, CDC director. Last year, about 9 million measles cases were reported around the world, with 128,000 deaths.     Over the last two decades, successful MCV campaigns have helped prevent an estimated 56 million deaths globally, according to WHO.     Ten countries in Asia and Africa – India, Somalia, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Liberia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Congo …

Explainer: Why Was Indonesia’s Shallow Quake So Deadly?

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake left more than 260 dead and hundreds injured as buildings crumbled and terrified residents ran for their lives on Indonesia’s main island of Java. Bodies continued to be pulled from the debris on Tuesday morning in the hardest-hit city of Cianjur, located in the country’s most densely populated province of West Java and some 217 kilometers (135 miles) south of the capital, Jakarta. A number of people are still missing. While the magnitude would typically be expected to cause light damage to buildings and other structures, experts say proximity to fault lines, the shallowness of the quake and inadequate infrastructure that cannot withstand earthquakes all contributed to the damage. Here’s a closer look at the earthquake and some reasons why it caused so much devastation: Was Monday’s earthquake considered “strong”? The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake late Monday afternoon measured 5.6 magnitude and struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Quakes of this size usually don’t cause widespread damage to well-built infrastructure. But the agency points out, “There is not one magnitude above which damage will occur. It depends on other variables, such as the distance from the earthquake, what type of soil you are on, building construction” and other factors. Dozens of buildings were damaged in Indonesia, including Islamic boarding schools, a hospital and other public facilities. Also damaged were roads and bridges, and parts of the region experienced power blackouts. So why did the quake cause so much damage? Experts said …

White House Urges Americans to Get COVID, Flu Shots Before Year-End

The White House brought out two of the nation’s top doctors Tuesday to urge all Americans to update their COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations in the next six weeks as the holiday season approaches. The nearly $500 million effort will focus on reaching older Americans and communities hardest hit by the virus, which has killed more than 1 million and infected nearly 100 million in the U.S. since the pandemic began.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently reporting a “substantial” decrease in weekly deaths, which it attributes to two factors. The first is high levels of population immunity, which are a result of either vaccination or prior infection. The second is improvements in early treatment for high-risk patients. The White House said it would increase vaccination efforts over the next six weeks by investing $350 million into community health centers for vaccination events or activities that encourage vaccination. The federal Department of Health and Human Services will also award $125 million in grants to organizations that serve older adults and people with disabilities so they can support those communities. Additionally, the federal agency that oversees the government-funded health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid now has expanded powers to enforce compliance from nursing homes, which are required to offer vaccines to residents. The U.S. has donated 665.2 million vaccine doses to 116 countries, the White House said. And last week, the Biden administration asked Congress for $1 billion in supplemental funding for global COVID-19 efforts. That funding, the White …

Fauci Pleads With Americans to Get COVID Shot in Final White House Briefing

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. health official celebrated and vilified as the face of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response, used his final White House briefing on Tuesday to denounce division and promote vaccines. Fauci, who plans to retire soon as President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser and top U.S. infectious disease official, has dealt with the thorny questions around health crises from HIV/AIDS to avian flu and Ebola. But it was his handling of COVID — and his blunt assessments from the White House podium that Americans needed to change their behavior in light of the pandemic — that made him a hero to public health advocates while serving under President Donald Trump, a villain to some on the right and an unusual celebrity among bureaucratic officials used to toiling in obscurity. Fauci has regularly been subjected to death threats for his efforts. True to form, Fauci used the final press briefing to strongly encourage Americans to get COVID vaccines and booster shots, and touted the effectiveness of masks, all of which became partisan totems in the United States. The United States leads the world in recorded COVID-19 deaths with more than 1 million. After 13 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines given worldwide, Fauci said, there is “clearly an extensive body of information” that indicates that they are safe. “When I see people in this country because of the divisiveness in our country … not getting vaccinated for reasons that have nothing to do with public health, but have to …

Botswana Introduces Injectable Antiretrovirals for HIV Treatment

Botswana has approved the use of injectable anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to improve adherence to HIV treatment. Minister of Health Edwin Dikoloti says the injections, given every two months, are more convenient than daily pills, which patients sometimes skip.  Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti said the use of injectable ARV medication will start next year, after the recent approval of the drug. “(The) government is working on introducing the injectable anti-retroviral medication soon. Botswana has, through the professional guidance of the clinical guidelines committee, adopted the use of injectable antiretroviral medicines given every two months, for both prevention and treatment,” said Dikoloti. Minister Dikoloti said the move will help alleviate concerns that patients are skipping their daily oral dose. “The injectable ARVs, for both prevention and treatment, will no doubt improve adherence to the HIV treatment in our country. The injectable ARV medication formula comprises cabotegravir and rilpivirine. The cabotegravir injection has already been registered by the Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority while rilpivirine is still undergoing the registration process,” said Dikoloti. HIV activist Bonosi Bino Segadimo said the introduction of injectable medication will not only help with compliance but could reduce the stigma associated with the virus that causes AIDS. “I believe the injectable ARVs will help a lot of people in terms of adherence because a lot of defaulting is caused by taking a pill every day. Some say the bottles (for oral pills) cause a lot of attention when they are in public from their appointments (at health facilities). It’s …