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Lithuanians are pissed

VILNIUS — Europes biggest drinkers have found plenty of ways around their countrys restrictive alcoh..

VILNIUS — Europes biggest drinkers have found plenty of ways around their countrys restrictive alcohol laws.

In Lithuania, underage 19-year-olds get their friends to buy them beer at the bar. Neighbors bring back cheaper vodka from across the border in Belarus, and octogenarians sell illegal homemade whiskey called “samogon” from their homes.

For those in pursuit of a drink, the governments restrictive laws implemented in 2017 to increase the drinking age to 20, cut selling hours and raise excise taxes are largely a nuisance.

But for the ruling Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), and the partys Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga, who has become the public face of the reforms, its a gamble that unpopular policies designed to combat a major public health problem will eventually pay off.

The perception, especially among younger voters, that Veryga and his center-right party are out-of-date and authoritarian will be tested this month when Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis stands for the party in the first round of the presidential election on May 12, and as LVŽS looks to win more than just the single seat it currently has in the European Parliament on May 26.

The country “will find a way to drink. Thats what Lithuanians do” — Marius Radušis

Veryga began an effort to decrease the nations alcohol consumption — the highest of any EU country, according to the most recent 2016 World Health Organization statistics — when he entered office in December 2016.

While Veryga calls the laws a “success,” theyve helped create an image that Veryga and the LVŽS — which is in coalition with the Social Democratic Labour Party — are a bunch of strict rule-setters. “We joke that Veryga would ban [90-degree] corners of a wall if he could,” 21-year-old student Erikas Dailidė said during an interview in a coffee shop in Vilnius.

Skvernelis is polling third in the presidential race, while LVŽS is predicted to come second behind the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats in the European election, mirroring its standing in national polls where it records 15 percent support. Veryga personally fares poorly, ranking as the second most unpopular politician in an April poll.

Critics of the alcohol laws dispute whether they have had any effect on most peoples consumption, even as they concede action is needed. Lithuania suffers from some of the worst rates of alcohol-related diseases, with the second highest rate of cardiovascular disease in the EU in 2016, and the highest number of deaths caused by tuberculosis in 2015.

A framed photo of the LVŽS party leader Ramūnas Karbauskis dressed in pagan garb looks on as people drink beer at Alaus Biblioteka | Jillian Deutsch/POLITICO

As 32-year-old Marius Radušis said over a non-alcoholic beer at a bar in Vilnius, with a framed photo of the LVŽS party leader Ramūnas Karbauskis dressed in pagan garb looking on (a bartender explained this was meant to be “ironic”): The country “will find a way to drink. Thats what Lithuanians do.”

A doctors charge

Veryga, previously a respected alcohol researcher at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences and a medical doctor, said in an interview that he was asked multiple times by other parties to become health minister. It wasnt until the LVŽS promised he could implement major public health reforms that he agreed.

In actioning his approach, Veryga essentially went down the list of the WHOs policy recommendations for decreasing alcohol consumption, starting with what the organization dubs its “best buys” for policymakers.

Other EU countries have taken steps to reduce drinking, such as Scotlands 2018 decision to implement a minimum unit price for alcohol. But no other country in the Union has done as much as Lithuania, and all at once, according to Carina Ferreira-Borges, the WHO Europe offices alcohol and illicit drugs program manager. She said the country has shown “clear leadership.”

People in Lithuania showed clear opposition. Young people, NGOs, the alcohol industry and opposition parties all argued against the laws — claiming people would purchase cheaper alcohol in other countries, that illegal trade and production would increase, or that they hindered individuals freedoms.

But despite those fears, “none of them came true,” said Veryga, sitting in his office in the Seimas parliament building with a small Lithuanian flag pinned to his jacket.

Government data suggests consumption has dropped by 1 liter of pure alcohol per person per year, “a huge decrease,” the minister said. The countrys coffers received an extra €80 million in 2018 from new excise taxes, and alcohol-related deaths dropped from approximately 900 in 2010 to 500 in 2018.

“It shows that despite all the measures said to stop alcohol consumption, its only success is that it clearly hits legal alcohol” — Kęstutis Kupšys, from the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations

Yet posts on a Facebook group devoted to mocking the health minister and his party are numerous. Theres a parody rap about him, in which the singer says the situation in the country is so bad he wants to emigrate, and features the refrain, “Who do I see when I close my eyes? Precious Veryga.”

Veryga reports he cant walk down the street without being stopped, a rare level of public recognition for a health minister.

“Hes not a really a popular figure,” said Deimantė Rimkutė, the youngest member of Vilnius City Council, who was 18 when the laws were introduced and led a charge against them on behalf of the Lithuanian Liberal Youth.

Anti-Veryga groups dispute the validity of the governments statistics. When the health minister raised the drinking age to 20, Rimkutė said she still went to bars and friends bought drinks for her. Many underage drinkers have switched their nights out for nights in, drinking in apartments, while others hustle to buy alcohol before stores stop selling it at 8 p.m. most nights, or 3 p.m. on Sundays.

At Rimkutės inauguration celebrations at the end of April, she said people in the ministries celebrated with champagne and wine — just as those in the parliament did last year — even though drinking is banned ingovernment institutions.

The shadow industry

Dailidė, a student at the Vilnius Vocational Education and Training Centre of Technology and Business, said his grandmother drinks just as much samogon now as she did when he was a little kid.

His “babushka” starts off an evening drinking around 250 milliliters of the throat-burning alcohol, Dailidė estimates, until she passes out and falls asleep. She continues drinking the next morning to cure her hangover, or “pachmiel.”
She buys samogon from a woman “up the hill” from her home in Klaipėda, Lithuanias major coastal city. With a liter selling for about €3, its affordable even for older people living on pensions or in poorer regions in the countryside.

Kęstutis Kupšys, a board member at the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations, has been tracking illegal sales of alcohol, cigarettes and fuel in the country for years on a website called “Šešėlio žemėlapis: Lithuania without a shadow.” He said that since excise taxes have increased, illegal trade and production have also risen.

Alcohol adverts in a Lithuanian magazine are covered with stickers | Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images

Kupšys said his site tracks more than 2,300 “tochkas,” or people who sell illegal products, with roughly 1,300 selling illegal alcohol since 2013. As those numbers only reflect those reported, he reasons the real activity must be much higher. “We will never get the true number,” Kupšys said.

“It shows that despite all the measures said to stop alcohol consumption, its only success is that it clearly hits legal alcohol,” he added.

Veryga disputes those claims. If there are more people drinking samogon, he asks, why arent more people arriving in hospitals highly intoxicated or with alcohol poisoning? He added that the government is helping to reduce the number of people addicted to alcohol through new counseling services.

Tomas Tomilinas, a member of parliament for LVŽS, said the partys alcohol policies were never intended to target addicts or people with long-term drinking problems, people like Dailidės babushka.

“I think that for the people that voted for our party, we showed that we can keep promises” — Aurelijus Veryga, Lithuanian health minister

“Of course people who are addicted … they should be treated with psychological care,” Tomilinas said, estimating that this affects 3-4 percent of the population.

The policies will instead help people who are at risk of becoming heavy drinkers, he said. “When you reduce consumption on Read More – Source

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Burkina Faso: Growing Violence Threatens Health Care

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, t..

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, the number of displaced has increased fivefold, from 50,000 last December, to 270,000 in August. As ever, the most vulnerable suffer most: the very young, and the very old.

When Alidou Sawadogos elderly mother fell ill, he faced a long and dangerous journey to get treatment for her.

“When she collapsed, a friend called me,” he explains. “By the time I arrived she was already unconscious. I decided to take her to the health center and luckily someone who had a motorcycle helped me. Because of the violence many people who are sick wait at home and die. Everyone is afraid of taking the road to the health center in Barsalogho.”

Across Burkina Faso, the rising insecurity has forced over a hundred health centers to close, or to limit their work. Half a million people now have little or no access to health care. Dedicated health workers, among them Dr Bertrand Dibli in Barsalogho, are struggling to meet the needs, and to stay safe themselves.

“This is one of the few health centers that isnt closed,” he says. “We dont have enough equipment. And the insecurity has caused huge anxiety among health workers. Even coming here to Barsalogho is a huge challenge because the route is so dangerous.”

The ICRC has been working to support Burkina Fasos health professionals, with medical kits, and vaccination campaigns. During his visit to the country, ICRC President Peter Maurer expressed his concern at the multiple challenges facing Burkina Fasos people.

“We are very concerned,” he said. “Very worried about the upsurge in violence, its a vicious circle that is trapping the civilian population between armed groups.”

“We also see,” Mr Maurer added, “that it is not only the violence that is affecting the country, it is also under development, and climate change. Together with the violence that is obstructing the health services, its an accumulation of factors.”

And so the ICRC – jointly with the Burkinabé Red Cross – is also delivering food to the displaced, and helping to improve access to water supplies. All of this, says nurse Jeanette Kientega, is desperately needed by a population uprooted by conflict, and denied access to basic health care.

“By the time they are able to get here, it is often too late” she says. “Sometimes we can help, but if they have already been ill a long time, it is difficult. We try to do what we can.” (more…)

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World Bank and WHO Statement on Partnership & Deployment of Financing to WHO for Ebola Response in DRC

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the G..

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Government and other key partners, are working in close partnership on the Ebola Crisis Response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Central to this partnership is the assessment of the financing needs, and deployment of resources, with the goal to put an end to the current deadly outbreak.

The World Bank is today announcing that US$50 million in funding is to be released to WHO for its lifesaving operational work on the frontlines of the outbreak. The WHO is announcing that this US$50 million in funds will close the financing gap for its emergency health response in DRC through to the end of September 2019, and is calling on other partners to mirror this generous support in order to fund the response through to December.

The funding comprises US$30 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) and US$20 million from the World Bank. The US$50 million in grant funding is part of the larger financial package of approximately US$300 million that the World Bank announced last month to support the fourth Strategic Response Plan for the DRC Ebola outbreak.

“WHO is very grateful for the World Banks support, which fills a critical gap in our immediate needs for Ebola response efforts in DRC, and will enable the heroic workers on the frontlines of this fight to continue their lifesaving work,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. “We keenly await further funding from other partners to sustain the response through to the end of the year.”

The DRC government, working in collaboration with the World Bank, WHO, and other key partners, has finalized the Fourth Strategic Response Plan (SRP4), which outlines the total resources needed for the DRC Ebola Crisis Response from July to December 2019. The financing announced today is part of the World Banks previously announced financial package of up to US$300 million and covers over half of SRP4s needs, with the remainder requiring additional funding from other donors and partners.

“The World Bank is working closely with WHO, the Government of DRC, and all partners to do everything we can to put an end to the latest Ebola outbreak,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development at the World Bank. “The partnership between our organizations and the Government is critical for responding to the emergency as well as rebuilding systems for delivery of basic services and to restoring the trust of communities.”

The Government of DRC requested US$30 million from the PEF Cash Window to be paid directly to WHO. The PEF Steering Body approved the request bringing the PEFs total contribution to fighting Ebola in DRC to US$61.4 million. The PEF is a financing mechanism housed at the World Bank; its Steering Body is co-chaired by the World Bank and WHO, and comprises donor country members from Japan, Germany and Australia. The quick and flexible financing it provides saves lives, by enabling governments and international responders to concentrate on fighting Ebola—not fundraising.

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Borno State launches first Malaria Operational Plan, reawakens fight against malaria

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nige..

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nigeria, the Malaria Annual Operational Plan (MAOP) was developed and launched on 08 August 2019 with technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. Aligned to the National Malaria Strategic Plan (2014 -2020), MAOP was developed through a broad-based stakeholders workshop involving malaria stakeholders, reviewed on different thematic areas and endorsed by the Commissioner for Health and Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Health.

Speaking during the launch, the Borno state Malaria Programme Manager, Mr Mala Waziri described the MAOP as the first to be endorsed and disseminated in Borno State. “WHO has made us proud by supporting the first ever Malaria Operational Plan right from development, review, printing to dissemination.”

Dr Ibrahim Kida, the Ministerial Secretary Borno State Ministry of Health and Incident Manager of the state, described the launch as “an historic event as stakeholders across the health sector made commitments to use the document as an implementation guide for all malaria programs”. The plan was also described as an advocacy tool for planning domestic funds mobilization.

The MAOP has seven objectives among which are: provide at least 50% of targeted population with appropriate preventive measures by 2020; ensure that all persons with suspected malaria who seek care are tested with Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) or microscopy by 2020 and all persons with confirmed malaria seen in private or public health facilities receive prompt treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug by 2020.

The MAOP will further ensure that at least 50% of the population practice appropriate malaria prevention and management by 2020, ensuring timely availability of appropriate anti-malarial medicines and commodities required for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria in Borno State by 2020.

In addition, it seeks to ensure that all health facilities report on key malaria indicators routinely by 2020 and finally strengthen governance and coordination of all stakeholders for effective program implementation towards an A rating by 2020 on a standardized scorecard. These strategic objectives have specific targets and the MAOP takes into account the humanitarian response.

“Malaria remains a leading cause of poor health in Nigeria. According to the 2018 WHO Malaria Report, 53million cases are recorded annually in Nigeria, roughly 1 in 4 persons is infected with malaria contributing 25% of the global burden,” says Dr Nglass Ini Abasi, WHO Malaria Consultant for the North East.

“Furthermore, 81,640 deaths are recorded annually (9 deaths every hour), which accounts for 19% of global malaria deaths (1 in 5 global malaria deaths) and 45% malaria deaths in West Africa. The Nigeria Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP) 2014-2020 has a goal to reduce malaria burden to pre-elimination levels and bring malaria-related mortality to zero and WHO is working assiduously with Government to ensure the burden is reduced accordingly.”

Results from WHO’s Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) week 30 report from 223 sites, (including 32 IDP camps) show that malaria was the leading cause of morbidity and mortality accounting for 35% of cases and 46% of reported deaths. In addition, results from the Nigeria Humanitarian Response Strategy (NHRS 2019-2021) indicate 7.1million people are in dire need of healthcare and 6.2million are targeted for immediate attention.

Despite recent improvements, insecurity remains a challenge limiting access to the functional health facilities. Easily preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases account for the greatest proportion of morbidity and mortality among the vulnerable population. Furthermore, Malaria is endemic in North East Nigeria and the transmission is perennial with a marked seasonal peak from July to November every year. (more…)

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