BREAKING NEWS: World Health Organization Declares Zika virus a Public Health Emergency.

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BREAKING NEWS: World Health Organization Declares Zika virus a Public Health Emergency.

The spread of Zika virus across the Americas is a public health emergency of international concern and deserves urgent attention, the World Health Organization said Monday.

“I am now declaring that a recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitute a public health emergency of international concern,” WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan told a news conference.

WHO said last week that Zika was spreading “explosively” across the Americas and predicted 3-4 million people could be infected within a year.

It would not have been of concern -Zika normally causes only mild symptoms at worst – but Brazil noted a marked increase in cases of a severe and devastating birth defect called microcephaly that coincided with Zika’s arrival. Some doctors also fear the virus may cause a paralyzing condition called Guillan Barre syndrome.

Image: Brazil Baby Measured
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized and alerted authorities over the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly in Recife, Brazil, on Jan. 27. The baby’s mother was diagnosed with having the Zika virus during her pregnancy. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Some health experts have accused WHO of acting too slowly and the organization’s been under pressure to move more quickly against Zika.

Chan said travel or trade restrictions are not called for at this time. The most important measures will be to protect people from the mosquitoes whose bites transmit the virus.

She made the decision after a meeting of WHO’s 18-member emergency committee.

The spread of Zika alone would not be an emergency, said Dr. David Heymann, Chair of WHO’s emergency committee. “Zika as we understand today is not a clinically significant infection,” Heymann said. “It’s only because of this association, if it is proven, that Zika could be considered as a public health emergency of international concern. That’s why it was a very difficult deliberation.”

WHO makes clear that it is not certain that Zika causes microcephaly and says a lot more work needs to be done to show it. However, that work needs to be done quickly.

“The evidence is growing and it is getting strong,” Chan said.

“If we do not do all this work now and wait until the scientific evidence comes out, people will ask why we did not take action?” Chan added.

“I don’t think people are concerned about raising false concern. I think they are concerned about getting to the bottom of what’s causing microcephaly,” Heymann said.

Related: How Worried Should You be About Zika?

There is not a whole lot WHO can do. The organization doesn’t have a lot of cash to pour into research or immediate medical care. But the largely bureaucratic declaration can encourage countries to donate money, to coordinate efforts and, of course, it raises the profile of a disease outbreak.

The idea of a public health emergency of international concern has only existed since 2007. WHO has declared the emergencies for the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009; for a resurgence in polio and for the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

WHO has declined to call the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) a public health emergency of international concern.



Deepak Chopra Says Bacteria Listen To Our Thoughts.

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Deepak Chopra Says Bacteria Listen To Our Thoughts.

Deepak Chopra, author, public speaker and alternative medicine advocate who shot to fame on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 90s, was the first guest at this week’s “Fat Summit” online conference. Hosted by Mark Hyman, celebrity doctor, long time Clinton family advisor and author of upcoming book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, the Fat Summit’s tagline– “Separating Fat From Fiction”– is clever fluff.

While “leaky gut syndrome” is poorly understood and is not a diagnosis taught in medical school, Chopra blames stress and an “inflamed microbiome” for causing the condition, which he implicates in a raft of health problems. Though “leaky gut syndrome” is largely promoted by pseudoscientists and is not recognized by the mainstream medical community, scientists are learning that “the gut,” or intestinal tract, can “leak,” allowing substances through microscopic openings in its lining and into the rest of the body. And although our understanding of intestinal permeability is changing, Chopra’s misinformation-laden messaging is a far cry from evidence-based.

According to Chopra, that pesky inflamed microbiome is sentient. The genome, microbiome and epigenome, which the author collectively calls the “super gene,” are referenced throughout the interview. His book, Super Genes: The Key to Health and Well-Being, was published last year.

In the world of science, the genome is the entirety of the genetic information, contained in the nucleus of each somatic cell in any organism’s body, coding for the functions of life. The microbiome is a term used to describe the entirety of all of the microorganisms in any environment, as well as the genetic information contained therein, with those myriad little guys’ genes outnumbering the human genes in our body by 100 to 1. The epigenome is an array of structural compounds that don’t code for proteins the way genes do, but that interact with and affect gene activity.

The functions, interactions and inner workings of these “omes” are complex, with our understanding of them still at an infant stage. In other words, what we know about the microbiome, epigenome and genome is dwarfed by what we have yet to learn, and Deepak Chopra exploits this, taking brazen liberties to fill in the gaps.


El Salvador battling a Zika virus epidemic asks women to wait until 2018 to get pregnant.

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El Salvador battling a Zika virus epidemic asks women to wait until 2018 to get pregnant.

When in human history has an epidemic become so alarming that a nation feels compelled to urge its people not to have children for two years?

Grappling with a mosquito-borne virus linked to brain damage in infants, El Salvador is doing just that, advising all women in the country not to get pregnant until 2018 — the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass that, to many here, only illustrates their government’s desperation.

“It’s not up to the government, it’s up to God,” said Vanessa Iraheta, 30, who is seven months pregnant with her second child. “I don’t think the youth will stop having children.”

The virus, known as Zika, has rattled Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly Brazil, where more than 1 million people have been infected and nearly 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly, a rare condition in which babies have unusually small heads.

Other nations around the region have issued warnings similar to El Salvador’s, with officials in Colombia and Ecuador urging women to put off becoming pregnant for months, or until the dangers of the virus are better understood.

But El Salvador’s advice to stop having children for two full years struck many experts as particularly sweeping, leaving them to wonder when else a nation has tried to halt its birthrate in the face of an epidemic.

“I can tell you that I have never read, heard, or encountered a public request like that,” said David Bloom, a professor of economics and demography at the Harvard School of Public Health.

If El Salvador’s advice sounds like a cry for help, critics say, that’s because it is.

“I mean, the futility of saying something like this,” said Dr. Ernesto Selva Sutter, a leading public health expert in El Salvador, shaking his head. “Are you going to stop having sex?”

This small nation is already home to an epidemic of gang violence, pushing tens of thousands of its young people to flee north every year and stretching the government’s resources. By one estimate, El Salvador earned the unenviable title of being the Western Hemisphere’s most violent country.

Now the Zika virus is crashing through its doors. With at least 5,000 cases of Zika in a nation of 6 million, more than 1,500 in the last month alone, the government has been scrambling for solutions. It has dispatched teams of fumigators and treated water supplies to combat the Aedes mosquito, which also carries diseases like dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.

Standing water, which allows the insects to breed, is a fact of life here, as are the pools of trash cloaking many city streets in the dense neighbourhoods that carve through the hillsides of the capital.

One community leader said that a government clinic in his neighbourhood shut down three months ago after repeated threats from the gangs, the kind of conditions that experts say make it harder to treat and combat the virus.

The country’s vice minister of health, Eduardo Espinoza, said that the recommendation to stop having children is not the government’s principal approach to the epidemic, but rather a “secondary” strategy stemming from “the fact that these mosquitoes exist and transmit this disease.”

“We see ourselves obligated to make this recommendation to partners trying to get pregnant,” he said.

The World Health Organization said it would not recommend suspending pregnancies for two years.

“There are many questions that need to be answered before making that recommendation,” said Dr. Marcos Espinal, the director of communicable diseases for the Pan American Health Organization.

One of the most important, he said, is whether the country is at the peak of its epidemic. “You have to assess the risk in making such a recommendation of how it will impact the birthrate of a country,” he said.

Other experts said that Zika had brought nations like El Salvador into uncharted territory.

“I have never seen or read of any instance of a government warning its citizens not to get pregnant,” said Dr. Howard Markel, who teaches the history of medicine at the University of Michigan.

Markel cited other medical warnings related to pregnancy: Pregnant women are cautioned by doctors to stay away from anyone with rubella, for instance, because it causes devastating birth defects, including microcephaly.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, when there was no treatment and mothers frequently passed HIV to their babies, he added, “there was some sotto voce debate about whether it was morally ethical for a doctor to advise a woman not to get pregnant because of the risk to her child.”

“But no one said, ‘It’s verboten, don’t do it.'”

The government’s advice to postpone pregnancy for years is a delicate issue in this conservative, religious nation. It would require the ubiquitous use of contraception, which can be complicated in a country that is more than 50 percent Roman Catholic.

Espinoza, the vice health minister, said that the government had not held specific talks about its request for women to refrain from having children. It has, however, asked various religious leaders to press their congregations to clear standing water and clean up trash, as well as use repellent and take other precautionary measures.

“Even if the religious leaders can help us combat these mosquitoes, we still feel obliged to make this recommendation to the couples,” he said, referring to the advice to avoid getting pregnant.

Like the government, the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador seems unprepared for a confrontation. The archbishop has yet to weigh in. Over the weekend, when many expected him to discuss the issue, he was sick and unable to say Sunday mass. The auxiliary bishop, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, indicated that there would be a meeting of bishops next week that might yield some answers.

“Certainly this is a new theme, and it has to be looked at calmly,” he said in an interview. “I think that the church is going to take this very seriously. I would just wait a little.”

Waiting does not appear to be a problem for some women. Unlike many developing nations, the birthrate in El Salvador is already low, and the fear of Zika infecting a child seemed to rank third or fourth on the list of reasons many women cited for why they did not want to get pregnant.

First, they say, is the violence. Gangs operate with impunity and the war between them, as well as with the police, has produced homicide levels not seen since the country’s civil war that ended in 1992.

Women also mentioned economic fears, with severe underemployment and more than a third of the population living under the poverty line.

“It’s not a question of this disease,” said Sara Galdamez, 21, accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter and husband. “Honestly, it’s a question of economics and, well, the state of security.”

Despite the church’s influence, contraception does not appear to be especially stigmatized in El Salvador. Data from the US government suggests that its use here is on par with the United States.


Planned Parenthood cleared in court of any wrong doing and maker of slanderous videos has been indicted.

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Planned Parenthood cleared of any wrong doing. Maker of slanderous videos indicted.

A Texas grand jury has indicted two anti-abortion activists in a case involving covert videos on fetal tissue procurement talks with Planned Parenthood and found there was no wrongdoing on the part of the health group, a district attorney said on Monday.

The grand jury decision was a result of a probe launched last year under Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, who accused Planned Parenthood of the “gruesome harvesting of baby body parts.” No evidence was provided by Texas to back the claim.

The videos released last summer led Texas and several other Republican-controlled states to try to halt funding for local Planned Parenthood operations.

“After a lengthy and thorough investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers, and the Houston Police Department, a Harris County grand jury took no action Monday against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” the Harris County District Attorney’s office said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood has denied the accusation and called the probe politically motivated.


Portrait of David Daleiden, founder of The Center for Medical Progress at the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. (Charles Omm...

Portrait of David Daleiden, founder of The Center for Medical Progress at the Value Voters Summit on September …

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted by the grand jury for tampering with a governmental record, said prosecutors for the county in which Houston is located.

The two were involved in covert videos last year in which a discussion was held with a Planned Parenthood official on the procurement of fetal tissue.

Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress that released the videos, was also charged with violating a prohibition on the purchase and sale of human organs, a misdemeanor, the Harris County District Attorney said.

The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to negotiate prices for aborted fetal tissue. Under federal law, donated human fetal tissue may be used for research, but profiting from its sale is prohibited.

Shortly after the release, Texas, the most populous Republican-controlled U.S. state, said it would launch a probe of Planned Parenthood.

“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of Communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it’s become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we’re glad they’re being held accountable,” he said.

The Texas governor said: “Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation.”

In October, Texas raided several Planned Parenthood facilities in the state.


Environmental Crisis: The Oceans Will Contain More Plastic Than Fish by 2050

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Environmental Crisis: The Oceans Will Contain More Plastic Than Fish by 2050

By 2050, the ocean is expected to contain more plastic than fish by weight. The steady leakage of plastic packaging into the oceans—at the rate of one garbage truck full of plastic per minute—has been aided by the lack of a unified global effort to reuse the plastic produced every year. Currently, only 14% of plastic packaging waste is recycled.

But a new initiative, introduced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a report published in advance of the World Economic Forum, proposes creating a circular economy for plastics. The New Plastics Economy presents three key platforms: creating an effective after-use plastics economy by improving global recycling efforts, reducing the leakage of plastic waste into the environment, and decoupling plastic from the fossil fuels used to create it.

“This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy,” the World Economic Forum’s Dominic Waughray said in a press release.

While the report concedes that the New Plastics Economy is not entirely attainable yet, it promises “an attractive target state for the global value chain and governments to collaboratively innovate towards.” But in contrast to the report’s hopeful plan, the recycling business in the United States is in a period of crisis. With the collapse of global oil prices, the largest recyclers like Waste Management have reported sharp drops in recycling revenue and stagnated recycling rates across the country.



Experts find Sean Penn’s article on Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” appalling and insulting to journalism.

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Experts find Sean Penn’s article on Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” appalling and insulting to journalism. 

Bestselling novelist Don Winslow has written two epics about the Drug War: 2005’s The Power of The Dog and The Cartel, the latter of which was one of the best reviewed novels of 2015 and sold to Fox for a film that will be directed by Ridley Scott. Winslow has spent nearly 20 years researching the Mexican cartels, and the most of the violence in The Cartel is based on real events. He dedicated the book to the more than 100 journalists killed in cartel violence, and named every slain reporter in his intro. He agreed to write for Deadline why he was so appalled by Sean Penn’s El Chapo encounter and subsequent 60 Minutes interview.

“My article failed.”

So Sean Penn tells Charlie Rose.

Well, yes.

As someone who has researched and written about the Mexican cartels and the futile ‘war on drugs’ for coming on twenty years, I know how tough a subject it is. Mind-bending, soul-warping, heartbreaking, it challenges your intellect, your beliefs, your faith in humanity and God. No journalist or writer who has ever tackled it has emerged quite the same – and all too many have not survived at all, but been tortured, mutilated and killed on the orders of such as Joaquin Guzman. (I resist the cute sobriquet of ‘Chapo.’ He is not one of the Seven Dwarfs – not Dopey, or Sneezy or Bashful. He’s a mass murderer.)

When I first heard that Penn had done an interview with Guzman, I was wondering what terms were demanded to grant that interview. Penn has a reputation of not shying away from controversy or hard, unpopular stances. I was hoping that he would ask Guzman questions that would matter.

Mr. Penn tells Charlie Rose that he considers the article a failure because it did not succeed in addressing his real issue – our policies of the ‘war on drugs.’ But in an article of 10,500 words, the phrase ‘war on drugs’ appears three times. It was not the purpose or focus of Penn’s horribly misguided piece.

Sean Penn Charlie Rose

Penn’s article had nothing to do with the forty year, trillion dollar failure that is the ‘war on drugs’ — it was instead a brutally simplistic and unfortunately sympathetic portrait of a mass murderer. Penn thought he had scored a journalistic coup – instead his interview was the by-product of Guzman’s infatuation with a soap-opera actress (Guzman didn’t even know who Penn was) and told the exact story that Guzman wanted – with line by line editorial approval courtesy of Penn and Rolling Stone.

Guzman was never called to answer the hard questions. That’s a shame, because these questions need answers.

I was hoping to hear Guzman explain why, after his first so-called ‘escape’ (I use single-quotes because the word ‘escape’ does not normally encompass the active complicity of one’s jailers and government) in 2001, he launched a campaign of conquest to take over rival cartels’ territories – a brutal war with a body count of over 100,000 lives.

In his article, Penn refers to Guzman’s “unguarded will to speak freely.” Well, I wish I had heard Guzman “speak freely” about the under-aged girls who were routinely brought to him in his luxurious prison ‘cell’ (as Francisco Goldman reported in his excellent New Yorker article, ‘El Chapo III – The Farce Awakens’); about the hit he ordered on rival cartel boss Rodolfo Carillo Fuentes that also killed Fuentes’ wife and launched yet another round of violence that killed thousands.

An entry-level journalist would have pushed Guzman on the many millions of dollars in bribes he has paid to co-opt police, judges and politicians, about his treaty with the sadistic and hideously violent Zetas when it was convenient to him. I would like to have heard about the people on his payroll who dissolved their victims’ bodies in acid, about the decapitations and mutilations, about the blood soaked bodies displayed in public places as intimidation and propaganda. I would like to have known, for instance, how Guzman feels about the 35 people (including 12 women) he had slaughtered because they were allegedly Zetas (this was when he was at war, not peace, with them) only to discover later that they were innocent.

Any thoughts about that, Mr. Guzman? Any feelings?

A reporter less concerned with ‘experiential journalism’ would have asked this “Robin Hood” about being a rat. Would have asked him whether it’s true that starting in 2000, when he was still in prison, Guzman, through his lawyers, gave information to the DEA about rivals. Or that it was a tip from Guzman in 2002 that led to the capture of his rival Benjamin Arellano Felix? Or asked him how he feels about betraying friends and partners to the police, as he did in 2008 when he turned on the Beltran-Leyva brothers, causing yet another ‘war’ that killed hundreds.

Those questions might have wiped the smile off Guzman’s face, which Penn reported he had for over seven hours during their interview.

Seven hours, and Guzman was not asked about the 17 unarmed people his gunmen slaughtered at a drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, again on the suspicion that they were working for a rival cartel. Or, as Oscar Martinez has reported, about the kidnapping, forced labor, mass rape and murder of hundreds of Central American migrants.

Instead we were told by Penn that Guzman “only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.” I guess that makes it all right, then; and, of course, will be of great comfort to the families of his victims. You know, Guzman ‘needed’ to do it.

Incredibly, there were no questions asked about the murders of many Mexican journalists with their horrifically mutilated bodies left out in public like garbage.

Likewise, Penn failed to ask the hard questions about Guzman’s export of mass amounts of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States and around the world. Instead, Guzman was allowed to brag about being the world’s biggest drug exporter (a claim his lawyers now deny that he made) without a moral challenge. Guzman and his Sinaloa Cartel partners are directly responsible for the heroin epidemic now causing a record number of overdose deaths in the United States.

But we learned that Guzman has no responsibility for these real-life consequences, because he grew up poor and had no choice, which is an insult to his own people and the many rural Mexicans who have gone on to lead useful, positive lives in which they didn’t kill thousands. Some of them are doctors who have treated his victims, others are nurses who have been murdered in emergency rooms, still others are journalists who gave their lives reporting the truths that this interview neglected.

Instead, we hear about how nice Guzman’s shirt is, how he comes across as a bashful teenager, that he loves his children (including, ostensibly, the son who was killed when he followed his father into the drug trade), that his children love him, that he provides “much needed services in the Sinaloa mountains, funding everything from food and roads to medical relief.”

El ChapoThis last bit is true, but let’s not stop there. Guzman and his cartel have also built clinics, churches and playgrounds. (It’s nice that kids have someplace to play when not being gunned down in cartel crossfires or orphaned in Guzman’s endless wars of ‘self-defense.’) But this tired rationalization of an impoverished youth and the justification of subsequent good deeds have been used by every murderous gangster since the beginning of time.

We learn that this “simple man from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affection of his sons to their father, and his toward them [pardon me while I go vomit] does not strike [Penn] as the big bad wolf of lore.”

It’s not “lore.”

By any objective standard, Joaquin Guzman Loera is an evil man who has caused untold suffering for others.

At some point in time, he will be asked to answer for this.

But not in the article that Penn wrote, and one of the most important issues is why Penn didn’t ask these questions. Penn was clearly so enamored of his subject and the article was further compromised by topics excluded under the agreement and questions that were never asked. Mr. Penn has said that Guzman didn’t request any changes. Why would he? He got to tell the story exactly the way he wanted to tell it.

And I’m shocked that Rolling Stone – fresh off the scandal from its UVA rape debacle – would give editorial approval to a mass murderer in exchange for an interview.

Penn’s story was not a failure because people failed to understand it, as he claimed on 60 Minutes. It is a failure because he failed to understand who he was interviewing, the crimes his subject committed and the responsibility he had to ask real questions. Penn’s failure is further compounded by his 60 Minutes interview, which was as misguided and self-serving as the Rolling Stone article.

I applaud Sean Penn for his important work in New Orleans and Haiti, but I condemn what he did here.

He should apologize and stop trying to explain it. Sometimes wrong is just wrong.


Pakistan rejects a law that would ban child marriage because it’s “un-Islamic”

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Pakistan rejects a law that would ban child marriage because it’s “un-Islamic”

Pakistani lawmakers had to withdraw a bill aimed at curbing the practice of child marriage after a prominent religious body declared the legislation un-Islamic.

The bill, which proposed raising the marriage age for females from 16 to 18, also called for harsher penalties for those who would arrange marriages involving children. Despite the laws in place, child marriages, particularly involving young female brides, are common in parts of the country. It’s estimated that some 20 percent of girls in the country are married before they turn 18.

But the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body which gives advice to parliament on the compatibility of laws with Sharia, appeared to slap down the legislation after deeming it “un-Islamic” and “blasphemous,” according toAgence France Presse. It had already handed down a similar ruling in 2014.

The council has garnered opprobrium in the past. In 2013, reports AFP, “it suggested making DNA inadmissible evidence in rape cases, instead calling for the revival of an Islamic law that makes it mandatory for a survivor to provide four witnesses to back their claims.”

Girls Not Brides, an international coalition of civil society organizations working against child marriage, cited this religious body as an obstacle toward reform. A number of provinces in Pakistan have pushed for legislation cracking down on child marriages, but implementing the law is more difficult.

Clerics on the council object to minimum age requirements, arguing instead that an individual can marry once reaching puberty, which can be as early as the age of 9.