Sunday, April 21

Happy Easter!

Reuters/Philippe Wojazer via CBS News, April 16, 2019


Saturday, April 20

"La guerre de l'ombre en Syrie - CIA, Pétrodollars et Djihad"

English: "The Shadow War in Syria ..." 

Published in French on March 14, 2019. H/T Joshua Landis. Publisher's description [Google translation from Amazon French]:


A book that explains how for years the CIA has sold weapons to its worst enemies -- Al Qaeda -- to try to overthrow Bashar al-Assad with the complicity of France and Saudi Arabia. A game of influence that has never been denounced.

~~ Timber Sycamore Operation [Wikipedia]. This code name does not tell you anything. It nevertheless denotes a gigantic shadow war, whose main objective was to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Led by the CIA and its allies in the fall of 2011, and halted in the summer of 2017, this secret campaign attracted little Western media attention. However, it mobilized billions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition, thus helping a rebellion whose most effective forces were linked or affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The result of five years of research, this book explains how Washington, London, Paris and their Middle East allies supported the anti-Assad jihadist nebula, including the "Islamic State".

Questioning some of the greatest experts in Syria and the Arab world, the author describes how -- under the guise of supporting "moderate rebels" -- the Western powers and their partners have reinforced the same Islamist movement accused of the attacks of 11 September [2001] and [13 November 2015 - Paris]. A striking and disturbing investigation, which challenges many of the accepted ideas about the Syrian conflict.

~~ Independent journalist, author and translator, Maxime Chaix holds a Master 2 "History, theory and practice of human rights". Specializing in strategic issues, intelligence, covert operations, US foreign policy and jihadism. He has published analyses in, Paris Match, and Le Devoir in order to inform Western populations about the militarism of their leaders.

He is particularly interested in the causes and consequences of the wars of regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.


Long War Journal's Thomas Joscelyn said it all in one sentence in 2017:  "[T]here is no evidence that any truly moderate force is effectively fighting Assad."

Those who poured money and weapons into Syria in the attempt to bring down the Syrian government always knew that any 'moderate' forces would easily be overwhelmed by the hard-core Islamist fighters. So calling those government leaders "militaristic" wouldn't describe what they are. But then there's nothing more useless than telling a demon, 'You know what your problem is? You're a demon.'  They already know.


Tuesday, April 16

Attn Washington Post re Notre Dame fire: Don't whine

"King Louis Philippe ordered the restoration of the church in 1848 ... The result was a work of such beauty that when revolutionaries of the Paris Commune wanted to destroy the cathedral in 1871, several artists talked them out of it."

Stephen Stromberg, an opinion writer at the Washington Post, took to his keyboard yesterday to type a lament, "The Notre Dame Cathedral will rise again. But it will never be the same." Another WaPo typist intoned "The fall of Notre Dame is a body blow to Paris and all it represents."

Obviously, the writer didn't know that Notre Dame is still standing, thank you very much. The cathedral has taken more than one body blow over the course of its existence, and to say it will never be the same is to be ignorant of the fact that the cathedral hasn't been the same for a very long time. 

Below, for the Washington Post's edification, is RT's great summary of the cathedral's trials and tribulations -- and triumphs -- over the centuries. So while WaPo was whining, RT was doing its homework.

But before giving the floor to RT, I should like to remind Mr Stromberg that the most important part of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame Paris was untouched by the yesterday's devastation -- that part being the altar and its cross. I would count that as a Holy Week miracle, and a little reminder to the French that a cathedral is more than an art gallery. 

Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral © Reuters / Philippe Wojazer

Notre Dame survived wars, revolutions and neglect. Then fire came.
Published time: 15 Apr, 2019 22:41 Edited time: 16 Apr, 2019 05:41

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris weathered over 850 years, enduring multiple wars, religious strife, anti-religious sentiment of the French Revolution and decades of neglect, before a rooftop blaze severely damaged it.

When King Louis VII of France sought to build a church on the central island of Paris, Bishop Maurice de Sully tore down the old basilica of St. Stephen and began construction of Our Lady of Paris in 1163. The high altar of the church was consecrated in 1182, but it took until 1345 for the cathedral itself to be consecrated as complete.

The church was adorned with many reliefs depicting Biblical stories, as well as statues of both Christian saints and its trademark gargoyles and other monsters. Some of the statues were damaged in the 16th century during the era of religious strife in France: clashes between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots claimed an estimated three million people lives between 1562 and 1598.

Notre Dame underwent extensive renovations and upgrades in the 18th century, during the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV, replacing many of the original stained glass windows, rearranging the sanctuary and removing the spire.

Revolution and 'Cult of Reason'

Following the 1789 French Revolution, the cathedral was looted and damaged. The republican government was officially atheist and rededicated the cathedral in 1794 to the Cult of Reason. Statues of biblical kings located on the western facade were beheaded, and much of the statuary was destroyed. The Virgin Mary was replaced on the altar by the Goddess of Liberty. One of the Great Bells of the southern tower – Marie – was taken down and melted, the other – Emmanuel – was spared. The cathedral was eventually turned into a warehouse.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who came to Notre Dame’s rescue, restoring the cathedral to the Catholic Church in 1802. Two years later, he was crowned there as Emperor of the French.
1800s: Renewal and rebirth

Following the demise of Napoleon’s empire in 1815, France – and Notre Dame – lapsed into neglect and turmoil. The half-ruined cathedral languished for years until Victor Hugo wrote a novel about its hunchbacked bell-ringer (Notre-dame de Paris, or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), published in 1831.

King Louis Philippe ordered the restoration of the church in 1848, and entrusted the task to architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The 25-year project saw the restoration of the spire and the re-creation of the stained glass windows. Artisans remade the original decorations if there were drawings or engravings to go on, and if not, created new ones that were considered fitting.

The result was a work of such beauty that when revolutionaries of the Paris Commune wanted to destroy the cathedral in 1871, several artists talked them out of it.

Modern times

Some of the medieval stained glass on Notre Dame was damaged during the Allied liberation of Paris in 1944, and was replaced by more modern, abstract designs. In 1963, eight centuries after its construction began, the French government cleaned the facade of the cathedral and restored its original color. Another cleaning and restoration project started in 1991, focusing on the towers and the western facade.

By 2017, however, structural problems have piled up to the point where André Finot, the cathedral’s spokesperson, told the New York Times the situation was “spinning out of control.”

The French government has owned the church since 1905, and pays about €2 million a year for its upkeep. The Catholic Church, which has the rights to use the cathedral for religious purposes in perpetuity, has recently sought to raise tens of millions of euros for its renovation.

By 2018, some 12 million tourists a year were visiting the church – more than the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. While Notre Dame did not charge for general admission, tourists who wished to see the bell tower or the crypt would need to pay €8.50 or €6, respectively.
Comes the fire

The April 15 blaze reportedly began in the scaffolding surrounding the spire, quickly spreading to much of the cathedral’s roof. Some two thirds two-thirdsf have caved in and the spire toppled over, causing further damage to Notre Dame’s interior.

The holy relics kept inside the church – including a piece of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, kept there since 1238 – are reportedly safe, but much of the interior has been gutted. Finot told several news outlets that “everything is burning, nothing will remain but the frame.”

However, in the early hours of Tuesday, French firefighters said they might have managed to save the towers, leaving open the possibility that Notre Dame may rise from the ashes and be restored to its splendor once again.

“Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries,” Hugo wrote in his 1831 masterpiece. “Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending… they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can.”

[END SUMMARY. Thank you, RT]


Notre Dame Fire Sitrep from Reuters and Sputnik

North rose stained glass window “seems to have held”

The main loss was a 19th-century gothic spire and the wooden frame at the top of the 13th-century landmark, which was made from so many oak beams that it was known as “the forest”. - Sputnik

From Reuters report updated approx. 2 hours ago:

PARIS (Reuters) - A massive fire consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, gutting the roof of the Paris landmark and stunning France and the world, though firefighters saved the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse before bringing the blaze under control.

[Sputnik's report, updated 8:12 - April 16, on the fire's aftermath, says that two-thirds of the roof had been destroyed. See below for more from their report]

Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the eight-centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.

The fire, after burning for about 8 hours, was largely extinguished by 0300 CET on Tuesday. Earlier, in addition to battling to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing, firefighters tried to rescue religious relics and priceless artwork. One firefighter was seriously injured - the only reported casualty.
“The worst has been avoided,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene shortly before midnight.
The cathedral’s main stone structure had escaped complete destruction by the time the fire came under control.
“We will continue to watch over any residual pockets of fire and cool down the areas that are still red-hot, like the wooden beam framework,” a fire brigade spokesman said in the early hours of Tuesday.
From Sputnik:

Sections of the cathedral were under scaffolding as part of the extensive renovations underway there, and 16 copper statues had been removed last week.


“We consider the two towers of Notre Dame to have been saved,” Paris fire-service commander Jean-Claude Galler said at around 11 p.m., as firefighters were still working to contain the flames. The fire service said the fire had been reduced and it was a major accomplishment that the hundreds of firefighters had stopped the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry.

However, the roof “had been ravaged”; around two-thirds of it had been destroyed. Fire brigade officers also said the structure of the cathedral was “saved and preserved” and that the fire had been successfully extinguished as the teams prepared to cool off the building.


The cathedral’s altar and altar cross were also saved from destruction in the fire. The main loss was a 19th-century gothic spire and the wooden frame at the top of the 13th-century landmark, which was made from so many oak beams that it was known as “the forest”. A French journalist on the scene reported that the north rose stained glass window – La Rosace Nord – “seems to have held”.

Drawing posted at Twitter


"Firefighters battled smoke and falling drops of molten lead to salvage priceless artworks and relics".

From Reuters via AOL, April 15


Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.

As it burned into the evening, firefighters battled to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing. One firefighter was seriously injured - the only reported casualty.

"We now believe that the two towers of Notre-Dame have been saved," Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters at the scene. "We now consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved."

There was still a risk that some of the interior structures could collapse, and firefighters would work overnight to cool them down, he said.


A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. People watching gasped as the spire folded over onto itself and fell into the inferno.

Firefighters battled smoke and falling drops of molten lead to salvage priceless artworks and relics.

A centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France, were saved, Notre-Dame's top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said. But firefighters had struggled to take down some of the large paintings in time, he said.



Note Dame: Firefighters avert the worst. Damaged parts will be restored. Many treasures rescued. First photos from inside cathedral.

"This cathedral, we will all rebuild together"

Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral © Reuters / Philippe Wojazer

Notre Dame suffers ‘colossal’ damage as firefighters avert ‘worst case scenario’ (INTERIOR PHOTOS)
Published time: 16 Apr, 2019 - 02:43

The first images from inside the devastated Notre Dame Cathedral show the inferno has ravaged 850 years of French cultural heritage, even though firefighters managed to save the Paris landmark from total collapse.

“The fire is completely under control,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for the Paris Fire Department, told reporters some eight hours after the first responders arrived at the blazing scene shortly before 7 pm on Monday evening. “It is partially extinguished, there are residual fires to put out.”

The first photos from inside the Gothic architectural gem show the altar in front of the cross intact, with debris from the burned-out roof still smoking on the floor. Flames and smoke are clearly visible in other pictures, which show the roof and parts of the interior on fire.

Despite the massive inferno, the clergy and the fire brigades have managed to save large parts of the Cathedral’s treasury, including many Christian relics. Firefighters also saved the two bell towers after the spire and most of the roof burned out and collapsed. President Emanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the Cathedral, promising to find the best international talents to restore the centuries-old landmark.

Flames are seen as the interior continues to burn inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris © Reuters / Philippe Wojazer
15 Apr, 2019 - 22:05 Edited 16 Apr, 2019 - 01:50
After the ‘worst case scenario’ was avoided and firefighters managed to save the Notre Dame’s structure from total destruction, President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to restore the historic cathedral to its former glory.
“This cathedral, we will all rebuild together,” Macron promised while visiting the heartbreaking scene at the center of Paris. “We will appeal to the greatest talents... and we will rebuild... Because that's what the French expect, because that's what our history deserves, because it's our deep destiny.”

The chief architect in charge of the works at Notre-Dame, Philippe Villeneuve, also pledged to rebuild the national symbol.

“We have rebuilt the cathedral of Reims after the bombing by the Germans during the First World War and today we still see in its splendor,” he said.

While Macron promised to launch an international fundraising campaign, the Heritage Foundation said it will launch a “national collection” of funds for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris on Tuesday, after the tragic incident raised a wave of condolences around the world.

Rebuilding the cathedral will take “years of work,” said Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF).

“I am completely dismayed because we were at the start of a major restoration program of the cathedral,” said Michel Picaud, president of the patronage foundation Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris. “Victor Hugo had sounded the alarm about the state of the cathedral resulting in twenty years of restoration work in the nineteenth century, and we will have to do the same.”

Meanwhile the Pinault family of the retail conglomerate Kering announced that it will donate €100 million for the reconstruction of the building.

Hundreds of firefighters are still working the scene of the terrible fire, trying to preserve whatever is left of the world art treasures. The Crown of Thorns, one of the major reliquaries of the church, was saved from the inferno along with many other treasures, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame de Paris noted earlier. The altar and the cross also survived the fire, local media reported citing the mayor's office.

While no one has died in the blaze, at least one firefighter was "seriously" injured trying to contain the fire, local media reported.
Following two photos from Franck Riester via Twitter:
"Les agents du @MinistereCC, épaulés par les équipes de l’archevêché, les @PompiersParis et les forces de sécurité, évacuent les œuvres se trouvant à l’intérieur de la cathédrale. Elles sont progressivement mises en sécurité."  


Monday, April 15

Notre Dame: Firefighters dare hope the structure is saved

Breaking News RT
Fire has destroyed two thirds of the roof of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, yet the French firefighters remain cautiously optimistic that they may have managed to save its two towers from collapsing.

“We can consider that the two towers of Notre-Dame are saved,” commander of the Brigade of firefighters in Paris, Jean-Claude Gallet, told reporters.

“We can think that the structure is saved,” said Laurent Nuñez, Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior. “We are much more optimistic than earlier, but we must remain cautious.”


"Fire Brigade Chief Believes Firefighters Were Able to Save Two Towers of the Blaze-Hit Cathedral"

Headline is from Sputnik live updates, this one published 10 seconds ago.

see right side of page for updates

Next 90 minutes will determine fate of Notre Dame Catheral UPDATED 5:22, 5:37 PM ET

Notre Dame: Firefighters dare hope the structure is saved

Breaking News RT
Fire has destroyed two thirds of the roof of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, yet the French firefighters remain cautiously optimistic that they may have managed to save its two towers from collapsing.

“We can consider that the two towers of Notre-Dame are saved,” commander of the Brigade of firefighters in Paris, Jean-Claude Gallet, told reporters.

“We can think that the structure is saved,” said Laurent Nuñez, Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior. “We are much more optimistic than earlier, but we must remain cautious.”




Breaking News from Sputnik's live updates on the fire

"Fire Brigade Chief Believes Firefighters Were Able to Save Two Towers of the Blaze-Hit Cathedral"

Breaking news from RT:

French firefighters 'not sure' if Notre Dame fire can be stopped

French firefighters have expressed doubts the devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris) can be stopped and have not ruled out further collapse of the iconic landmark.

“We’re not sure we can stop the fire spreading into the northern bell tower – and you can imagine the damage if it collapses,” said Jean-Claude Gallet, the commander of the Paris firefighters. Over 400 people are combating the blaze.

The next hour and a half will determine the fate of the 13th-century cathedral, French firefighters have said.

Earlier, the firefighters ruled out the possibility of using aerial support in fighting the devastating blaze.

“Helicopter or plane, the weight of the water and the intensity of dropping it at low altitude could weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and cause collateral damage to surrounding buildings,” the French Civil Security tweeted.

Also from RT, an earlier report last updated 20:34:

'Nothing will remain from frame'

A fire at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France has destroyed most of the roof and collapsed the church's central spire. Eyewitness videos show smoke and fire engulfing the jewel of Gothic architecture.

The blaze broke out in the scaffolding around the spire on Monday afternoon, Paris firefighters confirmed, adding that a major operation to tackle the fire is underway.

Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media that “everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame.”

The incident took place as the jewel of the Gothic architecture was undergoing a major overhaul costing €11 million ($ 12.43 million), with the work scheduled to be finished around 2022.

The cathedral is home to works of art of incalculable value.

There have been no reports of casualties. It is unknown what might have caused the fire.

The medieval cathedral is one of the main attractions of the French capital, seeing 12 million tourists a year, more than the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower.


The Horror: Notre Dame Cathedral in Flames

CNN Update eight minutes ago:

The crowd outside Notre Dame is singing hymns as the cathedral burns

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne

As evening falls in Paris, crowds are still gathered near Notre Dame as the historic cathedral burns.
A witness earlier in the day had described an eerie silence; now, the crowd has begun to sing hymns together, many on their knees.

Saturday, April 13

DRC Ebola: "Officials have lost track of where the virus is spreading" UPDATED


On April 12 the World Health Organization published "Preliminary results on the efficacy of rVSV-ZEBOV-GP Ebola vaccine using the ring vaccination strategy in the control of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: an example of integration of research into epidemic response." (pdf). No time stamp on the report, nor on the news report about the report published at STAT. But given the three comments in response to the STAT report are dated the 13th, I'll venture it was published somewhat late in the day on the 12th. 


Below are points I've taken from an April 12 Associated Press report headlined  Congo's Ebola outbreak might be declared global  emergency. The report was published just prior to  WHO's decision not to declare a "global health emergency," such meaning a “serious, unusual or unexpected” infectious disease threatening to progress to other countries and requiring “immediate international action.” I don't know and I am not sure I want to know whether such an emergency is the same as a PHEIC (rhymes with "fake") but moving along for now to AP report: 
  • ... 75% of new Ebola cases have no obvious link to previous patients, meaning that officials have lost track of where the virus is spreading.
  • Emanuele Capobianco, head of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, cited Congolese health ministry statistics showing 40 new cases over two days this week. He called the rate unprecedented in this outbreak.
  • The outbreak has been like no other. Capobianco cited lack of trust about Ebola treatment in the community, which had never faced an outbreak of the virus before, and insecurity caused by rebel groups that have hurt aid efforts.
  • The outbreak is occurring close to the borders of Uganda and Rwanda, with South Sudan not far away. [One  outbreak region is near Goma, a city of a million people, and which is a major cross-border transportation hub.]
Well, there goes the Ring Vaccination Tactic out the window. You can't vaccinate rings of people around somebody infected with a communicable disease if you don't know who the somebodies are. As the Director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health put it, in what may turn out to be the Quote of the Year: "We have a high percentage of people who are appearing with Ebola after they’ve died."

Sadly for Daniel Drezner, I don't think Dr Inglesby meant to imply Ebola-infected zombies are on the loose. Most probably his tongue just got a little tangled because he was upset about WHO's decision not to declare a global health emergency.   

Even worse upsets may be in store for everyone who placed hope in the use of an experimental Ebola vaccine for ring vaccinations, which you see depend on the vaccine actually working.  

Dr James Wilson, an Associate Research Professor and Director of the Nevada Medical Intelligence Center for the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno, co-founder of the Global Health Security Alliance, and arguably the world's top biosurveillance expert, replied to Helen Branswell's April 10 report headlined WHO asks panel to weigh whether Ebola outbreak is global emergency. Dr Wilson wrote in part:
The second question, which should have been answered transparently months ago is, where is the data on vaccine effectiveness? We aren’t talking about the studies from West Africa but what is going in the DRC. WHO has ignored multiple requests, and that issue is not going away. The Ugandans, Rwandans, and Sudanese [countries bordering DRC] are counting on that vaccine actually working as advertised. And the healthcare systems of Europe and US have an expectation that requires proactive management. Meanwhile we still have reports of healthcare workers dying [from Ebola] without indication of whether they were vaccinated.
The wording of that last remark might reflect Dr Wilson's effort of civility because he surely knows governments and international aid organizations have put much emphasis on using the new vaccine firstly to protect healthcare workers who treat Ebola patients. Indeed, the lead paragraph in a  January ABC News report reads:
South Sudan on Monday began vaccinating its health workers and other front-line responders against Ebola amid fears the deadly disease could spread across the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, health officials said.
To return to Dr Wilson's question, it's absolutely vital to learn whether there have been documented failures of the new Ebola vaccine. Such documentation should be readily available if the vaccine had been administered to healthcare workers who'd died from Ebola.

There are a number of reasons why even an effective vaccine could fail; e.g., if it needs to be refrigerated and various batches aren't stored at the proper temperature, or if the vaccinated person doesn't have enough time to build up immunity before exposure to the disease. 

But such reasons point to a problem with what's called in the immunizations business "compassionate" vaccinations. One might question the compassion if aid organizations are using a new vaccine under the most difficult conditions on the rationale that it's better than nothing. Here's an idea of where better than nothing has led in DRC. To return to the AP report:
  • Doctors Without Borders is calling for patients to be treated in existing health centers rather than Ebola-specific clinics: “It’s very clear that people do not like or trust the Ebola centers and they are not coming to be treated."
In short, there are two different things going on here. The company that makes the Ebola vaccine and WHO and governments officials tasked with overseeing its use are focused on getting the vaccine administered and tabulating results. As to where this leaves the development of a viable approach to improving Ebola patients' survival rates (currently around 38 percent) -- 

Tell me what kind of mind would think of applying the Ring Vaccination Tactic in a conflict zone, a zone with no prior exposure to Ebola disease, and whose residents distrust foreign devils dressed like invaders from Outer Space coming at them with needles and telling them in a tinny voice emanating from the space suit, 'This is good for you.'

I'll tell you what kind of mind. It's a mind that's not focused on curing people of a disease or alleviating its symptoms. 

Such is the mind of WHO. 

The World Health Organization is focused on working with vaccine manufacturers and governments in order to immunize the entire world population against all diseases that can be vaccinated against. That's who WHO is.  

Whatever the benefits of its focus, WHO is more concerned with the prevention of communicable diseases than with the curing of individuals who fall prey to disease. This means common sense can be the first casualty of the WHO approach to dealing with a lethal infectious disease outbreak.

It is the same with a panel of experts WHO put together. WHO (or the experts) gave the panel a name that translates to the acronym "SAGE." We can assume this was to impress on the yokels in places like DR Congo that WHO takes advice from very wise people. Here's a description of SAGE from April 8 summary of the panel's meeting on April 2-4:
The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization was established by the Director-General of the World Health Organization in 1999 to provide guidance on the work of WHO. SAGE is the principal advisory group to WHO for vaccines and immunization. It is charged with advising WHO on overall global policies and strategies, ranging from vaccines and technology, research and development, to delivery of immunization and its linkages with other health interventions. SAGE is concerned not just with childhood vaccines and immunization, but all vaccine-preventable diseases.
From the meeting highlights (pdf), we scroll to the last item on the agenda to find mention of the Ebola outbreak -- this at a time when healthcare workers and officials in DR Congo were already tearing their hair and crying, 'My God, we've completely lost control of this outbreak!'
Ebola vaccines
> HO Health Emergencies Response provided an update on the epidemiology of the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and on the status of the Ebola response in North Kivu and particularly noted the important contribution of vaccination in reducing transmission.
> SAGE re-visited the possible vaccination strategies by reviewing epidemiological data and impact modelling. It concluded that ring vaccination currently remains the most effective strategy in this DRC Ebola outbreak.
Geographic targeting should remain as a fall-back strategy. Mass vaccination and ring plus had less favourable overall impact for the doses used in the modelling.
> SAGE reviewed epidemiological data from North Kivu for children below 1 year of age and for lactating women.
Although clinical data on the safety and efficacy of the rVSV-ZEBOV-GP Ebola vaccine for these two specific groups are absent, SAGE considers that the high attack rates and high case fatality rates for these groups, together with the accumulating data on vaccine safety and efficacy for other groups, justify inclusion of children who are above the age of 6 months and of lactating women in the ongoing ring vaccination efforts in North Kivu.
> SAGE strongly urged the implementation of studies to evaluate additional Ebola candidate vaccines, including where possible in pregnant and lactating women and in infants.
If the more high-strung Pundita readers ask, 'Do you mean to tell me they're still on a ring vaccination kick? -- Let us turn to Helen Branswell's report (for STAT) on April 10, the same report that drew a response from James Wilson:
With new case numbers rising at an alarming rate, the World Health Organization said Wednesday it will again look at whether the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should be declared a global health emergency.
The announcement that a panel of outside experts — a so-called emergency committee — will meet Friday to debate the question came on a day when the DRC health ministry was expected to say 18 new Ebola cases had been identified. That marked the highest one-day increase in this epidemic, now in its ninth month.
This will be the second time an emergency committee has been asked to advise WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on whether this outbreak meets the criteria to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, known in global health circles as a PHEIC [rhymes with "fake."] The committee met in October and though it described the outbreak as very worrying, it recommended against declaring a PHEIC at that time.
To date the outbreak has not spread to other countries, which is thought to be one of the reasons a PHEIC has not been declared. But it is occurring in what is effectively a conflict zone, a reality that time and again has impeded the response team’s ability to bring transmission to a halt. As of Tuesday there have been 1,186 cases and 751 deaths.
Every time there has been a surge in violence there has been a corresponding sharp rise in cases. But whereas the violence was directed at Congolese soldiers or the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the outbreak area last fall, increasingly the attacks have been directed at the Ebola outbreak response itself.
In late February, Ebola treatment centers at Katwa and Butembo were firebombed by armed assailants, putting both out of commission for a time. Doctors Without Borders, which had been operating those treatment centers, withdrew its staff, saying it could not ensure their safety. Both centers have since reopened and are being operated by the DRC ministry of health and the WHO.
Since those attacks, case numbers have soared, and an outbreak that looked in February like it was coming under control now looks far from it.
Community resistance to the control measures known to stop Ebola transmission remains high in Katwa and Butembo, hotspots that are fueling the outbreak at this point.
Many infected people are refusing to go to treatment centers for care, choosing instead to stay at home. That accelerates spread of the disease because the people who care for these patients will almost inevitably become infected themselves in the process.
There was hope that an experimental Ebola vaccine, made by Merck, would help to contain the outbreak. And WHO officials insist that but for the vaccine, this outbreak would be many times more severe than it already is. More than 97,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in this outbreak.
But failings of the response are undermining the vaccine’s effectiveness. The vaccine is being used in what is called a ring vaccination approach — it is being offered to people who are known contacts of cases and the contacts of the contacts, as well as health workers and other frontline workers. The idea is to prevent spread of the virus by protecting people who are in contact with cases.
For that approach to work, the Ebola response needs to be able to identify as many contacts as possible. But in many cases they have been unable to do the contact tracing work needed to draw up detailed lists; cases have occurred in neighborhoods or villages where it is unsafe for them to work.
As a result, many people who should have been vaccinated have not appeared on the vaccination list.
Ms. Branswell goes on to report that the prolonged length of the outbreak is raising concerns supplies of the vaccine will run out. But barring that possibility, only howling mobs of Doctors Without Borders workers descending on WHO's headquarters in Geneva might pry SAGE from the Ring Vaccination Tactic in DRC. 

DWB aka Médecins Sans Frontières is very, very upset about WHO's decision not to declare the DRC Ebola outbreak a global health emergency or a PHEIC (rhymes with "fake") or whatever -- although WHO walked right up to the line. In the wake of the decision, DWB/MSF brushed aside WHO's terminology and called the outbreak for what it has become -- maybe not in Geneva but down there on the ground in two provinces in DR Congo: an out-of-control epidemic. And while DWB/MSF stopped short of dismissing the vaccination approach, they issued an impassioned plea for a change in strategy in battling the epidemic, one that was patient- and community-oriented.

But I'll give the last word to Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy. He summed the need for a new direction in combatting Ebola in DRC when he told Helen Branswell, "Doing the same thing over and over again does not appear to be working."


Thursday, April 11

London Met police confirm Assange arrest related to US extradition warrant

Assange being removed from Ecuadorian Embassy in London

Published time: 11 Apr, 2019 11:36 

Assange was taken into custody at a central London police station, and the arrest was made at a US extradition request, the Met Police have confirmed, saying he will appear at London Magistrates’ Court.
Julian Assange has been “further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities after his arrival at a central London police station,” the Metropolitan Police confirmed. The US cited the Extradition Act while filing the request, they informed.
“He will appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as possible,” the statement reads. A car apparently carrying Assange has arrived at the court earlier.
Earlier in the day, Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s legal team, alleged that the arrest was linked to a US extradition request. “Just confirmed: Assange has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request,” she tweeted.

Coup in Sudan

"Since December, protests triggered by the rise in consumer goods prices have engulfed Sudan. Mass rallies have prompted President Omar Bashir, who has been in power for 30 years, to dissolve the cabinet and declare a year-long state of national emergency."

Headlines from Sputnik's most recent live updates; see their report below::

Sudan's Bashir, Inner Circle Arrested - Sudanese Security Service Source (14:36)
Sudan Frees All Political Detainees - State News Agency
Protestors Reportedly Attack Intel and Security Service Facilities in Kassala and Port Sudan
Relations Between Russian and Sudan Won't Change With New Government - Kremlin
Mass Rallies Being Held in Khartoum - Reports

Sudan's Speaker to Return to Khartoum From Qatar Friday Despite Reports About Coup - Source
Situation Near Russian Embassy in Sudan Calm Amid Reports of Military Coup - Mission
Sudanese Army Raids Offices of Group Linked to President Bashir's Ruling Party - Reports
Russia to Maintain Ties With Sudan Whoever Comes to Power in Khartoum - Senior MP
High-Ranking Source in Presidential Palace Not Confirming Info on Bashir's Arrest
Bashir Absent in Presidential Palace in Capital - High-Ranking Source
Sudanese Provincial Minister Reportedly Confirms President Bashir Stepped Down, Talks to Form Military Council Underway

08:18 11.04.2019(updated 10:21 11.04.2019)

Over the weekend, thousands of people participated in protests in Khartoum and across the country, calling for Bashir's resignation and urging the army to side with the people. The rallies have continued this week, resulting in civilian casualties due to clashes between protesters and security forces.
According to the Lebanese TV channel Al Mayadeen, Sudanese army members have declared that President Omar Bashir has been removed from all positions amid reports of a coup in the African country following weeks of anti-government protests.
The media outlet cited sources as saying that the military personnel planned to announce the creation of a military council to govern the country during a transition period that might last for up to one year.
All of Bashir's assistants and deputies have also been allegedly sacked, with no official confirmation following so far. The TV channel also reported about an intensified military presence in Khartoum.
Earlier in the day, the newspaper Sudan Tribune reported that an emergency meeting of the Sudanese Armed Forces’ General Staff took place in Khartoum without Bashir. The newspaper noted that military personnel had entered the building of a national TV broadcaster and promised to make an important statement.
Since December, protests triggered by the rise in consumer goods prices have engulfed Sudan. Mass rallies have prompted President Omar Bashir, who has been in power for 30 years, to dissolve the cabinet and declare a year-long state of national emergency.