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EPIDEMICS
New commander takes over US Ebola mission in West Africa
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 26, 2014


China pledges $82 million to fight Ebola: Xinhua
Beijing (AFP) Oct 24, 2014 - China will provide Ebola hit countries in West Africa with new aid worth the equivalent of $82 million, China's President Xi Jinping said on Friday, as European leaders pledged more donations.

Beijing will give 500 million yuan ($82 million) to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as well as international organisations, the official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying.

"China will offer aid in cash and in kind, send more health experts and medical staff and help build a treatment center in Liberia," Xi said during a meeting in Beijing, according to Xinhua, adding: "A friend in need is a friend indeed."

Some 4,900 people have died of Ebola in West Africa, and experts warn that infections could soar to 10,000 per week by early December -- a terrifying prospect for a disease with a death rate running at 70 percent.

The UN, which has set up the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), previously estimated that $1 billion was needed to fight Ebola for six months.

China's donation is apparently in addition to the $38.2 million that Beijing last week said it had provided to Ebola-hit areas.

China is Africa's largest trading partner, and Beijing's diplomatic footprint across the continent has expanded hugely in recent years as it seeks resources to power its economy.

The announcement came as European Union leaders agreed to boost aid to one billion euros ($1.26 billion) to pay for medical staff and facilities in the worst affected countries.

The United States has earmarked more than $350 million in aid, while the World Bank and African Development Bank pledged $400 million and $225 million respectively.

The island nation of Cuba has sent 256 medical workers to Guinea and Liberia, a larger contingent than most Western countries, and winning plaudits from humanitarian workers.

Ebola.com domain sold for big payout
Washington (AFP) Oct 24, 2014 - The owners of the website Ebola.com have scored a big payday with the outbreak of the epidemic, selling the domain for more than $200,000 in cash and stock.

The deal highlights the rewards and risk of industry trading and speculating in domain names that see high interest following news events.

According to a securities filing, the buyer was a Russian-registered firm called Weed Growth Fund, previously known as Ovation Research.

The October 20 filing said the price was $50,000 cash and 19,192 shares of Cannabis Sativa worth close to $170,000, which promotes medical uses for marijuana.

The reasons for the sale were not clear but Cannabis Sativa chief and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson has publicly said he thinks marijuana may be used to treat the deadly disease.

The seller was Nevada-based Blue String Ventures, which describes itself as an "Internet real estate investment and branding" company.

"If you are looking for a great name for your company there's an excellent chance we can help," the company says on its website.

Some of its holdings have included Africanmango.com, Fukushima.com and RaspberryKetones.com.

The Ebola.com website contains articles offering facts and frequently asked questions about the disease, which has infected almost 10,000 people worldwide, killing nearly 4,900.

A new commander on Saturday took over the US military mission to combat Ebola in West Africa, the Pentagon said.

In Monrovia, Major General Gary Volesky of the US Army 101st Division took command of troops that are part of Washington's effort to counter the deadly outbreak, a Defense Department statement said.

West Africa is the epicenter of the outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000 people.

"Just 38 days ago, Major General Darryl Williams arrived in Liberia to form an advance detachment in his capacity as commanding general, US Army Africa prior to the formal establishment of this Joint Forces Command," the statement said.

"In this short period, our service members, under his leadership, have made great advances in establishing command and control capabilities for this effort including lines of communication over very rough terrain."

The mission has helped expand lab work, and a 25-bed hospital is due to be operational in early November according to the statement.

"In addition, construction of the first Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at Tubmanburg is nearing completion," it said, adding that two more were to follow.

Meanwhile in Senegal an intermediate staging base and transport hub is being set up in Dakar, and the contracted vessel M/V Vega arrived in the area this week with around 700 containers of support equipment.

Some 700 US service members are now deployed to West Africa, including nearly 600 in Liberia and 100 in Senegal. In coming weeks, that could grow to more than 3,900.

Big data becomes tool in Ebola battle
Washington (AFP) Oct 26, 2014 - Nine days before Ebola was declared an epidemic, a group of researchers and computer scientists in Boston spotted the hemorrhagic fever beginning to spread in Guinea.

By scouring the Internet for clues from social media, local news reports and other available online data, the algorithm developed by HealthMap had an early picture of the deadly disease moving across West Africa.

"Official agencies tend to be more cautious about these announcements, so public communication tends to lag," said Clark Freifeld, who co-founded HealthMap in 2006 at Boston Children's Hospital.

"We see this as our role to get that information out there quickly even though it may not be validated at the same level as official announcements."

It is impossible to know whether earlier detection may have helped contain the spread of Ebola, but many scientists say this type of "big data" approach can be useful in curbing epidemics.

- Tracking, predicting epidemics -

So far, this approach has been used mainly for detection; but some experts say the technology sector's predictive analytics could be even more useful.

If that is the case, the same kind of technology that helps marketers deliver targeted ads and suggest music or films could be useful in the fight against communicable diseases like Ebola.

"I think big data has a huge potential to help fight not only Ebola, but other disease outbreaks," said Marisa Eisenberg, a mathematical epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who has used data models to study other outbreaks, like the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

Eisenberg said it is possible to get better information by analyzing Twitter messages, airline data, emergency calls and other available health data.

"We need to find a way to do these things on a large scale, using real-time data because time is of the essence," she told AFP.

Getting data quickly could enable health officials to get resources and treatment where it is needed to contain disease outbreaks.

In the tech community, Microsoft announced that it would make its cloud computing platform Azure available to researchers battling Ebola.

And multimillion-dollar donations to the effort have come from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, has pledged $100 million.

The efforts come as the number of Ebola infections surpassed 10,000 and the death toll neared 5,000 worldwide, mainly in three West African nations.

- Silicon Valley ingenuity? -

But Silicon Valley needs to do more to keep Ebola from spiraling out of control, said Vivek Wadhwa, a Stanford University research fellow and faculty member at California's Singularity University, which promotes innovative technologies.

"The tech industry does amazing things, because they take a big problem and attack it from all sides," Wadhwa told AFP.

But he said entrepreneurs involved in health technology "are frustrated because no one is listening to them."

There are already some technological tools that could be deployed in the Ebola fight, in areas such as software diagnostics and vaccine delivery as well as cloud-based data analysis.

"Just as airlines mine travel data to predict which flights are going to be full and to set airfares, data scientists can mine travel, epidemic and passenger-load data to determine the probability of a passenger's being a disease carrier," Wadhwa said in a blog post.

This effort has the potential to succeed in part due to the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world, and growing participation in networks like Twitter and Facebook, where posts can be analyzed for clues about disease.

HealthMap collects and interprets data in 15 languages, and uses both software and human experts for more detailed analysis. It has previously tracked the H1N1 virus and can monitor the movement of other diseases.

"One of the challenges is that when a signal first emerges you don't know if it's going to turn into an international situation," Freifeld said.

"There are small outbreaks all the time; the question is when it becomes more serious."

Yet some relatively simple efforts using technology have apparently been used successfully.

Nigerian Minister of Communication Technology Omobola Johnson told a conference that technology and social media were key to her country being declared Ebola-free.

"A combination of the use of an Android app, Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in Nigeria's fight to contain the Ebola virus," Johnson said.

"With Ebola, time is very important. The phone app helped in reducing reporting times of infections by 75 percent. Test results were scanned to tablets and uploaded to emergency databases and field teams got text message alerts on their phones informing them of the results."

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Related Links
Epidemics on Earth - Bird Flu, HIV/AIDS, Ebola






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EPIDEMICS
At least four months to contain Ebola: Red Cross chief
Beijing (AFP) Oct 22, 2014
The Ebola epidemic will take at least four months to contain even if all necessary steps are taken, the global head of the Red Cross said Wednesday, warning of "the price for inaction". The deadliest-ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever has claimed more than 4,500 lives in West Africa, and experts warn the rate of infections could reach 10,000 a week by early December. There is no lic ... read more


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