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Ebola fears raise concerns in already fraught Congo election

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What’s an election campaign without shaking hands with potential voters? Congolese candidates in the thick of an Ebola outbreak, now the second deadliest in Congo history, are finding out in uncomfortable ways.

Jaribu Muliwavyo seeks another term as provincial deputy in North Kivu, the restless centre of the outbreak. He’s sad when he arrives in communities and isn’t permitted to greet traditional chiefs properly, with a warm clasp of hands.

“They take that as an insult,” Muliwavyo told The Associated Press. This election, he mused, is “a real puzzle.”

The current Ebola outbreak is like no other, and it promises trouble for Congo’s presidential election on Sunday. Unrest by dozens of rebel groups in this Central African nation with 40 million voters already posed a challenge to the long-delayed vote. Then Ebola, a deadly virus spread via contact with infected bodily fluids, emerged in a part of eastern Congo that had never seen it before.

Congolese officials have openly worried about the risks of holding an election in a densely populated, highly mobile border area where health officials are fighting to bring Ebola under control amid rebel attacks. Nearly 550 cases of the virus have been reported so far, with over 300 dead.

“Imagine … voters are in line and terrorists come with guns and shoot everybody. It’s a concern,” the president of Congo’s election commission, Corneille Nangaa, told reporters earlier this month.

In addition, some election workers might hesitate to show up, Nangaa said. “There are so many risks.”

Touchscreen voting amid outbreak

To make things yet more complicated, Congo for the first time is using voting machines, a rarity in Africa. The opposition and some observers warn that the technology could be used to manipulate the results. A coalition of armed groups in North Kivu has told the government to stop using the machines or expect violence, and the election commission on Sunday said unidentified people had tried to attack its warehouses in Beni.

A health worker feeds a boy suspected of having the Ebola virus at an Ebola treatment centre in Beni, Eastern Congo on Sept. 9. Turnout is expected to be low in the region bearing the brunt of the latest outbreak. (Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/Associated Press)

Earlier this month, thousands of voting machines were destroyed by arson at a Kinshasa warehouse.

Some living in the Ebola outbreak zone have more immediate concerns, as voters will choose candidates by tapping on a touchscreen.

“The election commission tells us that it will use voting machines that many people will be touching and there is the risk of Ebola spreading,” said Muhindo Vangi, 25. He lives in the Beni region, where rebels have killed more than 1,500 people over the past four years.

Between Ebola and the attacks, many people in the community have already fled, he said.

The virus can spread through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen.

Disinfectant at polling stations

No one knows how many voters in region will show up at the polls. Congo’s ruling party might not mind; the far east has plenty of opposition sympathizers.

Another Beni resident, Kambale Mathumo, was less worried. People have been attending marches, churches and other gatherings and a single day of voting won’t have much of an effect, he said.

And yet. “I call on the election commission to have disinfectants and hand-washing stations, because people will be touching the voting machines,” Mathumo said.

Those deep into the Ebola response say they understand.

Never has an election of this magnitude occurred in a large Ebola outbreak, said Dr. Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, who manages the response in the city of Butembo for the World Health Organization.

“This epidemic is the most challenging we’ve ever had. And with an election in the middle, you can imagine,” she said.

But there has been progress. All political parties have made a declaration about Ebola, recognizing the risks. “Ebola doesn’t know politics. Ebola is Ebola, for everyone,” Belizaire said. “We have them educating their voters. We have gel in industrial numbers. Hand-washing stations in meetings.”

The United Nations peacekeeping mission says it has deployed eight tonnes of disinfectant and hand sanitizer for use in all polling stations in the Ebola outbreak zone, while 3,000 troops with its Force Intervention Brigade are in Beni to “neutralize” the armed groups and protect health workers.

Election day will unfold carefully. Responders are working with authorities to make sure everyone who enters is screened for fever, Belizaire said. “If people after two hours still have a fever, we have to make a decision. If they’re OK, they can go back and cast their vote.”

Protective gear

Belizaire is among the Ebola workers who have negotiated with rebel groups for access to “red zones” where insecurity is high. It takes patience and trust, along with extraordinary measures.

A security agent makes an assessment every morning on whether it’s safe to go out. Escorts can include Congolese security forces or UN peacekeepers. Belizaire has protective gear that she must be able to put on within 30 seconds.

Most important, and most frustrating for candidates in the campaign’s final days, there is a no-touch policy which means keeping about two metres away.

Some residents, long traumatized by attacks and wary of outsiders, including those trying to contain the Ebola outbreak, haven’t much welcomed visiting candidates anyway.

When the presidential candidate with Congo’s most prominent opposition party, Felix Tshisekedi, arrived in Beni earlier this month, people at his rally began to sing insulting songs and sling pebbles, breaking up the event.

Tshsekedi later told AP that if he wins the election he will make sure a military base is installed there to track and neutralize the rebels.

“We came to Beni to sympathize with the people who have been victims of massacres and Ebola,” he said. “We ask them to trust us.”

The long-delayed election is meant to choose a successor for President Joseph Kabila, due to step down after 18 years in power. If successful, it would lead to Congo’s first democratic transfer of power. But there are concerns over whether it will be a fair and free election.

Several people have died in protests as Kabila has clung to power since a 2016 deadline to hold an election passed. There are also fears among opponents that Kabila could continue to rule in the near future through his preferred candidate — Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary — and he has not ruled out running for president himself again in 2023.

On Wednesday, the governor of Kinshasa ordered a halt to campaigning in the city ahead of Sunday’s vote for security reasons, a move opposition supporters said was an attempt to meddle in the race.

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Herbal remedies: Saw palmetto for hair loss prevention

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(Natural News) Saw palmetto is a small, shrub-like palm endemic to the United States. Known for its medicinal properties, saw palmetto has been used for centuries to treat reproductive issues and hormonal imbalance.

Today, saw palmetto is used as an ingredient in many hair growth products and supplements, as it is thought to prevent hair loss. This could be due to saw palmetto’s influence on the hormones that dictate hair growth.

Saw palmetto for hair loss

There is evidence to suggest that saw palmetto can help treat hair loss and prevent its occurrence. According to a 2012 study, saw palmetto could inhibit 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). 5-AR converts testosterone, a male sex hormone, into a more potent hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Research shows that high levels of DHT can shrink hair follicles and result in hair loss. DHT also makes it harder for hair follicles to grow new hair once the old hairs fall out. By inhibiting 5-AR, saw palmetto blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT.

In another 2012 study, researchers evaluated the effects of saw palmetto supplementation in men with mild or moderate androgenetic alopecia, or male-pattern baldness. One group received 320 milligrams (mg) of saw palmetto every day for two years, while another group took one mg of finasteride, a conventional drug used to treat hair loss.

The results showed that 38 percent of participants who supplemented with saw palmetto experienced improvements in hair growth, compared to 68 percent of those who supplemented with finasteride.

While the experiment showed that finasteride was more effective, the researchers noted that saw palmetto may be less likely to work in people with more severe cases of hair loss. More research is needed to confirm this.

Saw palmetto is available in several forms, including oral supplements and hair care products like conditioners and shampoos.

Due to limited research on the use of saw palmetto for hair loss, there is no official recommended dosage for it. That said, a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery cited a recommended dosage of 160 mg twice daily for saw palmetto tablets. Researchers often use this dosage when studying with saw palmetto.

Take note that saw palmetto has been reported to sometimes cause mild side effects, such as headaches and stomachaches. If in doubt about using saw palmetto, consult a natural health practitioner.

Other natural remedies for hair loss

Hair growth depends on several factors, including a person’s genetic makeup. Still, some home remedies might help prevent hair loss and/or encourage hair growth. These remedies include:

  • Jojoba oil – Jojoba oil helps nourish hair follicles without leaving any residue behind. It also stimulates hair cells to grow faster.
  • Aloe vera – Aloe vera helps get rid of sebum buildup in the scalp. Sebum is a natural oil that helps keep the scalp moisturized. It can build up on the scalp and clog hair follicles due to poor hair hygiene.
  • Garlic – The pungent compounds in garlic help increase blood circulation in the scalp, which stimulates hair growth. These compounds also stimulate the synthesis of collagen, a protein that gives structure to hair.
  • Onion – Like garlic, onions boost blood flow in the scalp for better hair growth.
  • Licorice root – Licorice root helps relieve dry and irritated scalp. It also strengthens weak follicles.
  • Rosemary oil – Rosemary oil has antiseptic properties. It is ideal for treating scalp issues that slow hair growth, such as dandruff and bacterial infections.
  • Coconut milk – Coconut milk helps moisturize a dry scalp, which is a leading cause of hair loss.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar works as a clarifying agent, ridding the scalp of extra sebum and other residues that can clog hair follicles and inhibit hair growth.

Some hair loss is natural. But for mild to moderate cases of hair loss, it might help to use herbal remedies, such as saw palmetto, to strengthen hair or encourage hair growth.

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Scientist that condemned coronavirus lab leak theory admits he squashed it to protect Chinese scientists

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(Natural News) An American scientist who criticized theories that the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) might have accidentally escaped or leaked from a Chinese laboratory has admitted that he was denouncing the idea in order to protect Chinese scientists.

Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that conducts scientific and policy research regarding emerging diseases, led an endeavor in February 2020 to quash any kind of suspicion that COVID-19 might have accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research and academic institution supported by the Chinese state.

This culminated in a statement published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet that condemned the “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 doesn’t have a natural origin.”

The Lancet article was written during the very early stages of the global pandemic, during a time when there wasn’t any kind of rigorous research on the origins of the virus.

Daszak further reiterated his support for China in a statement released on Feb. 6, stating that he stands with other scientists to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this virus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging diseases.”

In June, Daszak also wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian titled: “Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know COVID-19 wasn’t created in a lab.”

But on Friday, Jan. 15, Daszak’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that his statement, which has been used to silence anybody with a dissenting opinion regarding the origins of the coronavirus, was published to protect Chinese scientists from criticism.

The Lancet letter was written during a time in which Chinese scientists were receiving death threats and the letter was intended as a showing of support for them as they were caught between important work trying to stop an outbreak and the crush of online harassment.”

WHO team heads to Wuhan to probe virus origin

The situation surrounding Daszak’s initial statements and his sudden retraction are being compounded by the fact that the doctor is part of an international 15-member team of experts sent by the World Health Organization (WHO)to Wuhan to figure out the origins of the coronavirus.

According to the WHO, the team’s official mission is to determine how, where and when the virus crossed from animals to humans.

Daszak has been tweeting about the mandatory quarantine period he and his team are going through. During day four of quarantine, he said that the day, like the previous days, is “packed” with virtual meetings.

Day 6 of quarantine lockdown in Wuhan & it’s that special time for our friendly health care workers to swab for our PCR tests – they go deep, but they’re very cheerful about it. Xie xie! pic.twitter.com/QvKzgC0Lng

— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 20, 2021

Peter Ben Embarek, team leader and WHO food safety and animal diseases expert, said that the team will be granted permission “to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we want to visit,” once they’re done with the mandatory quarantine period.

It is unclear whether the WHO team will be looking into the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the theory that the coronavirus was engineered. Embarek has stated his desire to visit the “famous Wuhan market” to try and determine “everything that went in and out” of there in the weeks before the first confirmed cases.

Embarek is referring to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where many wild animals were often sold. This place is being investigated as a likely setting for the supposed “animal-to-human jump” of the coronavirus, or a place where that jump was accelerated.

“We know the virus originated in bats at some point, and then we know that human cases appeared in Wuhan in December 2019,” said Embarek. “But what happened in between, how many other animal species were involved in between, and where, remain to be found in more detail.”

“We don’t really know what happened in that period of time, and that’s what we are looking out for.”

Questions will remain regarding the role of the institute in the initial outbreak; questions that will continue to linger if WHO team does not conduct its investigation.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said that the government has reason to believe that several researchers working for the institute “became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

Pompeo said that this calls into question the claims made by Shi Zhengli, the institute’s senior researcher on bat-related viruses, that there had been “zero [COVID-19 or SARS-related] infection” among the institute’s student body and staff.

Pompeo noted that the possibility of an “accidental infection” in a lab is more likely than people might think, especially considering that such an incident has already occurred in China. In 2004, a SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people and killed one originated in a research facility.

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California healthcare workers suffer severe allergic reactions following coronavirus vaccination

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(Natural News) Six healthcare workers suffered allergic reactions after getting a shot of Moderna coronavirus vaccine in San Diego, California. Their symptoms were considered severe and required medical attention.

The doses administered to the six healthcare workers were part of the Moderna Lot 041L20A distributed to 287 providers across the state earlier this month. That batch of shipment, which arrived in California between Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, is composed of 330,000 shots.

Moderna said in a statement that it is cooperating with California’s health department to investigate the allergic reactions.

“Moderna acknowledges receiving a report from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that a number of individuals at one vaccination center were treated for possible allergic reactions after vaccination from one lot of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine,” the statement read. “The company is fully cooperating with CDPH in investigating these reported adverse events.”

Dr. Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist, said Sunday, Jan. 17, that providers should err on the side of caution and stop using the doses until federal, state and company officials finish an investigation.

“Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Moderna and the state is complete,” she said.

Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz have already paused distribution while two Covid-19 vaccine clinics have been canceled in Stanislaus County following the allergic reaction reports.

The delay was a huge blow to California’s vaccine distribution efforts. California currently has the second highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the United States, with Los Angeles being a particular hotspot.

All cases of apparent allergic reactions occurred at San Diego County’s drive-through mass vaccination site at Petco Park. No other providers have reported allergic reactions to vaccines administered from the same batch of doses.

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