TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 31

1. Sanctions have backed Vladimir Putin into a corner – and that’s where he is most dangerous.

By Julia Ioffe in the New Republic

2. The new vanguard of journalism entrepreneurs won’t destroy media; they’ll probably save it.

By Ann Friedman in Columbia Journalism Review

3. Can Congress rein in the spies?

By David Cole in the New York Review of Books

4. Already heavily subsidized, making mass transit free could help cities attack congestion and pollution.

By Henry Grabar in Salon

5. Things are improving in Africa: A data visualization

By Our World In Data

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ghana

How 2 Gay Men Live in a Country Where Homosexuality Is Illegal

Two young men bravely share their experience as homosexuals in Ghana

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Some 37 African countries criminalize homosexual relationships, with penalties ranging from misdemeanors to death sentences, according to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report released Tuesday. The report, which analyzed LGBT rights in 54 African countries in total, paints a picture of a continent in crisis.

In Ghana, a country often regarded as among the most progressively democratic nations in Africa, homosexuality remains illegal, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. A recent Pew survey of various countries, not all African, reveals that 98 percent of Ghanaians feel that homosexuality is “morally unacceptable,” the highest percentage of any country surveyed.

“In Ghana, everybody is culturally and religiously blinded,” says Fred K., an openly gay man living in the Ghanaian capital of Accra who didn’t want to share his last name for fear of criminal and social repercussions. “They think that it’s demonic … so I just pray that a time comes that they decide to change and be like the Western countries.”

The HRC/HRF report is out just a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to hold the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. Advocates from the U.S. and Africa are jumping on that opportunity to bring the the continent’s controversial LGBT rights record to the world’s attention.

“My fellow gays don’t want anything to be legalized,” Nana Yaw, a human rights activist and openly gay man, says. “All they want is for their rights to be respected and protected.”

TIME LGBT

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

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Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain’t good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

“The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. “This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country.”

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging “particular attention” at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” they wrote. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. “There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws,” Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. “A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It’s too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it’s a trend we should watch and support.”

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price tells TIME that LGBT equality in Africa will be on the table at the summit. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he says. “We expect the Summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

– Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

TIME Infectious Disease

New Fears About Ebola Spread After Plane Scare

It's an unprecedented public-health scenario: since 1976, when the virus was first discovered, Ebola outbreaks were limited to remote corners of Congo and Uganda

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(DAKAR, Senegal) — No one knows for sure just how many people Patrick Sawyer came into contact with the day he boarded a flight in Liberia, had a stopover in Ghana, changed planes in Togo, and then arrived in Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola, one of the deadliest diseases known to man.

Now health workers are scrambling to trace those who may have been exposed to Sawyer across West Africa, including flight attendants and fellow passengers.

Health experts say it is unlikely he could have infected others with the virus that can cause victims to bleed from the eyes, mouth and ears. Still, unsettling questions remain: How could a man whose sister recently died from Ebola manage to board a plane leaving the country? And worse: Could Ebola become the latest disease to be spread by international air travel?

Sawyer’s death on Friday has led to tighter screening of airline passengers in West Africa, where an unprecedented outbreak that emerged in March has killed more than 670 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. But some health authorities expressed little confidence in such precautions.

“The best thing would be if people did not travel when they were sick, but the problem is people won’t say when they’re sick. They will lie in order to travel, so it is doubtful travel recommendations would have a big impact,” said Dr. David Heymann, professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The important thing is for countries to be prepared when they get patients infected with Ebola, that they are isolated, family members are told what to do and health workers take the right steps.”

The World Health Organization is awaiting laboratory confirmation after Nigerian health authorities said Sawyer tested positive for Ebola, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said. The WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions since the outbreak came to light.

“We would have to consider any travel recommendations very carefully, but the best way to stop this outbreak is to put the necessary measures in place at the source of infection,” Hartl said. Closing borders “might help, but it won’t be exhaustive or foolproof.”

The risk of travelers contracting Ebola is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva, experts say. Ebola can’t be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.

Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the WHO. And the most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.

Still, witnesses say Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian Finance Ministry employee en route to a conference in Nigeria, was vomiting and had diarrhea aboard at least one of his flights with some 50 other passengers aboard. Ebola can be contracted from traces of feces or vomit, experts say.

Sawyer was immediately quarantined upon arrival in Lagos — a city of 21 million people — and Nigerian authorities say his fellow travelers were advised of Ebola’s symptoms and then were allowed to leave. The incubation period can be as long as 21 days, meaning anyone infected may not fall ill for several weeks.

Health officials rely on “contact tracing” — locating anyone who may have been exposed, and then anyone who may have come into contact with that person. That may prove impossible, given that other passengers journeyed on to dozens of other cities.

Patrick Sawyer had planned to visit his family in Minnesota next month to attend two of his three daughters’ birthdays, his wife, Decontee Sawyer, told KSTP-TV in Minnesota.

“It’s a global problem because Patrick could have easily come home with Ebola, easy,” she said. The Associated Press left phone and email messages for her Monday.

International travel has made the spread of disease via airplanes almost routine. Outbreaks of measles, polio and cholera have been traced back to countries thousands of miles away. Even Ebola previously traveled the globe this way: During an outbreak in Ivory Coast in the 1990s, the virus infected a veterinarian who traveled to Switzerland, where the disease was snuffed out upon arrival and she ultimately survived, experts say.

Two American aid workers in Liberia have tested positive for the virus and are being treated there. U.S. health officials said Monday that the risk of the deadly germ spreading to the United States is remote.

The mere prospect of Ebola in Africa’s most populous nation has Nigerians on edge.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Alex Akinwale, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, said he is particularly concerned about taking the bus, which is the only affordable way to travel.

“It’s actually making me very nervous. If I had my own car, I would be safer,” he said. “The doctors are on strike, and that means they are not prepared for it. For now I’m trying to be very careful.”

It’s an unprecedented public health scenario: Since 1976, when the virus was first discovered, Ebola outbreaks were limited to remote corners of Congo and Uganda, far from urban centers, and stayed within the borders of a single country. This time, cases first emerged in Guinea, and before long hundreds of others were stricken in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Those are some of the poorest countries in the world, with few doctors and nurses to treat sick patients let alone determine who is well enough to travel. In Sawyer’s case, it appears nothing was done to question him until he fell sick on his second flight with Asky Airlines. An airline spokesman would not comment on what precautions were being taken in the aftermath of Sawyer’s journey.

Liberian Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told The Associated Press last week that there had been no screening at Liberia’s Monrovia airport. That changed quickly over the weekend, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a new policy on inspecting and testing all outgoing and incoming passengers will be strictly observed. She also announced that some borders were being closed and communities with large numbers of Ebola cases would be quarantined.

International travelers departing from the capitals of Sierra Leone and Guinea are also being checked for signs of fever, airport officials said. Buckets of chlorine are also on hand at Sierra Leone’s airport in Freetown for disinfection, authorities said.

Still, detecting Ebola in departing passengers might be tricky, since its initial symptoms are similar to many other diseases, including malaria and typhoid fever.

“It will be very difficult now to contain this outbreak because it’s spread,” Heymann said. “The chance to stop it quickly was months ago before it crossed borders … but this can still be stopped if there is good hospital infection control, contact tracing and collaboration between countries.”

Nigerian authorities so far have identified 59 people who came into contact with Sawyer and have tested 20, said Lagos State Health Commissioner Jide Idris. Among them were officials from ECOWAS, a West African governing body, airline employees, health workers and the Nigerian ambassador to Liberia, he said. He said there have been no new cases of the disease.

___

Associated Press Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from London. Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia; Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Erick Kaglan in Lome, Togo; and Heather Murdock in Abuja, Nigeria, also contributed to this report.

TIME Liberia

Ebola Kills Liberian Doctor, 2 Americans Infected

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(MONROVIA, Liberia) — One of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors has died of Ebola, officials said Sunday, and an American physician was being treated for the deadly virus, highlighting the risks facing health workers trying to combat an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in West Africa — the largest ever recorded.

A second American, a missionary working in the Liberian capital, was also taken ill and was being treated in isolation there, said the pastor of a North Carolina church that sponsored her work.

Dr. Samuel Brisbane, a top Liberian health official, was treating Ebola patients at the country’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, when he fell ill. He died Saturday, said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister. A Ugandan doctor died earlier this month.

The American physician, 33-year-old Dr. Kent Brantly, was in Liberia helping to respond to the outbreak that has killed 129 people nationwide when he fell ill, according to the North Carolina-based medical charity, Samaritan’s Purse.

He was receiving intensive medical care in a Monrovia hospital and was in stable condition, according to a spokeswoman for the aid group, Melissa Strickland.

“We are hopeful, but he is certainly not out of the woods yet,” she said.Early treatment improves a patient’s chances of survival, and Brantly recognized his own symptoms and began receiving care immediately, Strickland said.

The American missionary, Nancy Writebol, was gravely ill and in isolation in Monrovia, her husband, David, told a church elder via Skype, according to the Rev. John Munro, pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C.

Munro said the couple, who had been in Liberia for about a year, insisted on staying there despite the Ebola threat. “These are real heroes — people who do things quietly behind the scenes, people with a very strong vocation and very strong faith,” Munro said.

There is no known cure for the highly contagious virus, which is one of the deadliest in the world. At least 1,201 people have been infected in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization, and 672 have died. Besides the Liberian fatalities, 319 people have died in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone.

Ominously, Nigerian authorities said Friday that a Liberian man died of Ebola after flying from Monrovia to Lagos via Lome, Togo. The case underscored the difficulty of preventing Ebola victims from traveling given weak screening systems and the fact that the initial symptoms of the disease — including fever and sore throat — resemble many other illnesses.

Health workers are among those at greatest risk of contracting the disease, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids.

Photos of Brantly working in Liberia show him swathed head-to-toe in white protective coveralls, gloves and a head-and-face mask that he wore for hours a day while treating Ebola patients.

Earlier this year, the American was quoted in a posting about the dangers facing health workers trying to contain the disease. “In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been health care workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals,” he said.

There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.

The WHO says the disease is not contagious until a person begins to show symptoms. Brantly’s wife and children had been living with him in Liberia but flew home to the U.S. about a week ago, before the doctor started showing any signs of illness, Strickland said.

“They have absolutely shown no symptoms,” she said.

A woman who identified herself as Brantly’s mother said the family was declining immediate comment when reached by phone in Indiana.

Besides Brantly and the two doctors in Liberia, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor and a doctor in Liberia’s central Bong County have also fallen ill.

The situation “is getting more and more scary,” said Nyenswah, the country’s assistant health minister.

Meanwhile, the fact that a sick Liberian could board a flight to Nigeria raised new fears that other passengers could take the disease beyond Africa.

Nigeria’s international airports were screening passengers arriving from foreign countries, and health officials were also working with ports and land borders to raise awareness of the disease. Togo’s government also said it was on high alert.

Security analysts were skeptical about the usefulness of these measures.

“In Nigeria’s case, the security set-up is currently bad, so I doubt it will help or have the minimum effectiveness they are hoping for,” said Yan St. Pierre, CEO of the Berlin-based security consulting firm MOSECON.

An outbreak in Lagos, a megacity where many lived in cramped conditions, could be a major public health disaster.

The West Africa outbreak is believed to have begun as far back as January in southeast Guinea, though the first cases weren’t confirmed until March.

Since then, officials have tried to contain the disease by isolating victims and educating populations on how to avoid transmission, though porous borders and widespread distrust of health workers have made the outbreak difficult to bring under control.

News of Brisbane’s death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia’s independence in 1847.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new taskforce to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the taskforce would go “from community to community, from village to village, from town to town” to try to increase awareness.

In Sierra Leone, which has recorded the highest number of new cases in recent days, the first case originating in Freetown, the capital, came when a hairdresser, Saudata Koroma, fell ill. She was forcibly removed from a government hospital by her family, sparking a frantic search that ended Friday. Kargbo, the chief medical officer, said Sunday that Koroma died while being transported to a treatment center in the east of the country.

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

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The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME Africa

Report: More Than 60 Nigerian Girls Escape Boko Haram Captors

NIGERIA-UNREST-BLAST
People gather near burned vehicles by the crowded Monday Market in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on July 1, 2014 AFP—Getty Images

The daring escape comes after days of heavy fighting in northeast Nigeria

More than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month by suspected Islamist militant group Boko Haram have reportedly fled their captors.

Their escape was confirmed to news agency AFP by a high-level though unnamed security source in the restive Borno state.

A local vigilante, Abbas Gava, also said he had “received an alert from my colleagues … that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home.”

More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north.

The development follows Friday’s clashes between Nigerian soldiers and Boko Haram militants in Borno. At least 50 insurgents were killed as the Nigerian military repelled an attack on its military base in the town of Damboa, said the Defense Ministry on Saturday.

Six Nigerian soldiers, including the commanding officer, died during the fighting, said Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade.

An officer who requested anonymity told the AP that the raid appeared to be a reprisal attack by Boko Haram after the Nigerian military carried out devastating air strikes 24 hours earlier.

[AFP]

 

TIME the Democratic Republic of Congo

African Foreign Ministers Give Rwandan Rebels Six Months to Disarm

United Nations peace keepers record details of weapons recovered from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militants after their surrender in Kateku
U.N. peacekeepers record details of weapons recovered from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militants after their surrender in Kateku, a small town in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 30, 2014. Kenny Katombe — Reuters

The rebel FDLR group has been accused of massacring civilians in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly two decades

In a meeting in Angola on Wednesday, foreign ministers from African nations announced a six-month suspension of military intervention to allow the dissident Rwandan group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), to disarm and end years of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FDLR, a rebel group that opposes the Rwandan government and is based along Congo’s eastern border, includes members who initiated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The rebel group has been accused of massacring civilians in Congo for nearly two decades. The Rwandan military has also regularly entered Congo to fight the rebel group, causing additional turmoil in the country.

Although the FDLR agreed to disarm and engage in dialogue on May 30, it is estimated that only about 200 out of around 1,500 rebels have put down their weapons. U.N. officials said in a report on Thursday that the FDLR was continuing to train new recruits despite promises of peace.

Angola’s Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti told the Angola Press News Agency that the rebel group’s efforts would be reassessed in three months. “The results of this surrender (of FDLR arms) are not sufficient,” he said. Lambert Mende, Congo’s government spokesman, said the army was prepared to continue military operations if the rebels did not honor the disarmament agreement.

Rwandan officials are meanwhile angered that the FDLR has continued to be admitted to international talks as a separatist group — representatives were recently at a conference in Rome with U.N. officials. “I am completely bored and disgusted by this (rebel) problem,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at a news conference on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

Although over 25,000 members have left the FDLR since 2002, the group has maintained stable numbers over the past few years. If the disarmament and demobilization of the FDLR is successful, it could allow Congo — a country rich in gold, copper and diamonds — to regain much needed stability.

[Reuters]

TIME China

African-Elephant Poaching Soars as Ivory Prices Triple in China

Officials and guests including Hong Kong's Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing are shown seized ivory displayed in Hong Kong
Officials and guests, including Hong Kong's Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, are shown seized ivory in Hong Kong on May 15, 2014 Reuters

Nigeria and Angola sell the greatest amount of ivory products in Africa

The price African ivory fetches in China has tripled in the past four years, causing the dissident militias and organized-crime groups that monopolize the trade to ramp up illicit poaching, according to a report released on Thursday.

Increased demand spurred by Beijing’s lax ivory laws has seen ivory prices rocket from $750 in 2010 to $2,100 in 2014, meaning the widespread slaughter of African elephants “shows little sign of abating,” according to Save the Elephants. The campaign group estimates 33,000 elephants were slaughtered annually between 2010 and 2012.

China has long had a fascination with ivory that harks back hundreds of years to traditional ivory carvings. In modern times, wealthy Chinese value ivory as a status symbol or to use as gifts to sweeten potential business deals, reports the BBC.

Conservationists say communities in Nigeria and Angola sell the greatest amount of ivory products in Africa. “Without concerted international action to reduce the demand for ivory, measures to reduce the killing of elephants for ivory will fail,” Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton tells AFP.

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