TIME Infectious Disease

Fake Cures and Ebola-Drug Sensationalism Need to Stop, WHO Says

WHO says there's too much hype for unproven treatments, and too many people claiming to have cures on social media

“Recent intense media coverage of experimental medicines and vaccines is creating some unrealistic expectations, especially in an emotional climate of intense fear,” the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote in a statement sent to the media on Friday.

Public fear and anxiety of Ebola is understandable, the WHO says, since the disease has no known cure or vaccine. But the organization warns that there needs to be more reason when it comes to fervor over experimental drugs that are in very limited supply. The WHO says that the public needs to understand that the majority of treatments available are not approved, and have not been tested in humans.

One of the more disturbing outcomes to come out of the Ebola treatment fervor are fraudulent cure claims on social media. “All rumors of any other effective products or practices are false. Their use can be dangerous. In Nigeria, for example, at least two people have died after drinking salt water, [which was] rumored to be protective,” the WHO writes.

Twitter is full of individuals claiming to know of Ebola “cures,” which the WHO is trying to combat, like the one below:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put out a warning letter to consumers on Thursday about products claiming to treat Ebola. “Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, the FDA has seen and received consumer complaints about a variety of products claiming to either prevent the Ebola virus or treat the infection,” the letter says. “There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola.”

Earlier this week, a WHO panel deemed it ethical to use experimental drugs and vaccines during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but it is still developing use guidelines from a panel of experts. The WHO says the Canadian government is donating doses of an experimental vaccine, adding that “a fully tested and licensed vaccine is not expected before 2015,” WHO says.

Recent numbers for Ebola continue to rise. The latest case numbers from WHO put the number of cases at 1,975 and deaths at 1,069. The WHO reports that there have been no new cases of Ebola detected so far in Nigeria, which is the most recent country to have a small cluster of the disease. The WHO says it is in the process of scaling up a massive international response. The CDC is currently tracking cases to prevent further infections, and the World Food Programme is delivering food to over one million people currently quarantined in zones where the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone meet.

TIME Infectious Disease

Doctors Inside Emory’s Ebola Unit Speak Out

Physicians at Emory University Hospital spoke to TIME about the unit treating the two U.S. Ebola victims, their doubters and the unknown future of emerging diseases

Emory University Hospital faced its share of doubters when it built its serious-communicable-disease unit more than a decade ago. At a time when the threat of infectious diseases in the U.S. seemed to have receded — replaced by worries over conditions like obesity and Type 2 diabetes — the center appeared unnecessary. But last week, when Emory got word that two Americans were infected with Ebola and would need to be evacuated from West Africa, health experts were all too glad the unit existed.

“I have to admit, a lot of people saw this as Noah’s Ark,” says Dr. Bruce Ribner, the infectious-disease specialist at Emory University Hospital leading the care of the American patients with Ebola virus. “They thought, ‘You are not going to have any activity there, you’re just wasting your time with all that.’”

Now Ribner is fielding an average of 100 emails a day from hospitals here and abroad seeking consultations, and there’s a caravan of news vans seemingly permanently parked along the sidewalk in front of the hospital, with news crews braving the thick Georgia heat in pitched tents on the grass.

“When [news of the patients] finally came, we said, ‘This is what we’ve been preparing for for 12 years,’” says Ribner. Indeed, the infectious-disease team caring for the patients with Ebola has been practicing the process of receiving and treating patients with serious diseases — like Ebola, SARS or anthrax — about two times a year every year since 2002, when it created its program and isolation unit with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Alexander Isakov, who helped get the patients from their landed flight to the isolation room, remembers first hearing the news and thinking, Here’s a chance to finally activate all that they had been preparing for, to help people get better. “It’s gratifying,” he says.

Treating the Patients

Though Emory’s isolation unit was created with this precise type of health emergency in mind, experts stress that nearly all U.S. hospitals are equipped and prepared to receive a patient suspected to have contracted Ebola. When both patients were moved from the ambulance into the hospital, choppers ahead captured footage of the full-body protective suits with air-purifying respirators that were worn by the team. Emory says it’s trying to re-message the idea that physicians need to dress in what some are calling “moon suits” to care for a patient.

“Of course the message goes out that you have to dress like some sort of space person,” says Ribner. “Which is an unfortunate message.” The CDC recommends that anyone entering a patient with Ebola’s room wear at least gloves, a gown, eye protection and a face mask, with the acknowledgement that depending on the amount of fluids being excreted, more may be needed. The hospital agrees with this advice, and Ribner says his nurses felt more comfortable wearing the full-body suits. One of the features of Ebola-virus infection is diarrhea. “One [reason from our nurses] was just pragmatic: I don’t want my shoes full of feces. The other was, ‘You know what? These are kind of comfortable,’” says Ribner.

(The patients at Emory have requested privacy, but one released a statement Saturday saying he was getting “stronger every day.”)

Now that more cases of Ebola are spreading in Lagos, a highly trafficked city in Nigeria, the possibility for more patients in the U.S. is not out of the realm of possibility. “If we had to accept other Ebola patients — and we’ve been in contact about possibly doing that — we could do it,” said Dr. G. Marshall Lyon, one of the Emory physicians treating the patients with Ebola. Lyon says the unit also has a contract with the CDC to handle their employees, should any of them be exposed to serious communicable diseases.

A New Age of Infectious Diseases

While Ebola is new in the U.S., it’s not a novel virus, and health experts remain confident that the outbreak will eventually subside. Still, the current Ebola outbreak, the deadliest in history, begs the question: Is the U.S. prepared for other infectious, and even unknown, emerging diseases?

“We live in a world where we are all connected by the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and by airplanes that can bring disease from anywhere to anywhere in a day,” says CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “That’s why it’s so important to strengthen global health security and work with countries all around the world so they can do a better job finding threats.” (In recent months, the CDC experienced two lapses in lab safety that raised skepticism about protection oversight, to which Frieden assures, “We blew the whistle on ourselves and began a comprehensive and aggressive program to address lab safety here.”)

In his opinion, the U.S. is facing three threats when it comes to emerging disease: new infections and organisms spreading in different places; drug-resistant bacteria; and intentionally created organisms. “Those risks require us to put in place robust systems,” he says.

Lyon says he remembers reading an article about 20 years ago stating the age of infectious disease was over. It couldn’t have been more wrong. “The bugs have evolved and kept us on our toes,” he says. “We have to deal with things like tuberculosis and measles having a resurgence.”

In 2009, H1N1 emerged as an influenza virus with little known about its transmission or how virulent it was. Ribner says, “We were really lucky” it wasn’t more lethal. “Do I foresee down the road that we could have a more virulent influenza strain? We’ve had them in the past, so yeah, we could,” he says. “Would we handle it? We would handle it as best we could.”

Learning on the Job

Having two patients with Ebola under treatment in the U.S. not only gives them a better shot at life, but it grants doctors the opportunity to learn something. “We have the unique opportunity to look at a disease that we don’t usually see here,” Dr. Aneesh Mehta, the Emory physician who had what he calls the “honor” to be the first doctor to receive an Ebola patient into the isolation room. “For these two patients, if they agree to participate in research down the road, we will be able to really look in-depth at the pathogenesis and the immunological response to Ebola in ways that can’t be done in Africa.”

Mehta says the drills at Emory — as well as the attention being paid to the effectiveness of governmental responses to this pathogen — will help experts better understand how to take care of patients in the larger context of our health care system. “We can teach other health care systems and physicians not only here in the United States, but throughout the world because our processes seem to be working quite well.”

Dr. Jay Varkey, a physician who joined the Ebola care team this weekend, agrees. “My hope is that by providing excellent care here, that learn processes that can be translated and expanded. In my opinion, in a fair and just world, if these processes are really key to improving survival in a disease like Ebola, that countries that are developing can institute them.”

The Emory team is working 24/7 to neutralize the disease in the two infected Americans, and while it’s uncomfortable to be faced with the dark consequences of our interconnectedness, it’s comforting to know that for over a decade, despite questioning, highly trained specialists have been watching our backs.

TIME Infectious Disease

Outside Atlanta Hospital, Liberians Praise American Ebola Patients

Garmai Kpardeh, a member of the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta rallying in front of Emory University Hospital, August 9. Spencer Lowell for TIME

Liberians living in Atlanta have gathered outside Emory University Hospital to sing thanks to the American physicians with the Ebola virus

There are about a dozen yelling and cheering men and women carrying signs in front of Emory University Hospital here in Atlanta Saturday afternoon. On first look, they appear to be demonstrators protesting the hospital’s decision to accept for treatment a pair of Americans who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa. But a closer look reveals the group is actually a rally meant as a thank you to those patients, a physician and an aid worker who contracted the disease on a missionary trip to Liberia.

It’s 77 degrees and nearly 80% humidity, but members of the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA), a nonprofit representing Liberian citizens residing in Atlanta, are out in force, singing the praises of Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who are currently in isolation and being treated by the hospital’s infectious disease experts.

“We heard about Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol and how they risked their lives to serve humanity and also us,” says Leo Mulbah, president of LAMA. “On behalf of a very grateful nation and community, we came to say thank you to them. We don’t have money to give them. We don’t have anything to give them, but we can say thank you. Thanks to them, [Liberians] are getting the attention our downtrodden folks need, and for that, we tell their families we are in solidarity with them.”

The LAMA members outside the hospital are singing praises to God and holding up signs that read: “Nancy Writebol you’re our hero!” and “We are with ya’ll in prayers.” The group has been holding frequent town hall meetings for their roughly 15,000 members to raise money to buy equipment that might help stop the spread of Ebola in Liberia, where it’s killed nearly 280 people and triggered a nationwide state of emergency.

The two Americans being treated at Emory have been given an experimental drug to fight the disease, a decision that’s caused controversy as there’s not enough of the drug for it to be widely deployed. When asked about the disagreements over the drug, Mulbah said his group is entirely disinterested in the politics surrounding the debate. For now, he says, LAMA and its members just want to offer thanks on behalf of Liberia.

“They epitomize what you need from a human being,” said Mulbah. “We are very thankful that their families allowed them to share their talents to the point of death for us.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Inside the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center Tackling Ebola

CDC leaders integral to the Ebola response, including epidemiologists, laboratorians, logistics, and more, assemble in agency’s command center to discuss next steps in directing the response at CDC Emergency operations center in Atlanta, August 8. Spencer Lowell for TIME

The CDC's emergency unit has been called into full-force this week as the Ebola virus continues to ravage West Africa

It’s early Friday morning, just a few hours after the World Health Organization officially declared the Ebola outbreak a global public health emergency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is buzzing. Their recently roused battle room of computer screens and realtime maps of Ebola spread is fielding calls from U.S. hospitals, offering logistical support for workers in West Africa, and is continuously updating data on the rising number of infections.

The daily 10 o’clock meeting spills out of the EOC’s primary conference room, where the CDC’s heads of infectious disease control as well representatives for the State Department and USAID meet every morning to discuss what’s happening on the ground in West Africa. This is where they anticipate and discuss their next moves. Only a couple of days earlier, the CDC activated the EOC to a Level 1 response unit, the highest possible alert, which means everyone with related expertise is called to the table.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden Spencer Lowell for TIME

“We have been very concerned at CDC for weeks and months about [Ebola], and we’ve increased our activation to the highest level to surge on a response in Africa,” says CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who just returned the night before from testifying in front of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs about the agency’s ongoing efforts to prepare for—and combat—the disease. “This Ebola outbreak is unprecedented. The single most important thing to understand about protecting Americans from Ebola is that [it has to be stopped] at the source in Africa.”

While the CDC has had experts on the ground since the first week of April, it recently announced that it’s sending a surge of 50 more disease specialists, including diseases detectives, laboratory experts and transmission-data analysts, to West Africa in the next 30 days, but those health workers need support from the stateside EOC for resources, data collection and communication.

A large part of the EOC team is made up of Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers—health professionals who are part of the CDC’s two-year training program for investigating infectious disease. Kelsey Mirkovic, 29, is a second-year EIS with a PhD in pharmacology who just returned from Gueckedou, Guinea. She was tasked with tracking down infected patients’ possible contacts. “One day there were two deaths of people with Ebola in one village, and 218 people were added to our list of contacts that day,” says Mirkovic. “We are talking about tracking down hundreds of people.”

As of Monday, there were six CDC specialists deployed to Guinea, 12 to Liberia, nine to Sierra Leone, and four to Nigeria, where cases of the virus are beginning to spread in Lagos, the largest city in Africa, much to the dismay of global public health groups.

“If current trends continue, it won’t be long before there’s more cases associated with this one outbreak than all previously outbreaks of Ebola virus combined,” says Dr. Stephan Monroe, the deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, who is spending a lot of his time in the EOC these days. “In most of these other countries, the initial event starts in a relatively rural area. So if we can get in quickly and contain it before it spreads, it’s much more effective. If it starts to spread in a large metropolitan area, especially in the very urban slum areas, it will be much more difficult to control.”

Dr. Frieden told TIME that an outbreak in Lagos is likely going to get worse before it gets better. Monroe says the CDC has experts in Nigeria identifying cases and the infected people’s contacts, as well as people helping local authorities with their exit screenings in order to keep infected people from hopping on an airplane and leaving the country. “In order to fully resolve the outbreak, we’re clearly looking at months, not weeks of effort,” says Monroe.

The EOC is also serving as the hub for Ebola containment in the U.S., should the disease present itself here. The CDC is, conveniently enough, just three minutes from Emory University Hospital, where two evacuated Americans with Ebola virus disease are being treated. The CDC has provided care guidelines for U.S. hospitals. And in one nearly windowless room of epidemiologists at the EOC, experts handle several calls daily from U.S. hospitals concerning sick patients with recent travel history to Africa.

As the weekend approaches, the EOC disease specialists start packing up and trickling out, despite a few frazzled workers trying to print off large outbreak maps that could be sent with traveling disease specialists before the day is done. The glow from the wall of computerized data sets and updates fills the room—with large graphs that highlight the early summer spikes in Ebola cases.

The upward trends serve as a sobering reminder that while the day may be done, the work is far from over. And while tired health care workers may be gaining a weekend, we’re still losing time.

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency Amid Ebola Outbreak

The country has seven confirmed cases of the disease

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency Friday amid an Ebola outbreak plaguing West Africa, approving more than $11 million to fight the deadly disease. Jonathan’s move comes as the deadly disease has infected at least 1,700 people and left more than 900 dead, mostly in nearby Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, only has seven confirmed cases and two deaths, but health officials fear that the disease’s arrival there would drastically escalate the severity of the crisis.

Nigeria’s state of emergency declaration comes on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency, while Liberia and Sierra Leone have also declared similar national emergencies over the virus.

Want to know more about Ebola? Watch TIME’s explainer video above.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Braces for More Ebola Cases Amid Outbreak

A Nigerian port health official speaks to a passenger at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 6, 2014.
A Nigerian port health official speaks to a passenger at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 6, 2014. Sunday Alamba—AP

A bustling city tries to avoid becoming the next Ebola hotspot

Until last week, many Nigerians largely ignored West Africa’s Ebola outbreak: It was several countries away and didn’t seem like an immediate threat. That changed after a Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer boarded a plane in Liberia while ill with the disease, crossed four countries by air, landed in Lagos, and then collapsed at the airport.

Sawyer died in Lagos days later on July 25, but while being treated he infected at least six other people, including a nurse who died Aug. 5. Suddenly, the government has come under pressure to quickly raise awareness and prepare facilities for more potential cases—all while grappling with a strike by public sector doctors.

The stakes are high. Lagos is Nigeria’s commercial capital and biggest city with 21 million people, in Africa’s most populous country of more than 170 million people. An outbreak in Lagos could bring Africa’s crisis to a whole new level.

Lagos sate health commissioner Jide Idris said this week that doctors didn’t initially realize Sawyer was infected with Ebola, a virus with symptoms similar to other tropical diseases. The government is now screening travelers, obtaining isolation tents in case they receive new cases, and establishing an emergency operations center, while the other five patients with confirmed cases of Ebola are treated in isolation at a Lagos hospital.

But containing the deadly disease takes vigilance. The government’s main focus at the moment is screening incoming and outgoing passengers, treating already ill people in isolation and monitoring people with whom they’ve come in contact. As soon as people who were exposed develop symptoms, they are put in quarantine and tested for Ebola. Health experts say people infected with the virus only become contagious after they develop symptoms, and the virus has an incubation period of up to three weeks.

The government was following a total of 70 people who had primary contact with Sawyer, but the number of people being monitored is growing as the government tracks more people who were in contact with the six infected patients before they showed symptoms.

“It is possible in the first day, probably the second day, in the course of doing this, a lot of those health workers got infected,” Idris told reporters in Lagos. The doctors isolated him “immediately when they realized that ‘Oh this man came from Liberia.’ … That’s when they alerted us.” All of the people infected in Lagos had direct contact with Sawyer.

But more help is needed to contain the disease in Nigeria.

“We need volunteers now, extremely necessary, urgently needed, to assist us in tracking the contacts,” Idris said. “And more importantly to manage those cases that are already in isolation in order to give them a chance for life they need to be properly managed, so we need doctors, we need nurses, environmental health workers.”

Still, the outbreak hasn’t affected daily life in the economic hub of Africa’s largest economy. Even as some concerns mount among government officials, many people say they’re not worried.

“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe what people are saying that is happening in Nigeria,” said 28-year-old Christopher Ukpang, a security guard at an upscale Lagos supermarket. “I’m begging my fellow Nigerians, they should not be afraid of this sickness, it won’t affect us. We should have trust in God.”

Interest spiked after health authorities announced the first confirmed case of Ebola infection of a Nigerian on Aug. 4—and the local media coverage exploded.

“I’m worried about it,” said one Nigerian woman. “In my office they sent out an updated mail to everybody to be very careful and to wash your hand regularly and use the sanitizer.”

Eunice Ojodu, a 50-year-old fruit seller in the city, said she had heard about the disease in awareness messages the government is broadcasting on TV and radio.

“It’s killing people but I haven’t seen it,” she said. “I haven’t seen it and I don’t pray to see it.”

TIME technology

The World’s Top 5 Cybercrime Hotspots

"More cyber criminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with."

A Russian crime ring is suspected of obtaining access to a record 1.2 billion username and password combinations, shedding renewed light on how vulnerable online personal information can be. Cybersecurity firm Hold Security said the gang of hackers was based in a city in south central Russia and comprised roughly ten men in their twenties who were all personally acquainted with each other, the New York Times reported.
Cybersecurity experts say this enormous data breach is just the latest evidence that cybercrime has become a global business—one that, including all types of cybercrime, costs the world economy an estimated $400 billion a year. Complex malicious software, or malware, is finding its way into the hands of hackers not just in known cybercrime hubs like Russia and China but also in Nigeria and Brazil, while expanding Internet access around the world means that there are more potential cybercriminals who can easily acquire online the skills and know-how to join the craft.
“It appears more cybercriminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with [in the US] to defend our networks from these malicious hackers,” says JD Sherry, the vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based cyber-security firm.
Here’s a look at the global hotspots for these cyber criminals:
Russia

Crime syndicates in Russia use some of the most technologically advanced tools in the trade, according to Sherry. “The Russians are at the top of the food chain when it comes to elite cyberskill hacking capabilities,” he says. Even before the latest revelations of stolen online records, the United States charged a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, of participating in a large-scale operation to infect hundreds of thousands of computers around the world. The massive data breach of the retailer Target last year has also been traced to Eastern Europe.
But why Russia, and its smaller neighbors? Trained computer engineers and skilled techies in Russia and countries like Ukraine and Romania may be opting for lucrative underground work instead of the often low-paying I.T. jobs available there. But the Russian government has in the past also been less than helpful in helping U.S. authorities track down wanted cybercriminals. “The key really is the lack of law enforcement environment, the feeling that you can do almost anything and get away with it,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russia-born U.S. citizen and co-founder and CTO of security firm CrowdStrike. “They were able to grow and evolve into organized enterprises.”
China

China is considered to be another stalwart hotbed for hackers, though the spotlight has primarily fallen not on gangs of criminals, but on the Chinese government, which has been linked to economic and political espionage against the U.S. In May, the Justice Department moved to charge five Chinese government officials with orchestrating cyberattacks against six major U.S. companies. Unaffiliated Chinese hackers have also posed a problem inside and outside the country, but according to Alperovitch there’s a surprisingly low presence relative to the size of the country. “We can speculate as to why, but the most likely reason is that the people that are identified doing this activity by the Chinese government get recruited to do this full time for the government,” he says.

Brazil

Sherry calls Brazil “an emerging cybercrime economy.” Cybercriminals there and across South America are increasingly learning from their counterparts in Eastern Europe via underground forums. They’ll also pay for Eastern European tools to use in their own attacks, using highly complex Russian-made software that Sherry says can include millions of lines of code. That black market has become so sophisticated that Eastern European hackers now provide I.T. support for customers buying their malware, according to Sherry. So far, most of the attacks that originate in Brazil target local individuals and firms, including the recently reported cybertheft of billions of dollars from an online payment system. “The question is, when will that change?” says Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Nigeria

The original home of low-tech scam emails remains a key player in underground cyber activity and has become a destination for international cybercrime syndicates, according to Sherry. Authorities in Nigeria and other African countries have been slow to crackdown on scammers and hackers, even as more people connect to the Internet. “It’s proving to be a very comfortable environment for cybercriminals to set up shop, operate, and carry out their illegal activities,” Sherry says. Recent efforts by President Jonathan Goodluck to legislate cybercrime in Nigeria have served to push some of the activity into other countries in the region, such as Ghana.

Vietnam

Tech firms in Southeast Asia have a long history of working with Western software firms and other tech companies, Sherry says, meaning there is a broad base of tech expertise there. “People who are really good software engineers, those people are going to be naturals when it comes to taking off the ‘white hat’ and putting on the ‘black hat,’ Sherry says. In Vietnam, where the I.T. industry has expanded at a rapid rate in the last decade, a hacker allegedly masterminded the theft of up to 200 million personal records in the U.S. and Europe that included Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information. The communist government there has also been recruiting local hackers to spy on journalists, dissidents, and activists, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Kills ‘Dozens’ in Nigeria

Families from Gwoza, Borno State, displaced by the violence and unrest caused by the insurgency, are pictured at a refugee camp in Mararaba Madagali, Adamawa State
In this Feb. 18, 2014 photo, families from Gwoza are pictured at a refugee camp in Mararaba Madagali, Adamawa State after being displaced by the violence and unrest caused by the insurgency. Stringer/Reuters

Many have fled the town of Gwoza to escape the slaughter

Residents from the northeastern Nigerian town of Gwoza say Boko Haram militants killed dozens of locals on Wednesday, reports Agence France-Presse.

Townspeople told the news agency that many had fled their homes to escape the violence.

“Dozens of our people have been killed by the attackers, some were slaughtered and many others shot with guns,” said resident James Mshelia to AFP.

Boko Haram is blamed for the killing of more than 10,000 people since the start of its militant Islamist offensive in 2009 across northeastern Nigeria.

Gwoza has experienced Boko Haram’s savage attacks before. The town’s emir was killed by the extremists in May. On Wednesday, his son and successor, Mohammad Idrissa Timta, was said to be missing.

“From all indications, our emir is also missing because we don’t know his whereabouts,” said Halima Jatau, a resident fleeing Gwoza, to AFP.

Locals told a Lagos-based online newspaper, the DailyPost, that Nigerian soldiers were absent during the attack and that the insurgents are now in control of the town.

A high-ranking security official who requested anonymity told the DailyPost that Boko Haram had diverted soldiers’ attention 70 miles (110 km) west to the town of Damboa, before launching a surprise attack on Gwoza.

Boko Haram is also believed to be behind Wednesday’s attack in northern Cameroon that killed 10 people.

[AFP]

TIME Foreign Policy

The U.S. Will Spend $110 Million a Year on African Peacekeeping Efforts

Uganda
A soldier from the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) engages in weapons training at the Singo training facility in Kakola, Uganda Monday, April 30, 2012. The camp provides different training courses run by the U.S. Marines and also by instructors contracted by the U.S. State Department. Ben Curtis—ASSOCIATED PRESS

The plan is to help fund African rapid-response forces that will deal with armed Islamist groups

Correction appended, Aug. 7

During the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled plans to invest $110 million annually over the next three to five years to help six African countries create rapid-response forces, Reuters reports.

At a summit news conference, Obama said the funds the funds would boost African Union and U.N. operations in crisis spots around the continent, using peacekeepers from Ethiopia, Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana.” Obama said that the funds are meant to remedy the current “gap in systematically supporting these peacekeepers to help them deploy more quickly.”

The U.S. has become more involved in supporting African military efforts to combat Islamic extremists recently, training over a quarter-million African police and military.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., added that the U.S. hoped to create “troop-contributing countries” that would fight off extremist groups like al-Shabab, al-Qaeda affiliates and Boko Haram, which has killed over 10,000 people since it began its uprising in Nigeria in 2009.

Obama also announced intentions to spend an initial $65 million on strengthening security efforts in Niger, Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Kenya. Along with the funding, Obama unveiled a plan called the Security Governance Initiative, which will help bolster security sectors and other infrastructures that offer crises resolution in Africa.

[Reuters]

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified countries as crisis zones where African Union and United Nations peacekeepers would be deployed.

TIME Infectious Disease

Sierra Leone Dispatches Troops to Enforce Ebola Quarantine

Troops and police have sealed off clinics and homes in hardest-hit localities

Updated 6:09 p.m. ET Aug. 6

Sierra Leone has dispatched 750 soldiers to the epicenters of the nation’s Ebola outbreak to enforce sweeping new quarantine measures as the virus’ global death toll rose to at least 932 people as of Wednesday. Liberia’s president ordered a 30-day state of emergency because of the Ebola outbreak late Wednesday, according to a radio broadcast.

Troops and police have been stationed outside of local clinics and family homes, the New York Times reports, amid reports of concerned family members trespassing into quarantined areas and coming into contact with sick patients and infected bodies. In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, Reuters reports that relatives of Ebola victims have anonymously dumped infected bodies in the streets rather than face quarantines. Forces have also been deployed in Liberia to maintain order, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, health experts and epidemiologists convened Wednesday at the World Health Organization to begin a two-day discussion about containment measures and to ensure healthcare systems in West Africa are not overwhelmed by a rising tide of cases. Infections have continued to spread from remote precincts into more heavily populated areas, despite sweeping quarantine measures announced last week by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — the three most heavily-hit countries – including school closures and heavy surveillance of at-risk populations.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, reported a second Ebola death and five additional cases in Lagos on Wednesday, while Saudi Arabia announced that it was testing a man who reportedly died of Ebola-like symptoms after returning from a business trip to Sierra Leone. However, the cause of the man’s death remains unconfirmed, the BBC reports.

[NYT]

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