Plague Spreading Rapidly in Madagascar

The World Health Organization warns a highly infectious, deadly form of pneumonic plague is spreading rapidly in Madagascar and quick action is needed to stop it. 

Pneumonic plague, which is transmitted from person to person, has been detected in several cities in Madagascar.  This worries the World Health Organization as the disease is highly contagious and quickly causes death without treatment.

Plague is endemic to Madagascar resulting in around 400 cases annually.  Most are cases of bubonic plague, which is spread by the fleas of rats and other small rodents.  The disease is usually confined to rural areas, but this year it has spread to large urban areas and port cities.

WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, says cases of bubonic, as well as the human transmissible pneumonic plague have been found in the capital Antananarivo and the port cities of Majunga and Toamasina.

“So far, 104 cases of plague were reported since the first case has been identified that was dating from the 23rd of August,” said Jasarevic. “So, from the 23rd of August to 28th September, 104 cases that have been reported, including 20 deaths.”

Jasarevic notes the fatality rate is more than 19 percent.  He tells VOA this outbreak is very dangerous and must be brought under control quickly.

“The plague epidemic season usually runs from September to April, so we really are at the beginning of the epidemic season of plague,” said Jasarevic. “And, we have already from the 23rd of August until yesterday—so that is like five-weeks-time—we had 104 cases and again half of those cases were pneumonic plague.”

WHO says urgent public health response in terms of surveillance and treatment is required.  The health agency has released $250,000 from its emergency fund to get immediate action underway.  It plans to appeal for $1.5 million to fully respond to the needs.

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China Manufacturing Expands at Fastest Pace in 5 Years

An official survey released Saturday said that China’s factory activity expanded in September at the fastest pace in five years, as the country’s vital manufacturing sector stepped up production to meet strong demand.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 52.4 in September, up from 51.7 in the previous month and the highest level since April 2012.

The report by the Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said production, new export orders and overall new orders grew at a faster pace for the month.

“The manufacturing sector continues to maintain a steady development trend and the pace is accelerating,” said Zhao Qinghe, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, which released the data. Zhao noted that the report found both domestic and global demand have improved.

However, in a separate report, the private Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI slipped to 51.0 from 51.6, as factories reported that production and new orders expanded at slower rates last month.

Both indexes are based on a 100-point scale with 50 dividing expansion from contraction. But the federation’s report is focused more on large, state-owned enterprises while the Caixin survey is weighted to smaller, private companies.

Another official index covering non-manufacturing activity rebounded after two months of contraction, rising to 55.4 last month from 53.4 in August. That indicates momentum is picking up again in China’s service sector.

The reports come ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress set for next month, where top leaders will be reshuffled and authorities will outline economic policies.

Earlier this month, rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s credit rating on government borrowing, citing rising debt levels that raise financial risks and could drag on economic growth.

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Smart Windows Let Heat in During Winter, Keep It Out During Summer

Solar power is definitely the wave of the future. But in the future instead of a roof covered with solar panels, your own windows might not only be collecting power from the sun, but also helping your house conserve energy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Untangling US Tax System

Nearly all U.S. taxpayers say American tax law, which runs tens of thousands of pages, is an incredibly complicated, annoying mess. And there is no agreement on how to fix the problem. Republicans recently outlined a new effort they say will be clearer, fairer and helpful to the economy. Critics say the Republican plan would cut taxes for the rich and increase the U.S. debt. VOA’s Jim Randle looks at how the system is supposed to work, and what critics say is wrong.

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Victoria & Abdul, American Made Based on Incredible True Stories

Two films on our radar this week are Stephen Frears’ heartwarming drama “Victoria & Abdul” and Doug Liman’s “American Made.” Both features offer intelligent, entertaining stories and a superb cast. VOA’s Penelope Poulou takes a look.

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Unintended Social Consequences Catching up to Facebook

Years of limited oversight and unchecked growth have turned Facebook into a force with incredible power over the lives of its 2 billion users. But the social network has also given rise to unintended social consequences, and they’re starting to catch up with it:

House and Senate panels investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections have invited Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, to testify this fall. Facebook just agreed to give congressional investigators 3,000 political ads purchased by Russian-backed entities, and announced new disclosure policies for political advertising
Facebook belatedly acknowledged its role purveying false news to its users during the 2016 campaign and announced new measures to curb it. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg even apologized, more than 10 months after the fact, for calling the idea that Facebook might have influenced the election “pretty crazy.”
The company has taken flack for a live video feature that was quickly used to broadcast violent crime and suicides; for removing an iconic Vietnam War photo for “child pornography” and then backtracking; and for allegedly putting its thumb on a feature that ranked trending news stories.

Facebook is behind the curve in understanding that “what happens in their system has profound consequences in the real world,” said Fordham University media-studies professor Paul Levinson. The company’s knee-jerk response has often been “none of your business” when confronted about these consequences, he said.

Moving fast, still breaking things

That response may not work much longer for a company whose original but now-abandoned slogan — “move fast and break things” — sometimes still seems to govern it.

Facebook has, so far, enjoyed seemingly unstoppable growth in users, revenue and its stock price. Along the way, it has also pushed new features on to users even when they protested, targeted ads at them based on a plethora of carefully collected personal details, and engaged in behavioral experiments that seek to influence their mood.

“There’s a general arrogance — they know what’s right, they know what’s best, we know how to make better for you so just let us do it,” said Notre Dame business professor Timothy Carone, who added that this is true of Silicon Valley giants in general. “They need to take a step down and acknowledge that they really don’t have all the answers.”

Hands-off Facebook

Facebook generally points to the fact that its policies prohibit misuse of its platform, and that it is difficult to catch everyone who tries to abuse its platform. When pressed, it tends to acknowledge some problems, offer a few narrowly tailored fixesand move on.

But there is a larger question, which is whether Facebook has taken sufficient care to build policies and systems that are resistant to abuse.

Facebook declined to address the subject on the record, although it pointed to earlier public statements in which Zuckerberg described how he wants Facebook to be a force for good in the world. The company also recently launched a blog called “Hard Questions” that attempts to address its governance issues in more depth.

But Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s No. 2 executive, offered an unexpected perspective on this question in a recent apology. Facebook “never intended or anticipated” how people could use its automated advertising to target ads at users who expressed anti-Semitic views. That, she wrote, “is on us. And we did not find it ourselves — and that is also on us.”

As a result, she said the company will tighten its ad policies to ensure such abuses don’t happen again.

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