How Ebola Survivors Have Fought the Stigma

The recovery and release of two American Ebolapatients has spotlighted a lingering side effect of the deadly disease: stigma.

Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol contracted the virus while working in Liberia. They received an experimental drug and were evacuated from the growing outbreak zone to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where they were isolated for at least two weeks.

Brantly was released from the hospital today. Writebol was released on Tuesday.

In West Africa, where the virus has at least 1350 of the 2473 people infected, survivors are feared in their communities. Sulaiman Kemokai, an Ebola survivor in Sierra Leone told the Associated Press people are afraid to touch him. Another survivor, 26-year-old Kadiatou Fanta, said her boyfriend broke up with her and her professors don’t want her in class.

“Ebola has ruined my life even though I am cured,” she told the AP. “No one wants to spend a minute in my company for fear of being contaminated.”

Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Though it is not know why some people survive and others do not, blood tests can determine when the patient has recovered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think there’s been enough study of previous patients such that once individuals have recovered, their ability to transmit Ebola to someone else is virtually nil,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The virus only tends to linger in semen and vaginal fluid for a few extra weeks, Schaffner added.

“That doesn’t imperil any of their neighbors the people who sit next to them at restaurants, the folks that they meet at church and any other casual person,” Schaffner said. “From a public health point of view, they’re of no risk to anybody else. That’s really, really well established or else they not be releasing these people into the general population.”

Still, Schaffner said the general public may be anxious anyway. Words from “people in white coats” alone aren’t enough to change minds, he said, likening the situation to people’s initial fear of AIDS and HIV patients despite scientific proof that they were no danger to the general public.

“I’m reminded of Princess Diana hugging HIV-infected children,” he said. “That’s what you need. You need other validating people to grasp Kent Brantly by the hand, say, ‘Welcome home,’ and then put their arms around him.”

Has Earth’s Missing Heat Been Found?

In 1999, the feverish rise in Earth’s surface temperatures suddenly slowed, even as greenhouse gas emissions escalated. This unexpected slowdown has been called a global warming hiatus or global warming pause. Most climate scientists don’t think this hiatus means global warming went kaput, but the reason (or reasons) for the slowdown has scientists flummoxed. Researchers have offered more than two dozen ideas to explain the missing heat.

Now, a study published today (Aug. 21) in the journal Science suggests a natural climate cycle in the North Atlantic Ocean gobbled Earth’s extra heat. While the study is unlikely to settle the scientific debate, it does support the idea that Earth’s global warming continues in the ocean, even when air temperatures stay flat.

“It’s important to distinguish between whether ocean heat storage is responsible for the hiatus versus not enough heat reaching the surface of the Earth,” said study co-author Ka-Kit Tung, of the University of Washington in Seattle. “We did find enough heat stored in the North and South Atlantic that, if it had remained on the surface, it would have resulted in rapid warming.” [Infographic: Earth's Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench]

Global storage closet

Scientists have blamed the oceans for the global warming pause before, but they pointed their fingers at the Pacific, not the Atlantic. However, in seeking to test this idea with temperature data, oceanographer Xianyao Chen, of the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, and Tung, an atmospheric scientist, said they couldn’t find the missing heat in Pacific Ocean temperature measurements.

“If these models are true, we should be able to find the missing heat, and under the Pacific we couldn’t find enough heat to explain the hiatus,” Tung told Live Science.

Tung and Chen then searched ocean by ocean until they hit on the North Atlantic, where the heat was playing hooky. The pair primarily relied on Argo floats, which record ocean temperature and salt content down to 6,560 feet (2,000 meters). These worldwide floats reached their most comprehensive levels beginning about 2005. Other records from floats, ships and buoys filled in the timeline since 1970.

But the millions of data points don’t conclusively prove that the North Atlantic Ocean is devouring heat. “Unfortunately, the massive array of ocean temperature measurements by Argo floats has only been made after the early 2000s, just when the present hiatus in surface warming was starting,” said Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who was not involved in the study. “So being conclusive about each ocean basin is limited by data availability.”

Tung and Chen noticed that the North Atlantic’s heat content (a measure of stored energy) shifted in 1999, about when the hiatus began. The ocean started absorbing heat at depths below 984 feet (300 m). (The South Atlantic Ocean also took up some heat.) These regions stored more heat energy than the rest of the world’s oceans combined, even the enormous Pacific Ocean, the researchers’ temperature data show.

Small basin, big effect

So how does the Atlantic cool an entire planet? The likely culprit is a natural climate cycle linked to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) current, Tung said. The AMOC is part of a worldwide ocean conveyor belt. Here’s how the AMOC works: In the North Atlantic, salty tropical water flowing north cools off and sinks. This water, dense because it is cool and salty, heads south toward the equator, then eventually rises again in the South Atlantic. When the water sinks, it traps heat in the ocean depths. Ocean surface temperatures drive the current: fast when cold, slow when warm. [Images: The World's Biggest Oceans and Seas]

Between 1945 and 1975, the cycle was in a cool phase, sucking up atmospheric heat at a rapid pace. Toward the end of this cycle, in the 1970s, scientists noticed a suspected “global cooling” that was touted as the beginning of a possible Ice Age. But then the AMOC flipped to warming, corresponding to the rapid uptick in global temperatures. Finally, in 1999, the current switched back to a cold, speedy plunge into the ocean depths, taking extra heat along with it.

Such natural cycles make global warming look more like a staircase than a steady rise in temperatures, Tung said. “Right now, we’re on the flat part of the staircase. We still have a few more years of the hiatus.”

However, others scientists remain convinced the Pacific plays an important role in the global warming hiatus. Several recent studies affirm the link between the pause and the changes in the Pacific. An Aug. 3 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that faster trade winds over the Pacific bring up cold water and cool the atmosphere. An Aug. 17 study, also in Nature Climate Change, suggested the Pacific Decadal Oscillation climate cycle might be responsible for the hiatus. That cycle flips every 20 to 30 years.

“I still think the Pacific Ocean is playing the lead role in this ocean heat uptake, but this study is important as it points to an additional role from the Atlantic and Southern Oceans,” said England, who co-authored the Aug. 3 Nature Climate Change study.

Israeli tactic to stop soldier capture criticized

An Israeli military tactic that allows overwhelming fire to stop the capture of soldiers — even at the risk of killing them — is facing criticism after its use in the Gaza war killed some 100 Palestinians.

The military used the “Hannibal Procedure” after soldiers feared militants had captured an officer, unleashing heavy shelling on the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Now, a group is calling on the military to abandon the practice, saying it puts captured soldiers at unreasonable risk and can lead to civilian deaths.

In an army with a strong ethos of “no soldier left behind,” there is a near obsession with preventing the abduction of Israeli troops, in part because past cases have ended in painful, lopsided prisoner exchanges after years of protracted negotiations. New recruits learn that if they see a soldier being captured and rushed away in a car, they should shoot at the vehicle to stop its progress, even if it risks the soldier’s life.

The “Hannibal Procedure” was designed in the mid-1980s by Yossi Peled, then head of Israel’s Northern Command, after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers in southern Lebanon.

The actual order was drafted along with two of his top staff officers, Col. Gabi Ashkenazi, who later became the Israeli military chief, and Col. Yaakov Amidror, who recently ended a term as Israel’s national security adviser. Hannibal was a legendary military commander who battled the ancient Romans, though officials say the name was selected randomly by a computer.

Peled declined to comment, but Amidror stood behind a rationale he said was often misinterpreted. He said it gives young soldiers on the ground clear guidelines for such a situation.

“The order is that you cannot kill the soldier, but you can endanger him. A soldier in that situation knows he is in danger anyway,” he said. “How is it any different than giving a soldier an order to charge forward into live fire? You are also putting his life in danger that way. That’s what soldiers do.”

However, its application in the Gaza war has angered critics who say it may have led to the deaths of scores of Palestinians on Aug. 1, when Israeli soldiers feared militants had captured Lt. Hadar Goldin.

Hamas fire killed Goldin and two other Israeli soldiers near Rafah, along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, shortly after an internationally brokered cease-fire took effect.

According to Israeli media reports, three bodies were found at the scene shortly after the ambush, but upon closer inspection troops realized that one of them was a Hamas militant disguised in an Israeli uniform — raising fears that Hamas had captured Goldin.

That’s when “Hannibal” allegedly went into effect, with Israel unleashing a massive barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire aimed at blocking any potential escape routes of the kidnappers. Defying protocol, a fellow officer rushed into one of the tunnels and found some personal effects belonging to Goldin that helped the military later rule him dead.

The military would not officially confirm whether “Hannibal” was enacted after Goldin’s disappearance, but multiple officials say the rare order was given. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

The heavy shelling leveled the area in Rafah, killing some 100 Palestinians, Palestinian health officials say. They could not offer a breakdown of the number of civilians and militants killed.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a prominent rights group, asked the government this week to strike down the doctrine and investigate its use.

“A protocol that puts the life of the captured soldier in jeopardy to thwart a kidnapping is fundamentally unacceptable,” ACRI wrote to Israel’s attorney general on Monday. “Implementing this protocol in populated areas, wherein the soldier and his captors are surrounded by a civilian population that is not taking part in hostilities, is strictly prohibited.”

Israel’s Justice Ministry declined to comment, merely saying it received the letter.

The fear of being captured runs deep in Israeli society, where military service is mandatory for most Jewish males. Islamic militant groups have put a premium on capturing soldiers. When they have succeeded, they have not extended international prisoner of war rights, preventing visits from the Red Cross and keeping word of their captives’ status secret.

Asa Kasher, a philosophy professor who authored the military’s official code of conduct in the 1990s, said the “Hannibal Procedure” has been grossly misunderstood and strikes a delicate balance between protecting the lives of soldiers and carrying out military responsibilities. Much of the directive remains classified, but Kasher stressed the conventional wisdom of a “dead soldier being better than a captive soldier” was a fallacy.

“That is just an awful saying and totally untrue. It goes against every value of the” Israeli military, he said.

However, Tamar Feldman, an ACRI lawyer, said the practice violates the potential captive’s human rights. When employed in a crowded area like Gaza, it raised even more questions.

“A command that subjugates the life of a soldier to an unknown political gain … is both cynical and revolting,” she wrote. “Activating this protocol in the heart of an urban and civilian environment is particularly grave; it shakes the foundations of law and morality and must be absolutely condemned.”

Martyrs and peace with Pyongyang top pope’s agenda

Pope Francis’ five-day visit to South Korea will be the first time in a quarter-century that a pope has been on the divided Korean peninsula. Francis plans to bring a message of peace and reconciliations to Koreans on both sides of the 38th parallel, while encouraging Catholics in the region to spread their faith. Here are five things to know about the trip, which got underway with Francis’ departure Wednesday from Rome and arrival in Seoul on Thursday morning.

CHINA FLY-BY

Vatican protocol calls for the pope to send greetings to the heads of state of the countries he flies over when traveling. Usually, these telegrams aren’t worth mentioning, except that Pope Francis will be flying through Chinese airspace en route to Seoul. China and the Holy See haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1951, when the officially atheistic Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope’s authority. As a result, the papal fly-by will offer Francis a rare chance to speak directly to the Chinese leadership. When St. John Paul II last visited South Korea in 1989, tensions were so high that China refused to let his plane fly through its airspace. Instead, the Alitalia charter flew via Russian airspace, providing John Paul with a first-ever opportunity to send radio greetings to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. (He said he hoped to visit Moscow soon.) Francis has already exchanged informal (and private) letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping, so the papal telegram should at the very least offer a first public view of Vatican efforts under Francis to engage the Beijing leadership.

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KOREA’S MARTYRS

One of the highlights of Francis’ trip is the Aug. 16 beatification of 124 Korean martyrs, killed for their faith by the anti-Western rulers of the Joseon Dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unlike most countries where missionary priests brought Catholicism and spread it, South Korea’s church is uniquely homegrown: Members of Korea’s noble classes discovered the faith in the 18th century reading books by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci that they brought back from China. Their interest spread, until finally the first Korean was baptized in Beijing in 1784. Historians say early believers were struck by the idea of a religion that preached universal equality in divine eyes at a time when the nobility’s discriminatory hierarchical system brutally exploited ordinary people. Despite its local roots, Korean Catholics weren’t immune from persecutions waged against Christians across Asia and an estimated 10,000 Korean Catholics were killed by the Joseon Dynasty, which tried to shut the Korean Peninsula off from Western influence. Those being beatified were the founders of the Korean church. John Paul II canonized another 103 of these martyrs during his 1984 visit.

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AND KOREAN CATHOLICS TODAY?

Despite a history of persecution, South Korea’s Catholic Church has hung in there, and then some. A half-century ago, Catholics represented about 1 percent of the population; today they represent 10 percent of the population of 50 million, and Vatican statistics show that more than 100,000 people are baptized every year. Once a country that welcomed missionaries to help spread the faith, South Korea now sends its own priests and nuns abroad to evangelize other countries: Nearly 1,000 are currently on mission. Francis is expected to encourage this missionary spirit among Koreans and Asian Catholics: The main reason for his trip is to participate in the Asian version of World Youth Day, the giant Catholic youth fest that the church uses to inspire a new generation of Catholics.

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WHAT ABOUT NORTH KOREAN CATHOLICS?

Some historians say there were as many as 300,000 North Korean Christians in 1953, at the end of the Korean War. “Now they’re practically all dead, many killed by the so-called death marches, from poverty or violent successive persecutions,” historian Vincenzo Faccioli Pintozzi wrote in “Young People and Martyrs in Asia: Pope Francis’ Mission in Korea,” a new book about the Korean church published in Italy. Currently, there are no Vatican-recognized church structures or priests operating in North Korea. The Seoul archdiocese invited a delegation of Christians from North Korea to participate in Francis’ final Aug. 18 Mass in Seoul’s cathedral. But the Vatican said last week that authorities in the North had declined the invitation. Francis is, however, expected to issue a message of peace and reconciliation for all Koreans during the Mass.

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FRANCIS’ OTHER NODS

While martyrs, missionaries and peace on the Korean peninsula are the main themes of Francis’ trip, he’ll have a few occasions to issue other messages. During his Aug. 15 Mass, Francis is expected to console survivors of South Korea’s April ferry sinking, which left more than 300 people, most of them students, dead or missing. A day later, he is to pray at a garden for aborted fetuses and meet with a pro-life activist. Francis is also expected to briefly greet a small delegation of Korean women used as sex slaves by Japan’s military during World War II. These former “comfort women” are expected at his final Aug. 18 Mass of peace and reconciliation in Seoul’s main cathedral.

Readers Write: Tragedy of crime in Chicago; luring youth to become terrorists

SOLUTIONS TO CHICAGO’S CRIME

In regard to the July 21 cover story, “Can math stop murder?”: We have an important battle to win here in Chicago with our besieged inner-city men and women who are being lured into the hollow promises and false vainglory of gang life. The article was an informative and salient report, well done and deep.

Thank you for focusing on a forgotten fraction of families and children and lost souls. Gangbangers, children, innocent, and guilty all are caught in the lines of fire and killed, whether accidentally or not. We need more articles like this one to expose what the problem is and offer possible solutions. Local papers bloviate about the dismal violence and how dangerous Chicago is, but it’s a very small percentage of the population that is dangerous or inhabits dangerous areas. We need to stop the murder, but we also need to stop the falsified and sensationalized reporting that is broadcast to the public. Encomiums to the Monitor for actual reporting and fact-finding.

LURING YOUTH TO TERRORIST GROUPS

The July 28 cover story, “Europe’s new jihadis,” clearly explains the dangerous usage of Western youth by the jihadists for their religious warfare. The training, exploitation, and deliberate luring of youth away from their families, education, and rational thinking is truly evil. It is ironic that jihadists seek to manufacture sympathy for “suffering victims” in places such as SyriaSudan, and Gaza, yet the jihadists are the producers of much misery while hiding among the civilian populations in these countries.

We may see more of these misled and unwise youth choosing to take these same paths in theUnited States. The best answer would be to let them stick to their “informed” choices but block them from returning to the US. The youth who chose murderous causes should no longer be welcome in this or any other country living under modern laws. Freedom to worship means individuals choose to worship how they want without threats or pressure from others.

Turkish foreign minister set to be Erdogan’s new PM

Turkish president-elect Tayyip Erdogan named Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as his future prime minister on Thursday and said a power struggle with a U.S.-based cleric, a Kurdish peace process and a new constitution would be his top priorities.

Erdogan said the ruling AK Party’s executive board had agreed to nominate Davutoglu as its next leader and, by default, his future premier. The decision must now be endorsed in a party vote next Wednesday, but is unlikely to be opposed.

“If delegates at the congress elect Davutoglu, then he will be the prime minister,” Erdogan told a news conference.

Erdogan’s victory in the country’s first direct ballot for head of state on Aug. 10 marked a turning point for Turkey, taking the European Union candidate nation and NATO member a step closer to the presidential system he has long coveted.

He has made no secret of his ambition to change the constitution and bolster the powers of the presidency, a move opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule.

“The new constitution is Turkey’s primary concern. I know that Mr Davutoglu has a high sensitivity in this respect,” Erdogan said after the AK board meeting.

He said Davutoglu’s determination to battle the “parallel state”, a term he uses for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network of followers, had been a key factor in his nomination.

Erdogan accuses Gulen’s sympathizers of infiltrating institutions including the police and judiciary in an effort to seize the levers of state power, a struggle which has weighed on his final months as prime minister and seen him purge thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors.

His actions have raised concern about judicial independence and drawn criticism from the European Union.

“Be it the struggle against the parallel structure or the (Kurdish) peace process, do not doubt that I will be supporting Mr Davutoglu,” Erdogan said.

The peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, aimed at ending a three-decade insurgency, has been one of Erdogan’s biggest achievements in recent years, with hostilities largely dying down since a March 2013 ceasefire.

Events in northern Iraq, where PKK fighters have rushed to the assistance of Kurdish peshmerga forces battling the advance of Islamic State militants, has given the process added urgency.

CLOSE ALLIES

Erdogan will step down as leader of the AK when he is inaugurated next week, as required by the constitution, but has made clear that he wants the party he co-founded more than 10 years ago to remain loyal and unified.

Davutoglu, 55, an academic who has served as foreign minister for the past five years, rose to political prominence under Erdogan and is regarded as one of his closest allies.

“Erdogan is pretty confident of Davutoglu’s loyalty, and Davutoglu is a candidate whom Erdogan believes has strong popular communication skills,” said Sinan Ulgen, head of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul.

Davutoglu’s profile has risen sharply at home and abroad as foreign minister, initially on the back of his then-praised “zero problems with neighbors” policy and more recently as Erdogan’s right-hand man at AK Party rallies.

He has overseen foreign policy at a turbulent time for the Middle East. Wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings caused his “zero problems” policy to crumble, with ties to Egypt, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran all degraded.

Davutoglu is expected to appeal to a newer generation of Erdogan loyalists within the AK Party, which was founded in 2001 as a coalition of conservative religious Muslims, nationalists and center elements.

His ability to garner support among core AK voters will be pivotal if he is to lead the party to a stronger parliamentary majority in a general election next June, vital to Erdogan’s chances of pushing through the constitutional change he needs to bolster the powers of the presidency.

“Davutoglu is not going to be a puppet, he’s going to have his own personality,” said Galip Dalay, a political researcher at the Ankara-based think-tank SETA. “But I cannot remember a single time when he and Erdogan have had a serious policy disagreement. Their vision for Turkey is very close.”