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Progress Toward Ending HIV/AIDS Epidemic Is Receding

A report issued on the eve of an international AIDS conference in Mexico finds progress in combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic is receding.  The joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, warns the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections is slowing because nations lack the political will needed to end this scourge. 

UNAIDS latest global update finds 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2018 and 770,000 died of AIDS-related illnesses.  The report finds more than 23 million people are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, but another 15 million are still not receiving this life-saving treatment.

UNAIDS Acting Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson says the report for the first time shows key populations and their sexual partners account for more than half of all new HIV infections.  She notes up to 54 percent of new infections is being spread by sex workers, drug users, men having sex with men, transgenders and prisoners.

She tells VOA these key populations suffer from stigma and discrimination.  Consequently, she says they are not being reached at the scale needed to stop transmission of HIV.

“The risk of those people being left behind and not being treated in a proper manner with access not only to rights, but also to treatment and care–if we cannot talk about that, we will not solve this.  We see in special regions then where this is extra-noticeable,” Carlsson said.

Carlsson says new infections have risen by 29 percent since 2010 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  During the same period, HIV infections have risen by 10 percent in the Middle-East and North Africa.

She says the global HIV/AIDS map shows a mixed picture.  She says some progress has been made in Western Europe and North America, though the number of new infections and deaths there remains unacceptably high.

As in the past, the report finds the majority of people living with HIV and new infections is in Eastern and Southern Africa.  However, it notes interventions in heavily-affected South Africa have succeeded in reducing HIV infections by 40 percent.

Carlsson warns efforts to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic will fail without adequate funding.  She says available resources to respond to AIDS has fallen by nearly $1 billion.  Furthermore, she notes the UNAIDS program is more than $7 billion short of the estimated $26.2 billion needed by 2020.


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Nearly 2 Million Cyclone Survivors in Mozambique at Risk of Severe Food Shortages

The World Food Program warns 1.9 million Mozambicans battered by two devastating cyclones earlier this year are at risk of severe food shortages without urgent international assistance. 

Hundreds of people were killed, tens of thousands made homeless and livelihoods lost when Cyclones Idai and Kenneth hit Mozambique with devastating force in March and April. The destructive power of the two storms has wreaked havoc on the country’s infrastructure and agriculture.

Many crops that were about to be harvested and farm infrastructure were destroyed.  The impact of these two disasters lingers on, threatening widespread hunger among survivors of these twin disasters.  

A man waits to receive food aid outside a camp for displaced survivors of cyclone Idai in Dombe, Mozambique, April 4, 2019.

World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel says more than 1.6 million people are suffering from acute food insecurity and the worst is yet to come.

“It is expected that the upcoming lean season it will be very difficult in Mozambique with just below 2 million people projected to be in crisis situation if there is no humanitarian intervention before,” Verhoosel said. “The lean season is the period from October this year until the next harvest season in March 2020.” 

Verhoosel says WFP is planning to assist more than 560,000 people every month through October in both cyclone and drought affected areas.  He says his agency hopes to scale up its humanitarian operation when the lean season kicks in in October.  

If the money is available, he says WFP will provide food rations to one-and-one quarter million people every month until March when the next harvest season begins.  He says WFP will need slightly more than $100 million to implement its recovery plan over the next six months.


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Officials Raise Health Concerns as Heatwave Intensifies Over Central, Eastern US

The National Weather Service warned that dangerously high temperatures and humidity in the United States over the weekend could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke, if precautions are not taken. The NWS advises people to check in on relatives and friends, especially the elderly.

Temperatures have been rising in cities from the Midwest to the East Coast because of a high pressure system that has trapped the  warm air.  City officials are allowing public pools to stay open longer and municipalities are issuing advisories to inform the public about how best to deal with the heat.   

Forecasters say temperatures in New York City will reach 33 degrees Celsius Saturday, but with the humidity, it will feel like 43 degrees Celsius.

Saturday in the nation’s capital will reach 38 degrees Celsius and Philadelphia will go up to 36 degrees Celsius.  

The World Meteorological Organization says June 2019 was the planet’s warmest month ever. In addition, both land and sea temperatures set record highs in June.  

June was also Europe’s hottest June on record, according to the WMO. Greenland, Alaska and parts of South America, Africa and Asia had temperatures substantially above normal in June, according to the WMO.  The organization said India and Pakistan experienced a severe heatwave in the early part of June, before the onset of the monsoon season.

 


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Millions Still Believe the 1969 Moon Landing Was a Hoax

Despite the huge amount of evidence, the dust and rock samples, the television footage, and the hundreds of thousands of people who made it happen, polls show as many as 6% of Americans believe the Apollo 11 astronauts never landed on the moon.

Conspiracy theorists continue to insist the entire mission 50 years ago was an elaborate hoax, produced at the Area 51 Air Force testing range in Nevada or on a Hollywood movie soundstage by legendary director Stanley Kubrick.


In Exclusive VOA Interviews, NASA Astronauts Reflect on Historic Moon Missions video player.
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In Exclusive VOA Interviews, NASA Astronauts Reflect on Historic Moon Missions

The rumors first got traction just a year after the first moon landing, when the Vietnam War had led millions of Americans to question their government.

A July1970 poll found 30% of Americans declaring Apollo 11 to be a fake. That number remained relatively high throughout the ’70s, when several books were published and a 1978 film about a phony mission to Mars, Capricorn One, convinced many that a moon landing was also a scripted piece of high-technology bunk.

Art Harmon, a former legislative director for the U.S. House or Representatives, currently leads the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration.

He has two words for conspiracy theorists who say men never went to the moon – “absolute nuts.”

“They’re just troublemakers. There’s always people who will say ‘this never happened’ or ‘that never happened.’ They’re just trying to divide people. We went,” he said.

But those who insist the U.S. did not put astronauts on the moon have claimed their own “evidence” to a faked landing.

They question why the flag astronaut Neil Armstrong planted on the moon could not possibly be rippling, because there is no air on the moon. In reality, the astronauts bent the metal frame holding the flag, causing the ripples.

The conspiracy minded claim photos the astronauts took on the moon do not show any stars in the background. In reality, the cameras were unable to capture the faint light emitted by stars,

If the moon landing was real, they ask, why didn’t the lander scatter dust when it touched down? In reality, the lander was traveling horizontally much of the time and the thrusters that controlled its landing were not pointed down. Radiation from the sun also made the dust highly charged and it clung to the moon’s surface.

Every claim that no one went to the moon can be easily explained by science, physics or evidence brought back to Earth, Harmon said. He adds the conspiracy theories are “an insult to those 400,000 Americans who worked to get us to the moon and back.”

Those hundreds of thousands of people, including scientists, engineers and factory workers, were scattered around the world.

One astronaut who actually walked on the moon in 1969 has no tolerance for those who call it a massive hoax.

When one conspiracy theorist challenged Buzz Aldrin and called him a liar, Aldrin punched him in the face.


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Before Humans Walked on the Moon, Animals Rocketed into Space

Fifty years ago, two American astronauts became the first humans to walk on the Moon. But before humans had left Earth, animal astronauts had blazed a trail into space. VOA’s Kerry Hensley has more.


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The US Is Hot And Getting Hotter

A large portion of the United States is in the midst of a heat wave.

Temperatures in the Northeast and Midwest are already high and are expected to climb to record breaking numbers during the weekend.  People have been warned to stay hydrated.

Forecasters say more than 87 million Americans live in areas where record temperatures will likely be set Saturday.

The temperature in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, is expected to reach 43.3 degrees Celsius.  Meteorologists say for a short while, it will feel just as hot in Washington as Death Valley, California.

National Weather Service forecaster Greg Carbin said the heat wave will be “short and searing.”

Tourists take photos of the U.S. Capitol (not seen) from a tour boat-like bus on a hot day in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diaa Bekheet)

The NWS warned: “Dangerous high temperatures and humidity could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke, if precautions are not taken.  The very young, the elderly, those without air conditioning, and those participating in strenuous outdoor activities will be the most susceptible.  Also, car interiors can reach lethal temperatures in a matter of minutes.”

A recent Environmental Protection Agency live air quality tracker reported “unhealthy” air for sensitive groups, including the elderly and young children, along the East Coast from Baltimore, Maryland to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a stretch that includes New York City.

“Daytime hours when the sun is out is clearly our highest risk periods,” Dr. Michael Kaufmann, EMS medical director with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, told the Associated Press.  “We’re not expecting the drops in temperature at night or the humidity that we often realize when the sun goes down.”

Pet owners have been cautioned to avoid walking their animals on paved or concrete areas because the temperature of the surfaces could rise high enough to burn paws.

 


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Puerto Rico Governor Resists Calls for Resignation

The governor of Puerto Rico is not backing down despite massive street protests in the capital, San Juan, demanding his resignation. Thousands of people have taken to the streets after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of leaked text messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rossello used homophobic and misogynistic language.  VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the governor said in a statement Thursday that his commitment to Puerto Rico is stronger than ever.


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Observers See Ominous Turn in Political Divide Over Race, Ideology

The weather in Washington has been hot, sticky and relentless this week. So has the politics.

In a period of a few days, the president of the United States told four members of Congress they could leave the country if they were unhappy and go back to the countries they came from, sparking passage of a House resolution that condemned some of his verbal and Twitter attacks as racist.

In the same week, Democrats again broached the subject of impeachment, only to see the effort fail when many Democrats joined Republicans in voting to table, or put off, the issue.

In sum, it has been a trying week for American democracy that has plunged the country into an angry debate over race, immigration and political ideology.


Washington Consumed by Growing Political Divide Over Race, Ideology video player.
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WATCH: Washington Consumed by Growing Political Divide Over Race, Ideology

‘Send her back!’

During a re-election rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, President Donald Trump left little doubt that his attacks on the freshmen Democratic congresswomen will be a staple of his campaign strategy for 2020.

“These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil. The way they speak so badly of our country. They want to demolish our Constitution, weaken our military and eliminate the values that built this magnificent country.”

When Trump specifically went after Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who emigrated years ago from Somalia, some in the crowd chanted, “Send her back!”

That moment seemed to trouble some Republicans on Thursday, and even Trump told reporters he “felt a little bit badly about it” and was “not happy” with the crowd chant.

Trump said he spoke quickly once the chant began, but video of the speech shows he paused for about 13 seconds as the chant grew from the crowd.

FILE – U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.

Omar told reporters Thursday she believes Trump is “fascist,” then added, “This is what this president and his supporters have turned the country into.”

The group of female lawmakers also includes House members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The president has been tweeting and criticizing them for days, and has urged them to leave the country if they are unhappy, even though all are U.S. citizens — three born in the United States.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Williams Arena, Greenville, N.C., July 17, 2019.

Divided Democrats

Trump’s combative appearance at the North Carolina rally came on the same day the House voted to set aside an effort by some Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings against him.

Earlier in the week, the House took the unusual step of condemning some of Trump’s attacks on the four lawmakers as racist.

All House Democrats supported the resolution, including civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia.

“I know racism when I see it.  I know racism when I feel it.  And at the highest level of government, there is no room for racism,” Lewis said.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 4, 2018.

Race and politics

Trump’s victory in 2016 was spurred by strong support from white working-class voters.

But many Democrats believe the president is now making a dangerous bid for support based on racial resentment.

“These words are not just words. They are like gasoline, like a spark to the gasoline of disturbed minds,” said New Jersey Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski.

Trump has denied he is a racist but has slammed the congresswomen as socialists, a line of attack that other Republicans have seized on, including Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.

“This not China. This is not North Korea. This is America. And if you hate our country, you are free to leave anytime you want to,” Kennedy told reporters at the Capitol.

Many political strategists believe that Trump wants to elevate the congresswomen as the face of the Democratic Party, something White House counselor Kellyanne Conway hinted at in a testy exchange with reporters earlier in the week.

“He is tired. A lot of us are sick and tired in this country of America coming last to people who swore an oath of office.”

Risky strategy

Many Trump critics, and even a few Republicans, see a more ominous turn in the latest attacks.

Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips is worried that the president’s raw focus on racial and ideological strains is tearing at the fabric of the country.

“And if racism ever becomes a partisan issue in this country, we have done a woeful disservice to our founders. We have done a woeful disservice to our Constitution, and a woeful disservice to every single person that calls America home.”

The president’s narrow victory in 2016 and his relatively low approval rating, currently around 43%, leaves him vulnerable for re-election, and makes his strategy a risky one, according to University of Virginia analyst Kyle Kondik.

“The approval rating is the troubling thing for the president because if his approval rating is under 45%, then he is going to need a significant share of people who don’t approve of him to vote for him. And that is when it becomes really difficult.”

This week’s rhetorical fireworks likely serve as a preview for what could be an ugly presidential campaign next year, the latest snapshot of a country deeply enmeshed in polarized and volatile political warfare.


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Iranian State Television Reports Seizure of Oil Tanker

Iranian state television said Thursday forces from the country’s Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil.

The report said the vessel was intercepted Sunday in a section of the Strait of Hormuz south of Iran’s Larak Island with 12 crew members on board.

It said the tanker was involved in smuggling one million liters of fuel, but did not give details about its country of origin.

The seizure comes after the Panamanian-flagged tanker MT Riah, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, disappeared from ship tracking maps in Iranian territorial waters on July 14.

The Revolutionary Guard said it received a distress call from the vessel, which was “later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,” a report said. It said Iranian smugglers intended to transport the fuel to foreign customers.

The seizure comes amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, which began to escalate when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 deal with Iran and world powers last year and imposed stiff sanctions on Iran, including on its oil exports.

Iran has recently exceeded uranium production and enrichment limits in violation of the agreement in an effort to pressure Europe to offer more favorable terms to allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The U.S. has also deployed thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets to the Middle East.

Veiled attacks on oil tankers and Iran’s downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone have further fueled concerns of a military conflict in the Persian Gulf region.

An unnamed U.S. defense official told Associated Press earlier this week the U.S. “has suspicions” Iran seized the tanker MT Riah when it turned off its tracker.

 


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India Reschedules Launch of Lunar Probe for Next Week

India’s space agency says it will make a second attempt to launch an unmanned probe to the Moon’s south pole next Monday, July 22.

The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will take place exactly one week after its first attempt was aborted less than an hour before liftoff due to a “technical snag” on the giant Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket.

FILE – Indian Space Research Organization scientists work on various modules of lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 at ISRO Satellite Integration and Test Establishment (ISITE) in Bengaluru, India, June 12, 2019.

Chandrayaan, the Sanskrit word for “moon craft,” is designed for a soft landing on the far side of the moon and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.  

If the $140 million mission is successful, India will become just the fourth nation to pull off a soft landing of a spacecraft on the lunar surface, after the United States — which is observing the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission this week — Russia and China.

 


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Venezuelan Migrants Vulnerable to Exploitation, Abuse

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk of exploitation and abuse.  More than 4,600 people were surveyed in five Caribbean and Central American countries between July and December 2018.

The survey provides a snapshot of the hardships encountered by a fraction of the four million people who have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis over the past few years.   

One in five Venezuelans interviewed said they were forced to work under dire conditions without pay or were held against their will until they paid off a debt they incurred while escaping from Venezuela.  

Rosilyn Borland is an IOM senior regional migrant protection and assistance specialist based in Costa Rica.  On a telephone line from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, she tells VOA both men and women fall victim to traffickers who force them into abusive situations.

FILE – A Venezuelan migrant rests outside the Ecuadorean migrations office at the Rumichaca International Bridge, in the border between Tulcan, Ecuador, and Ipiales, Colombia on August 20, 2018.

“It is good to remember that these criminal networks, they focus on the vulnerabilities,” she said.  “So, those can be linked to your gender or they can be linked to other things.  So, often we see trafficking and exploitation of women linked to gender-based violence and inequalities that women face.  But also, men who are searching for a way to support their families… may also find themselves in situations of vulnerability.” 

Borland says many migrants and refugees face discrimination while in transit or in destination countries.  She says massive flows of people often bring out the worst tendencies in host communities.  

“Part of our reasons for asking these questions has to do with fighting against xenophobia and things that, unfortunately, sometimes happen when communities are hosting large numbers of people.  It is difficult.  It is a strain,” she said. 

Borland says it is important to regularize migrants in the host countries.   She says allowing migrants to work legally brings them out of the shadows so they can fight for their rights.  She says having legal status would make them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.  

 

 

 

 

 


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Pompeo Latin American Trip to Focus on Immigration, Terrorism, Venezuela

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Latin America to meet face to face with leaders there, amid difficult negotiations with Mexico and Central American countries over how to best stem the flow of migrants to the southern U.S. border.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus gave an overview of the full agenda for the trip that begins at the end of the week.

“From July 19th to the 21st, the secretary will visit Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ecuador, Mexico City, San Salvador, where he will expand cooperation on security issues; reinforce U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, particularly support for the people of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and their struggle for freedom; and to enhance economic partnerships and to expand economic opportunities for our citizens,” she said a the daily briefing.

Counterterrorism in Argentina

While in Argentina, Pompeo will participate in a counterterrorism conference with regional allies, timed to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, and has been linked to Hezbollah and Iran by Argentine prosecutors.

No one has ever been held accountable for the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history.

FILE – Members of the Border Patrol and U.S. military talk with migrants who illegally crossed the border between Mexico and the U.S. to request political asylum, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 6, 2019.

Stemming migration

Migration is likely to be a major issue at his other stops. Some experts say the U.S. must address the root causes, or “push factors” that are compelling people to flee their homes.

“You have to look at the lack of opportunity, the gang activity, the weak institutions in this region, in Central America if you are ever going to stop people from making what is a difficult and dangerous journey to the United States. These people don’t leave taking the decision lightly,” Benjamin Gedan of the Wilson Center said.

He said there is broad consensus among most U.S. lawmakers that President Donald Trump should not have cut U.S. foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, while at the same time asking them to reduce the flow of migrants.

Other experts reject criticism of Trump for cutting aid to the so-called Northern Triangle countries.

“So I think the criticism of just, ‘Oh, the president is just making things worse.’ Well, honestly, really? Because how worse can things get?” asked James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation. “People are flooding north. It is obvious that money is not achieving anything.

“So if we’re going to give them money, I think we have to come up with programs that are actually going to have impact,” he added.

Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido speaks during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, July 5, 2019.

Venezuelan crisis 

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela, where millions have fled to neighboring countries, is likely to be an important topic for Pompeo at every stop on his journey.

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s leader.

Guaido contends President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid and wants early presidential elections. Maduro accuses the opposition of fomenting violence.

Pompeo will also stop in Guayaquil, Ecuador and San Salvador, El Salvador, to deepen the U.S. relationship with those countries, according to the State Department.


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