Economist 5/13/16

  1. Yellow fever can be prevented by a single inoculation.Since December, around 2,300 suspected cases have been reported in Angola, with nearly 300 deaths. Set against 80,000 deaths, this may not sound like many. But experience suggests that, for each case brought to the authorities’ attention in a country where health care is as fragmentary as it is in Angola, between 50 and 500 probably go unreported.It now risks spreading to Asia, where it has never before taken hold.Yellow fever is spread by Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that also carries dengue and Zika. Its early symptoms—a high temperature, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain—are reasonably mild and usually last only a few days. In about 15% of cases, however, the disease later returns with a vengeance. Patients experience severe abdominal pain, become jaundiced and bleed internally and from their eyes, mouth and nose. About half of these people die.
  2. The UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have shipped 9m doses of vaccine to Angola, enough for about a third of the population. But that is around a fifth of all the vaccine held worldwide at any one time. If the epidemic spreads, stocks will rapidly run out.The best way to contain the disease now is to vaccinate all those at risk as soon as possible. Every day increases the chance that one of the thousands of Asian workers in Angola will carry the disease home, sparking a full-scale outbreak on a continent that has yet to experience one.Once yellow fever is established in a tropical country, it is almost impossible to eradicate. Monkeys infected by the virus act as a reservoir for the disease. People who travel to the jungle can carry it back to towns and cities, where mosquitoes quickly breed—A. aegyptilays its eggs in standing water, meaning that even a discarded food tin could be a breeding ground.Why Asia has never had a large outbreak of yellow fever is something of a mystery.Production of yellow-fever vaccine has increased in the past five years, but it would be difficult to raise further. It has only four sources: Sanofi Pasteur, a French drug company, and institutes in Brazil, Senegal and Russia.
  3. ON MAY 12th Michel Temer became the third Brazilian vice-president in 30 years to be thrust into the top job, after the Senate voted to commence the impeachment trial of the president, Dilma Rousseff. As she steps aside for up to 180 days while senators consider her fate, she leaves behind a mess. The country’s economy may shrivel by 7.5% in 2015-16. Inflation and unemployment hover around 10%.Although Ms Rousseff is suspended from office, she clings onto the presidential sash until the upper chamber actually convicts her for the dodgy government accounting of which she stands accused.If his proposed cabinet is anything to go by, Mr Temer plans to replace Ms Rousseff’s confidence-stifling interventionism with market-friendlier policies. He appears commendably keen to chip away at Brazil’s bloated state. He has named a respected former Central Bank governor, Henrique Meirelles, as his finance minister and created a new super-ministry whose task is to spur private investment in Brazil’s shoddy infrastructure.
  4. FOR same-sex couples, Italy was long the outlier in western Europe.On May 11th the Italian parliament approved a law recognising same-sex civil unions, with 372 voting in favour, 51 against and 99 abstaining.The new law grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Partners in a civil union can apply for public housing as couples.They can also inherit their partners’ pensions. Property inheritance rules will be the same as for married couples.The bill, which was championed by Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, has been a long time in the making.The change in the law reflects changing attitudes towards homosexuality, even in Roman Catholic countries.Polls show that most Italians still oppose same-sex marriage. But they are friendlier towards civil unions: support ranges from about half to two-thirds, depending on the survey. Pope Francis has stuck with the official doctrine that same-sex unions cannot be considered the same as heterosexual marriages, but he has used more conciliatory language than his predecessors.
  5. On May 12th, John Whittingdale, the culture secretary of Britain introduced to parliament the government’s white paper of proposed changes for the next BBC charter. The organisation will receive additional external oversight from regulators and auditors. It will have a new board of directors that, as proposed, will be led by government appointees—the biggest point of contention for Tony Hall, theBBC director-general. It will also have to disclose the salaries of its stars earning more than Lord Hall’s compensation of £450,000 ($650,000) a year. The white paper also calls on the BBC not to focus on ratings but on being more “distinctive”.But the proposals for the new charter, which will run for 11 years, mostly keep the BBC as it is, and senior executives have embraced them, knowing how much worse it could have been.The licence fee—essentially a tax paid by any household that owns a television—will continue to provide most of its funding (£3.7 billion out of £4.8 billion total last year, the rest coming from commercial enterprises and government grants).Having been frozen at £145.50 since 2010, it will be allowed to rise at the rate of inflation.
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