After Zika, Yellow Fever Outbreak In Brazil

A young girl gets vaccinated against yellow fever in Brazil
A young girl gets vaccinated against yellow fever in Brazil
José Marques and Alexandre Rezende

MINAS GERAIS — After two failed attempts to get vaccinated against yellow fever, 72-year-old José Pedro de Jesus woke up before dawn to get the job done. He lives in a municipality in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais in Brazil called Piedade de Caratinga, where four people are believed to have died of the disease. On Tuesday, he reached the health care center at 1 a.m.

"I'd come at dawn the days before but I could never get a ticket and that made me nervous. I don't like lines. So today, I decided to come early," the pensioner told us as he waited outside the facility, which was set to open at 7 a.m. He was vaccinated at 8 a.m. Since Jan. 10, this municipality of 8,000 inhabitants has experienced long lines of people desperate to be immunized against yellow fever. As of Jan. 16, there had been 152 suspected cases in the state of Minas Gerais including 47 deaths.

The increasing demand for immunization against yellow fever means that some municipalities in Minas Gerais have run out of vaccines and are considered by the local government to be in a state of emergency. In the suburbs around Piedade de Caratinga, two healthcare centers that still have vaccines only distribute a limited number every day, depending on the quantities they receive from the state health ministry. The number of doses distributed, which can usually reach up to 500 a day in some facilities, has fallen since the beginning of the outbreak last week. It's because of this restriction that people like José Pedro de Jesus have had to arrive before the sun is out.

The city's other facility started distributing waiting numbers for the 200 vaccines they have available once they opened at 7 a.m. but only started administering vaccinations at 1 p.m.

"We hand out one ticket per person. We've given more in the past, when people asked for it, but it created tensions with others and we even had to call the police sometimes," says Cristiana Ferreira, one of the nurses.

Célio Machado, a farmer, arrived at the facility at 3:40 a.m. in the hope of obtaining 10 tickets for his colleagues at the farm. He says he had previously managed to get five tickets at one ago. This time, he got only one.

Local authorities in Piedade de Caratinga say that half the population has already been vaccinated and that they've also sent healthcare workers to rural areas where the outbreak is concentrated.

"End of Time"

The rising number of infected people has caused distress across the city and region. At the emergency ward of a local hospital, people complain of fever and headaches and believe they are infected. The prefecture ordered 10 beds to be quarantined.

Pharmacies are fast selling supplies of mosquito repellent since yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes. "My repellent sales have quadrupled," says Wellington Campos, who owns a pharmacy in Piedade de Caratinga. He promises "repellents at a special price" but admits he's not selling them for less than before.

Geraldo Oliveira, the 30-year-old nephew of carpenter Tomé Ladislay de Oliveira, 81, in Piedade de Caratinga, died of yellow fever four days after the first symptoms appeared.

Ladislay de Oliveira attributed the outbreak to "the end of time."

"The prophecy says: It will be an anguish so terrible that no one can imagine it."

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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