Ebola Pandemic: This Time is Different

Ebola Outbreak Map - BBC

This blog post was written and research by World Affairs Council Intern, Erin Elliott.

In mid-September President Obama announced the commitment of 3,000 U.S. troops to aid in international relief efforts. In the aftermath of the first direct Ebola case inside the U.S., the President has raised that number to 4,000. While Texas officials were careful to avoid panic and many insist that the U.S. would be able to contain the virus, the current Ebola outbreak remains the worst seen since its discovery in 1976.  At the current rate, the CDC estimates that cases could rise to 1.4 million within four months’ time.

The fatality statistics of Ebola since 1976 are one way in which this is illustrated:

  • 1976: 318 cases, 280 deaths
  • 1995: 315 cases, 250 deaths
  • 1996: 99 cases, 66 deaths
  • October 2001-December 2003: 300 cases, 253 deaths
  • March 2014-October 2, 2014: 3,974 cases, 2007 deaths

Underlying each new development in the pandemic is the question: what factors are exacerbating factors of this outbreak? The 2014 outbreak has been called “the perfect storm” and it seems like an accurate assessment. Countries of West Africa all have similar hallmarks that exacerbated the pandemic: they are all in various stages of recovery from civil wars, weak governance, poor infrastructure, and debilitated healthcare systems. Aside from limited the administrative capacity of the affected countries, globalization is most to blame for the rapid rates of infection. The outbreak began between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in a highly populated area. Since it is now a lot easier to travel from one place to another—even from one continent to another—it’s no surprise that Ebola has infected and killed so many. This, combined with governance and infrastructural handicaps are what make this outbreak different from past outbreaks.

Global health authorities have been criticized for being unprepared in their response and crisis management. Many are calling for quarantines, closed borders and travel bans until the outbreak is quelled. However, there are serious human rights concerns whenever the freedom of movement is restricted.

In addition to the health crisis, the increased magnitude of Ebola is now creating other problems:

The severity of Ebola is now unquestionable and it is clear that the disease poses an international threat. The United Nations, along with other international and humanitarian organizations, has formed the Global Ebola Response Coalition in order to provide care and services to those countries that are suffering the most and to stop the outbreak and prevent future outbreaks. There is no cure for Ebola, but several vaccines and treatments being developed by pharmaceutical companies worldwide which will be tested and used on Ebola patients in West Africa by November. This includes the unconventional plasma therapy for Ebola patients using the blood of other Ebola survivors.

While the threat remains high, the international community will no doubt be watching intently in the hopes that it can be stopped and a cure or treatment can be developed before more fatalities accumulate.

The Scotland of Tomorrow?


This blog post was researched and written by World Affairs Council inter, Erin Elliot.

Tomorrow Scotland will hold a referendum on becoming independent from the United Kingdom. Current political polling puts the referendum in a statistical dead heat: there is a 50-50 chance that tomorrow Scotland will be a brand new country.

Scotland has been part of the Kingdom of Great Britain with England and Scotland since the Acts of Union in 1707. Prior to then, it was an independent country united under a single monarch since 1603. The question of independence has always been present in Scottish politics but the recent bid was driven by the Scottish National Party after they won a majority of seats in the 2011 National Parliamentary election. The SNP has led the push for independence since it was founded in 1934 uniting the National Party of Scotland, a left pro-independence party, with the Scottish Party, who are more politically conservative but are in favor of home rule.

This vote is different than past attempts at independence. Prime Minister, David Cameron says the UK will not block the vote. This means that if the referendum passes, Scotland will be on its own once and for all. Given the gravity and finality of this decision, the referendum has the potential to ripple outward through continental Europe and into the rest of the world. There are already factions in Spain, Italy, and Belgium that are expressing interest in starting their own bids for independence. Just last week during Catalonia’s National Day in Spain, there were rallies in the streets of Barcelona. The Northern League in Italy and the Flemish community in Belgium are among others that have expressed self-deterministic desires.

Most observers are focusing on the economic implications of an independent Scotland. Many financial firms are nervous about the effect of Scottish independence on business and have relocated to Great Britain, including the Royal Bank of Scotland. Critics say that Scotland would face a long and difficult challenge in the monetary and fiscal issues alone. Some Scots maintain that they could continue to use the British pound, but Britain would have to give its permission which looks unlikely at this point. Scotland could adopt the Euro, but to do this they would have to join the EU. Also, given the instability of the Eurozone, it would be a risky monetary decision for a new country. They would also have the option of establishing their own currency.

Further analysis of the economic and political implications for Great Britain are equally complicated. If Scotland votes yes, Prime Minister Cameron will suffer political setbacks and pressure to resign for allowing the referendum in the first place. Additionally, if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom it will take the oil industry with it. Cameron’s criticism would be compounded by the loss of this asset. The loss of Scottish seats in British Parliament won’t have a detrimental affect; most of the Scottish seats are in the Labour party, but the Conservative party holds a majority even if Scotland remains in the UK.

On the other hand, Scotland requires a significant amount of British social welfare. If Scotland votes yes, the low income earners in Scotland will be the most vulnerable. Great Britain, however, will be at an advantage because they will no longer have a financial responsibility to Scotland.

There are also other questions about Scotland’s future, such as security, defense, health care, childcare, and education. Concerning foreign policy and international affairs, there is also the question of Scottish membership in the European Union and in NATO. Would independent Scotland seek to become members of either organization? If it did would it be able to join? How long would the process take and what would be the requirements?

Since there are so many practical concerns, it is interesting to see so much popular support in for the referendum. The Economist lends an interesting perspective to the drive for Scottish independence. According to the article, a sweeping sense of nationalism is the driver of the movement for self-determination; practical concerns like the economy and defense are in the periphery. The national identity of Scotland has always been strong, but genuine independence has continued to elude them. As the author suggests, this may be for historical reasons: unlike the Irish, the Scottish have had a relatively good relationship with the British. As such, the incentives to continue to be a part of the United Kingdom have tended to outweigh popular support for independence.

Even if Scotland votes no tomorrow, they still win; their government will become even further devolved from the British Parliament. Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives, and Scottish Liberal Democrats have laid out proposals to Scotland as contingency for a no vote expanding upon the Scotland Act of 2012. Most of the proposals would grant more taxation responsibility to Scotland while continuing to allow Britain to manage oil, defense, foreign policy and the economy.

Both sides of the debate have their own web presence and social media campaigns. Yes Scotland, the side favoring independence, and Better Together, the side favoring continued UK partnerships, have continual updates on each of their respective sites and social media pages.

The next twenty-four hours will be a very exciting time for Scotland and we eagerly await the results!

In the Office: A Look at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s Babies in the Workplace Program

Amiena Mahsoob and her sonToday is the first day that my work isn’t being punctuated by coos, and the rhythms of feeding and burping my four-month old baby boy. He has started daycare, and I am back to working as most adults with children do: kid-free.

Though my husband and I were lucky to have found a wonderful daycare early in my pregnancy, we soon realized that the start of the baby “academic” year and the end of my very generous maternity leave would leave us without childcare for over a month and a half. So for the past seven weeks, my son and I have benefited from an innovative approach to this gap in childcare: a Babies in the Workplace program.

I first heard about baby-friendly workplaces when an acquaintance worked alongside her infant at Rhiza.  Shortly after I learned I was pregnant, I stumbled across the idea again when reading this article written in response to Melissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo! bringing her newborn to work. As summertime is when my colleagues and I at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh collaborate and plan our school year programs, working from home for seven weeks or taking additional time off were not options for me. When I proposed the idea to our CEO and Vice President, they took to it immediately. After ironing out the details and referencing a Babies in the Workplace template from the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, our counsel gave it the okay. Audrey Russo, our board chair, who was responsible for implementing babies at work programs at Rhiza and Maya nearly a decade ago, was delighted.

10477114_10152587387894253_3906887940984784147_oSo it was that my little guy had the opportunity to work with me this summer. He attended our summer program for high school students, the Summer Seminar on Global Issues, where he met 36 students from twenty high schools, including three students and their chaperone from the Roots School in Islamabad. He napped through an otherwise engaging conversation via video conference with Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, who gave a talk on the crises facing migrants and refugees in the Middle East and on our borders. He smiled when we video conferenced with our partner, Helenne Ulster, the Principal of United Church School in South Africa. He giggled during another video conference with our partner school in Taiwan. He made comments during meetings with Pittsburgh-area teachers. He even had the chance to babble to students in Bangladesh.

Though our organization is small, we work in a large bank building in downtown Pittsburgh. As my son and I came into the building each day, everyone from bankers to security guards greeted our youngest summer intern. It was delightful, and a great way to start the day.

Working with an infant, I found, was both more difficult and much easier than I anticipated. Once we both acclimated to the office, the rhythms of infant life provided a structure to the day. Anything that required concentration could happen during naps or feeding, while meetings worked best with an alert baby, who would also serve to entertain and calm the grownups in the room.

As many working parents have experienced, there simply aren’t enough great options for childcare in the United States. While bringing an infant to work isn’t for everyone, I am incredibly grateful to have had such a wonderful transition. And our youngest summer intern now has a little something for his baby CV.

Honorary Consuls in Pittsburgh

world map

Pittsburgh is home to 16 honorary consuls (as of May 2014). Honorary consuls are private citizens who serve (without pay) as representatives of foreign governments in major cities without a formal Consulate General. Along with their countries’ official diplomatic efforts, they help to promote relations with the United States while also assisting citizens from the countries they represent.

The countries represented in Pittsburgh are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Oman, Poland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom.  The contact information for the honorary consuls can be found after the jump.


President of the Consular Association:      

Mr. Jean-Pierre Collet

Former Consul of France

1328 Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburgh, PA  15260

TEL: (412) 362-8970

FAX: (412) 362-2301

EMAIL: jpcollet1@cs.com



Mr. Edgar Braun

Andritz-Ruthner, Inc.

Southpointe Industrial Park

125 Technology Drive

Canonsburg, PA  15317

TEL: (724) 745-7599

FAX: (724) 745-9570

EMAIL: edbra@aol.com



Mrs. Anne Billiet Lackner

Carnegie Office Park, Suite 290

800 North Bell Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA  15106

TEL: (412) 279-2121

FAX: (412) 279-6426

EMAIL: anne.lackner@gmail.com



Mrs. Patricia Penka French

Bulgarian Macedonian National

Educational & Cultural Center

449-451 W. 8th Avenue

West Homestead, PA  15120

TEL: (412) 461-6188 (W); (412) 831-5101 (H)

EMAIL: ppfrench@verizon.net or BMNECC@gmail.com



Dr. Marion Vujevich

100 North Wren Drive

Pittsburgh, PA  15243

TEL: (412) 429-2570

FAX: (412) 429-2572

EMAIL: drmarion@vucare.com



Dr. Carol H. Hochman

650 Smithfield Street, Suite 1180

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

TEL: (412) 855-6581

EMAIL: carolh1541@aol.com



Mrs. Eva M. Robinson

104 Shanor Heights

Butler, PA  16001

TEL: (724) 283-2274

FAX: (724) 283-2274

EMAIL: evamrob@zbzoom.net



Mr. Jean-Dominique Le Garrec

1447 Beechwood Boulevard

Pittsburgh, PA  15217

TEL: (412) 726-5893

EMAIL: consul.fr.pit@verizon.net



Mrs. Mahnaz M. Harrison

112 Westchester Drive

Pittsburgh, PA  15215

TEL: (412) 781-0243

FAX: (412) 782-0424

EMAIL: mahnazh1@comcast.net



Mr. Paul Overby

c/o Cohen & Grigsby, P.C.

625 Liberty Avenue, Fifth Floor

Pittsburgh, PA  15222-3152

TEL: (412) 297-4694

FAX: (412) 209-0672

EMAIL: poverby@pauloverby.net



Mr. James J. Lamb

President, Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh

Suite 1207 Investment Building

239 Fourth Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA  15222

TEL: (412) 394-3900

FAX: (412) 394-0502

EMAIL: jlamb@iiofpitt.org



Prof. Carla E. Lucente, Ph.D.

Fisher Hall, 728

600 Forbes Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA  15282

TEL: (412) 765-0273

FAX: (412) 765-0582

EMAIL: lucente@duq.edu



Ms. Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis

The Pittsburgh Middle East Institute

5 Von Lent Place

Pittsburgh, PA  15232

TEL: (412) 654-3523 (Direct); (412) 995-0076 (Main)

FAX: (412) 361-0300

EMAIL: scurtis@americanmei.org



Dr. Jan Napoleon Saykiewicz

825 Rockwell Hall

600 Forbes Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA  15282

TEL: (412) 396-6234

FAX: (412) 396-4764

EMAIL: saykiewicz@duq.edu



Mr. Joseph T. Senko

230 Thornberry Circle

Pittsburgh, PA 15234

TEL: (412) 531-2990 (O); (412) 343-5031 (H); (412) 956-6000 (Cell)

FAX: (412) 531-4793

EMAIL: jsenko@aol.com



Ms. Petra Mitchell

2000 Technology Drive

Pittsburgh, PA  15219

TEL: (412) 805-5010

FAX: (412) 687-2791

EMAIL: Petram77@gmail.com



Mr. Mark A. Nordenberg

Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer

University of Pittsburgh

107 Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburgh, PA  15260

TEL: (412) 624-4200

FAX: (412) 624-7539

EMAIL: norden@pitt.edu

First Day of School: Global Edition

This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh intern, Jill Fronk.

September has arrived and is quickly passing by, which mean only one thing for students here in the U.S.—the beginning of school.  The new school year, means fresh new school supplies, yes some people would prefer a bouquet of pens and pencils to flowers; a trendy new backpack; and, of course, the perfect first day outfit. For the younger elementary school kids, there is the mandatory picture at the bus stop for the parents to have for their memories. First days also hold the possibility of delicious treats either in your packed lunch or waiting for you when you get home to tell your family about your first day of school. These traditions go somewhat differently around the world. Here’s a brief tour of the first day of school around the globe.


Children in Italy prepare for their first day of school by rushing out to buy the most fashionable new smock,or “work coat”; book bag; and diary, an agenda to write down all of their assignments. They each wear a ribbon with the color corresponding to the grade they will be entering. Traditionally, but not in all Italian cities, red is for first grade, pink for second, blue for third, green for fourth, and the three colors of the Italian flag (white, green, and red) for fifth.


In Germany, parents or grandparents give their children going into first grade a Schultϋten, or a school cone, to take with them on their first day. Their beautifully decorated cones are usually filled with candy, toys, and school supplies. They were traditionally given to make school a little sweeter with candies and chocolate. Today, they usually have a more practical application with gifts that will be more useful in the classroom, but the gift giver still remembers its original purpose with a few treats stored inside.


September 1st, also known as Knowledge and Skills Day, marks the first day of school in Russia. Children bring bouquets of flowers to their teachers, and attend a special ceremony. The ceremony ends with bells ringing to symbolize the “first bell” of the new school year. If September 1st falls on a Saturday, students are still required to go the ceremony, and actual classes will begin that Monday. Their first lesson focuses on peace; the importance of respecting others, protecting the environment, and the art of cooperation.


Kazakhstan has a similar tradition as Russia, where each student brings one flower to their teacher on the first day to give them a sense of purpose. The teachers gather all of their flowers to form a bouquet that symbolizes the growth they will have together throughout the school year. Children are given special bags for their first day containing treats, pencils, and candles.


Japanese children face one of the longest school years in the world, 250 days. On their first day of elementary school, children are presented with a randoseru (book bag) filled with unique school supplies; origami paper, slippers, and weeding tools. It also holds their first lunch of the year, rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs, which is meant to bring good luck. Traditionally, girls were given red randoseru and boys were given black ones. Now they come in a variety of colors and styles. They are sometimes passed down to other family members or neighbors. Otherwise, pieces of their randoseru are used to make pencil cases for chuugako, middle school.


Most children in India go to a government school where there are large class sizes and teachers have a tendency to be the most absent person in the class. This doesn’t prevent students from being excited about their first day though. Praveshanotshavan, or Admission Day, as their first day of school is known, means gifts for the kids. The most popular gift, which may seem a little dull to most but an absolute necessity in India, is an umbrella. The beginning of their school year coincides with the beginning of monsoon season.


In Israel, school is considered to be “sweet” especially for those entering the 1st grade. On their first day, they pass through an archway that is made by the older students, and lick letters that are formed with honey off of a slate. This is meant to represent that “learning is sweet”. Balloons are also released by the older students during the ceremony.


Before school starts in early February, school supplies are purchased in advance because of the huge rise in inflation duringthis time of year. The price of school supplies can differ by 500% depending on the store you frequent. Students in the larger cities navigate big traffic jams and police who control the chaos that always come with the much anticipated first day.

If you want to learn more about education around the world, check out this past World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh blog post, Back to School from Around the World.

2 Political Reasons Why China Should Stop Blocking Social Media

China seems to have little remorse about violating several World Trade Organization principles of free trade and open market access. Its citizens’ are forbidden to access to foreign sites—including social media sites—while foreigners are able to access Chinese sites. Aynne Kokas, an expert on Chinese Internet policies at Rice University in Texas, says this is contributable to the expanding trade gap between America and China.  “[China’s] own rising powers on the Web are not only free to operate across the U.S., but also have raised more than $40 billion on U.S. stock exchanges,” she said.


Turkish and Chinese Social Media Users Bypass Crackdowns

This video produced by PBS News Hour features First Lady Michelle Obama in China; she spoke to professors and students about the importance of free speech to the strength of a country’s voice.

Turkish and Chinese Social Media Users Bypass Crackdowns   English Language Arts and Literacy   Classroom Resources   PBS Learning Media



China has incurred some major long-term consequences pertaining to basic human rights and trade relations, here’s what I consider to be the top two.

1. Repression of Individual Freedoms

China’s cyber-border guards demonstrate a lead repression of individual online freedoms, according to Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, a legal scholar who was a senior adviser on WTO issues to the EU leadership. Here are some realities of the situation.

  • Reports indicate that internet usage in China is patrolled by tens of thousands of cyber-sentries.
  • China prevents 600 million internet users from joining Facebook, emailing sites, and photo sharing sites.
  • Cyber users are blocked from over 18,000 worldwide websites.
  • Cyber blockages are only prevent mainland readers from visiting foreign websites, not prevent foreigners from accessing Chinese sites.China blog


2. Diminishing International Trade Relationships

The United States has taken some major action against China in the last few months. U.S. officials say Chinese spies are responsible for nearly $300 billion a year in stolen intellectual property and lost business to American companies, and who have cost Americans jobs. They’ve launched a counterintelligence campaign against China. U.S. hackers at the National Security Agency (NSA) have broken into Chinese computers in order to find out what information has been stolen from American companies

- bring criminal charges against foreign government officials

- sophisticated cyber sleuthing and the cooperation of American companies, which are willing to work with federal investigators and explain what damage they suffered as the victims of economic espionage.

- appealing to Chinese courts after indicting 5 Chinese militants for cyber espionage, China still maintains its blocks on foreign cyber platforms.


Recognizing Ramadan in Pittsburgh


Screenshot (25)

This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council intern, Jalyn Evans

Over a billion Muslims around the world are ending their season of Ramadan at sundown on July 28th. Ramadan is a 30-day period in which Muslims fast–abstaining from daytime food and drink. Learning about this sacred time for Muslims provides us with a background for understanding the values, ethics and principles of Muslim cultures around the world.

Deeper than Hunger

Abstaining from food and drink is only one manifestation of fasting during Ramadan. The Muslim word for fast literally means “to refrain.”  A time to refocus attention on God and purify the spirit, Muslims are called to practice self-restraint from bad habits and ways of thinking, such as gossiping or holding grudges, during Ramadan. Muslims also seek renewal for broken ties between family and friends, making right any ill feelings toward others. Ramadan is a time for spiritual growth, reflection, and self-evaluation.

Ramadan in Pittsburgh!

Sheikh Atef Mahgoub

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh celebrated the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday, July 13th, during its annual Humanity Day. At this celebration, Educators were honored for promoting acceptance and understanding of different faiths. Read the full article here.

The Center hosts an array of Muslim programs and events reaching out to those who are interested in the Muslim faith, these include Arabic classes and community outreach efforts.

Located at 4100 Bigelow Boulevard, the Center offers tours and is open for all regular prayer times.  Click here to learn more.






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