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Musician Joanne Shenandoah, a powerful voice for Native culture, dies at 64

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Musician Joanne Shenandoah, a powerful voice for Native culture, dies at 64

Joanne Shenandoah in 2020 at Hart’s Falls Preserve, near the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Studies, an organization run by Shenandoah and her husband, Doug George-Kanentiio, in Hermon, N.Y.

Jane Feldman/Courtesy of the artist

Jane Feldman/Courtesy of the artist

Legendary Native American musician Joanne Shenandoah, a trailblazer popular with both mainstream and Native audiences, has died. A multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer who collaborated with such musical icons as Robbie Robertson and Neil Young (as well as with this writer), Shenandoah won a Grammy award and was among the most lauded musicians in the history of the Native American Music Awards. According to her sister Vicky Schenandoah, who confirmed with NPR by phone, she died late Monday night at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. following a long illness. She was 64.

Joanne Shenandoah was a citizen of the Oneida Nation, Wolf Clan, of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) Confederacy in upstate New York. Her sister says the Schenandoahs are direct descendents of Chief Skenandoa (there are various spellings of the name — some family members now spell it with a “c” and some have chosen to drop it), an ally to George Washington during the American Revolution.

Her story is an introduction into the richness of Native cultures. Shenandoah’s music covered an array of traditional, folk, Americana, pop, country and even New Age, performed in both English and her native language. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) history and culture was present throughout her music. Her 2004 album Peacemaker’s Journey is about the legend of Skennanrahowi and how he brought peace to the warring tribes that became their confederacy sometime between the 15th and 16th centuries. It won five awards from the Native American Music Awards (NAMMYs) and other Native music groups.

When she began her musical career, her songs and stories were efforts to help transform the hundreds of years of marginalization of First Nations peoples. Every breath she took, every song she sang was her way of saying, “HERE WE ARE.”

Shenandoah embodied the full meaning of the traditional name she received as a child, “Tekaliwhakwah,” which translates to “she sings, and lifts the spirit.” Her voice was often described as angelic and enchanting. After recording a track for Robbie Robertson’s Contact From the Underworld of Redboy, he said, “She weaves you into a trance with her beautiful Iroquois chants and wraps her voice around you like a warm blanket on a cool winter’s night.” She was often accompanied on vocals by her daughter Leah Shenadoah and sister Diane Schenandoah.

Joanne Shenandoah (right) with her daughter Leah Shenandoah (left) and her sister Diane Schenandoah (center) near the Hudson River during the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 2019.

Jane Feldman/Courtesy of the artist

Jane Feldman/Courtesy of the artist

Her 15 albums, numerous singles, collaborations and film scores earned her more than 40 music awards, including 14 NAMMYs and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native American Music Association in 2007. In 2006 she won a Grammy for Best Native American Music Album for her participation on the album Sacred Ground: A Tribute To Mother Earth on the solo track “Seeking Light” and “Mother Earth,” a collaboration with fellow Native musician Rita Coolidge’s trio Walela. She was previously nominated in 2002 for her album Peacemaker’s Journey and in 2004 for Covenant. That Grammy category no longer exists. She also received an Emmy nomination in 2019.

***

I met Jo when we were both young and spirited artists. She was a dear friend and sister to me. In fact, her sister Vicky and I had married brothers, and our kids are cousins. Jo and I bonded over music and creative pursuits. I watched her star rise while we gigged at events, Earth Day concerts and the 1997 Native presidential inaugural ball. We pitched projects and I interviewed her for others. We had photo sessions and even spent a cold day in the snow taking action shots for a major film audition. We wrote and recorded a song together for a health campaign aimed at Native women. Everything we did was an adventure, often spontaneous. Jo was a fun-loving soul. People were drawn to her and adored her. She also lived by Haudenosaunee principles of thanksgiving: honoring all of creation every day.

Through the pandemic we FaceTimed often as she hiked and enjoyed caring for her grandson. She dug out old country songs she had written and recorded them for what would become her last album, Shenandoah Country. As always with Joanne, there were other projects in the works and more being conceptualized.

She was an intuitive artist. She preferred to go into a studio and let the creativity flow serendipitously rather than plan every musical detail, and often performed shows without following a setlist. Her music fulfills a tribal prophecy that she would carry the Haudenosaunee message of peace to the four directions. She criss-crossed the country by car and plane, often playing charities even as demand for her performances grew internationally.

One of her proudest accomplishments was her symphonic odyssey Skywoman, a pop-orchestral work about the Haudenosaunee Iroquois creation story. The idea came after publishing a book of the story that she co-authored with her husband Doug George-Kanentiio, an Akwesasne Mohawk journalist and historian, called Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois, in 1996. The work was recorded in 2004, and in 2018 was performed in the heart of the Iroquois Confederacy with the Symphoria, a musician-led non profit orchestra in Syracuse.

She was known as much for blazing a global path of “peace through music” as she was an advocate for what she called Earth Rights and human rights, most recently bringing attention to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic. Always guided by the Haudenosaunee principle of considering how decisions affect the next seven generations, she dove into many important humanitarian projects with tenacity and skill, wielding a natural ambassadorship and an endearing brand of charisma. She also served as Co-Chair for the Attorney General’s National Task Force of Indigenous Children Exposed to Violence for the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama era.

***

Joanne Shenandoah presented her musical message of peace and First Nations identity around the world in concerts performed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, First Lady Hillary Clinton, President Nelson Mandela, Dr. Huston Smith and USSR Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev other world leaders at the White House, Carnegie Hall, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican (for the canonization of the first Native American Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha), Madison Square Garden, Bethlehem Fine Arts Center in Palestine, Toronto Skydome, the Parliament of the World’s Religions (South Africa, Spain, Australia, Canada) and Woodstock ’94. She also played the role of Dawn Russell in the film The Last Winter starring Ron Perlman.

The family’s musical and cultural roots ran deep. Her father, Pine Tree Chief Clifford Schenadoah of the Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan, was a jazz guitarist and an iron worker. Her mother Maisie (Yakolihuny^ni – “She Teaches”) was an Oneida Wolf Clan Mother who also sang, played guitar, sold traditional arts and was a cultural presenter. Joanne often joked, “As a child my mother would drag me onstage and now she can’t get me off!” Recalling their early years on Oneida territory, her sister Vicky said that though they lacked running water and had to melt snow to bathe in a tin tub, “going to ceremonies and the longhouse was a way of life… we were lucky to be brought up hearing traditional songs to honor every living thing from planting seeds to babies being born.” Preserving their rich culture led to one of Shenandoah’s most important legacy projects: helping to create the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge, a non-profit, higher learning educational facility to provide all nations and peoples the access to the ancient teachings and principles of peace of the Haudenosaunee.

YouTube

In 2017, The American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. presented her a Lifetime Achievement award for her “life’s work that has led to the improvement and empowerment of Native Americans through social, political, legal, environmental or educational initiatives.”

Shenandoah confidently brought respect and visibility to indigenous wisdom and culture. She was revered among First Nations as a matriarch with valor and grace, for her positivity and humor, her dedication to improving the lives of indigenous people and as a symbol of hope. On news of her passing, the Native American Music Awards (NAMA) posted:

“Joanne’s beautiful embellishing voice, strong Iroquois traditions, unequivocal elegance and courteous grace made her a prominent role model and highly respected musical Matriarch among Native American communities as well as the mainstream music community at large. She sang with deep roots from her ancestors and flawlessly incorporated her oral traditions into contemporary Folk, Country and Americana formats. She captured the hearts of audiences all over the world and always took time to encourage and inspire younger musicians in her travels. She made an incredible impact on this earth and has paved paths for so many. The Native American Music Awards will continue to best ensure and preserve her legacy. She will be greatly missed.”

Following Joanne’s death, Vicky Schenandoah shared the following quote from her sister posted on Facebook in 2014 by Project 562:

“Every word we speak; every song we sing; the songs which we subject ourselves to, whether in the womb, or as an elder, these songs affect us in very powerful and meaning ways. They can actually help to destroy us or they can help to heal us. In iroqouis way, music is an integral part of who we are. So there are songs that celebrate all elements of the earth. There are songs that will quicken your death. There are songs to sing to the plants and the medicines so that they will fulfill their responsibility. So walking upon this earth is pretty amazing. If you believe that you have a special gift, (which you do), if you use that in a good way, with a good mind, that gift actually helps to transform our entire being and it actually has a great effect on the earth.”

Joanne Shenandoah — Tekaliwhakwah — lifted my spirit and my life. Quoting a song we wrote together: “Native woman, you’re the light of your family / So shine for all the world to see / Your spirit is the one who was chosen to be / The one to live in harmony.” This is how I’ll remember her.

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American whiskey makers set their sights on Europe as Trump-era tariffs are lifted

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American whiskey makers set their sights on Europe as Trump-era tariffs are lifted

A woman walks past a display of bottles of whiskey at the James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Amir Peay had high hopes when he salvaged the abandoned 140-year-old James E. Pepper Distillery near the heart of Lexington, Kentucky. After years of planning and renovations, it was finally ready to produce whiskey on site in 2017. But Peay’s hopes were dashed a few months later, as the European Union imposed tariffs on American whiskey.

“We thought we could really grow our business over there,” says Peay. “That is, of course, until June of 2018 when, out of the blue, American whiskey got dragged into a trade war.”

Amir Peay, the owner of the James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean /NPR

Jeff Dean /NPR

But now, Peay and whiskey distillers across the U.S. are raising their glasses and setting their sights, once again, on Europe. The U.S. and European Union announced a trade agreement last month that effectively lifts the 25-percent tariffs on American whiskey come January.

The tariffs, which had been levied as part of a growing trade dispute between the Trump administration and the E.U. over steel and aluminum, also targeted American exports such as motorcycles and denim, and stymied international growth for the burgeoning American whiskey industry.

The James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Master distiller Aaron Schorsch walks through the distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Europe is a major importer of American spirits, yet distillers saw a 53% decline in American whiskey exports to the U.K. and a 37% decline to the E.U. while the tariffs were in place, resulting in over $300 million in lost revenue, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

Then COVID-19 exacerbated the pain of small distillers as they were forced to close their doors to tours and tastings, and bars and restaurants shut down.

“In the beginning, when the pandemic hit, you know, myself and us, as a company, we were really, really nervous and scared,” says Peay, adding that bars and restaurants made up nearly half of his business at the time.

Master distiller Aaron Schorsch inspects the mash.

Jeff Dean/ NPR

Jeff Dean/ NPR

Master distiller Aaron Schorsch weighs containers of rye.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

The distillery pivoted to retail sales. And with more people drinking at home throughout the pandemic, the company sold a record number of cases of whiskey in 2020, Peay says.

“We had very strong domestic growth,” says Peay. “But it made us change how we wanted to allocate stock to Europe, and it altered what was going to be our growth trajectory in Europe.”

Rye is transferred from a silo into storage containers.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

It could be hard for smaller craft distillers to reclaim the space they lost on European store shelves when the tariffs were imposed, now that distributors have adjusted their purchasing strategies.

“Once you’re off the shelves, it’s like 300 times harder to get back on,” says Sonat Birnecker Hart, President of Koval Distillery in Chicago, Illinois.

Distillery employee Cody Giles, left, uses a forklift to pick up a container of malt.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Bottles sit on bottling line at the James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Hart says Koval decided to keep its prices steady, essentially eating the excess cost of the tariffs, in order to maintain existing relationships.

“We had to show them that we were in it for the long term,” says Hart.

So when the Biden administration announced that it had come to an agreement with the E.U. to lift the tariffs, Hart saw reason to celebrate.

“We took out the bourbon cocktails to toast that the tariffs had gone away” says Hart. “That being said, you know, there’s still work to be done.”

Boxes are stacked at the James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Travis Kitchens pours a tasting flight at the James E. Pepper Distillery.

Jeff Dean/NPR

Jeff Dean/NPR

Especially when it comes to Britain. The U.K. is no longer part of the E.U., thanks to Brexit, and has yet to remove its tariffs on American whiskey.

Yet Amir Peay in Lexington is optimistic a deal will be struck and demand for U.S. whiskey will increase.

“It’s not a light switch. We can’t just flick it and immediately just, ‘Let’s go back to what we had,'” he says. “I’m not sure about 2022, but I am confident that 2023 and beyond… It’s a very bright future for American whiskey in Europe.”

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Peru has the world’s highest COVID death rate. Here’s why

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Peru has the world’s highest COVID death rate. Here’s why

Despite its remote location, the Peruvian city of Iquitos on the Amazon River was one of the first parts of the country to be hard hit by COVID-19.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

People in Iquitos, Peru, refer to their city as “una isla,” an island, even though it’s not an island. Iquitos is a port city of roughly 400,000 people on the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. Residents proudly note that it’s the largest city in the world that’s unreachable by road. You can only get there by boat or by plane.

In the early days of the COVID pandemic being isolated seemed like an advantage. It might delay the arrival of the virus. It might make it easier to contain. But that didn’t turn out to be the case for Iquitos.

The first COVID cases appeared in Iquitos in March of 2020 at a time when cases were starting to pop up in many parts of the world.

Raymond Portelli, priest and doctor, in his office in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. In the early days of the pandemic, he says he wasn’t too worried about this new coronavirus. But his early optimism would quickly evaporate.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“We were hearing news about the pandemic in other countries,” says Catholic priest Raymond Portelli, who is also a physician. “But sincerely, we thought it wasn’t going to be that disastrous and it wasn’t going to come to Iquitos.”

The disaster unfolding in Iquitos would quickly play out across the South American nation. Peru’s death toll from COVID is now the worst in the world, far higher than any of its neighbors and twice the rate of the United States. In Peru COVID officially caused nearly 6,000 deaths for every 1 million Peruvians. In neighboring Ecuador the mortality rate is just over 1,800 per million. In the U.S. the COVID death rate is roughly 2,400 per million.

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Mariana Leguia, an infectious disease expert in Lima, says a combination of factors made COVID so deadly in Peru. “It was sort of a perfect storm,” says Leguia, who directs the genomics laboratory at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

COVID overtakes the ‘island’ city

Padre Raymundo, as he’s known, runs a medical clinic in Iquitos on the ground floor of his church 6 days a week.

“In the morning, I’m a doctor. And in the evening I’m a priest,” he says with a laugh.

In July 2020, priest and physician Raymond Portelli held a mass paying homage to local educators who died of COVID-19.

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Portelli, who’s originally from Malta, has been in Iquitos for the last 25 years.

He says that in those early days of the pandemic, he wasn’t too worried about this new coronavirus that was causing such a ruckus elsewhere in the world.

But that early optimism would quickly evaporate. On March 15, 2020, just as the first coronavirus cases started appearing in Iquitos, Peru went into a strict nationwide lockdown.

Flights linking Iquitos back to the capital were cancelled. Boat navigation on the Amazon River, the main source of traffic in and out of Iquitos, was also officially banned although some boats still moved surreptitiously on the massive murky brown waterway.

Raymond Portelli, priest and doctor, treats a patient in his clinic inside the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

Portelli says part of the problem at that point was that the region was also being hit with a spike in dengue cases.

“We were kind of like, ‘Is it dengue or is it something else?'” the doctor-priest says. “Then the whole thing erupted.”

Like much of the rest of Peru, Iquitos was ill-equipped to deal with an eruption of COVID cases. Doctors had no way to test for the virus. There was no known treatment.

Juan Carlos Celis Salinas, a doctor at the Loreto Regional Hospital, stands by a memorial to the medical staff who died from COVID-19 during the first wave in Iquitos, Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

And at the time there were only 12 ICU beds in the vast Loreto Province, where Iquitos is the capital – an astonishingly low number for a region that stretches across 500 miles of rainforest, pushing up against Ecuador, Colombia and the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Seven of those beds were at the Loreto Regional Hospital in Iquitos, which was designated as the hospital for treating COVID.

By mid-May of 2020 that hospital was on the verge of collapse. The hallways were filled with patients on Army cots.

Dr. Juan Carlos Celis Salinas inside a now empty COVID ward at the Iquitos Regional Hospital. In the early days of the pandemic, he says, that hospital was on the verge of collapse. Hallways were filled with patients on cots.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

Dr. Juan Carlos Celis Salinas, the head of infectious diseases at the hospital, says the facility was completely full. “Beds, beds, beds, beds,” Celis says, pointing out where cots had been set up in the main lobby of the hospital. Some people were even lying on cardboard on the floor.

Anatomy of Peru’s ‘Perfect Storm’

Mariana Leguia, the infectious disease expert at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, says part of the perfect storm that made COVID so bad in Peru was its dependence on imports. Like many middle-income countries, Peru doesn’t produce much of its own medical supplies.

“That means that all the PPE, all the tests, all the molecular tests, all the antibody tests, absolutely everything comes from someplace else,” she says. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was basically impossible to compete for these things because everybody wanted them.”

Every country in the world was scrambling to buy up masks, protective gear, ventilators. Peru was not only competing against neighboring South American nations for pandemic supplies but against wealthy nations like Germany, the United States, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Peru didn’t have the cash or the clout to compete in that frantic market.

Other factors in Peru’s COVID storm were an underfunded public health-care system, overcrowded living conditions and a huge informal economy. An estimated 70% of Peruvians survive off informal jobs, making it nearly impossible for them to adhere to the nationwide lockdown. Nearly a quarter of Peru’s 33 million citizens live below the poverty line.

Boats anchored in the port of Indiana down the Amazon river from Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is only accessible by air or water. Residents thought that that isolation might slow the arrival of COVID-19, but that didn’t prove to be the case.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“So when the shutdown came, these people are completely out of a job,” notes Leguia. “In a situation like that, your priority becomes having something to eat for the day, not staying at home and trying not to get the virus.”

During the pandemic Peru also lacked the stable political leadership needed to address the crisis at home and negotiate for medical supplies from abroad.

“Last year, I think we had four presidents, five presidents. I lose count,” Leguia says. The correct number was four. But whether it was four or five, she says the political situation made it nearly impossible for the government to effectively respond to this huge medical, economic and social crisis. “Because there’s massive turnover of the authorities happening every three months,” she says.

This was the ultimate blow

The coup de grâce for Peru was a lack of oxygen. Peru not only didn’t have sufficient supplies of medical oxygen to treat patients, it had restrictive, cumbersome regulations on bottling oxygen that had limited the market to just a few local companies.

A shortage of oxygen contributed to Peru’s high death rate. Above: empty oxygen tanks in the medical office in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“In the context of the pandemic, the main driver of deaths was actually lack of oxygen,” says Leguia.

And that’s also what led to the avalanche of deaths in Iquitos, she says.

In Iquitos in early May of 2020, the sole oxygen plant at the regional hospital broke down.

Dr. Celis says it was the darkest moment of the pandemic.

“When a patient is without oxygen,” he says. “They don’t scream. They die as if a candle were being blown out.”

Patients who probably could have been saved just with supplemental oxygen instead slipped away, says Celis.

The surge in deaths led to chaos. The hospital’s morgue was full. The city’s crematorium also couldn’t keep up and eventually shut down. Mortuaries had been taking in bodies but then in the midst of the lockdown couldn’t schedule funerals. In addition, several funeral directors got infected and died.

A relative of a COVID-19 patient waits to try to refill a medical oxygen tank in Iquitos in mid-May of 2020. The main oxygen plant in the city broke down days earlier leading to a surge in COVID deaths.

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, staff at the hospital were working long shifts, sweating in the tropical heat with only a single mask. Doctors and nurses, including Celis, started getting infected. Sixteen staff members including 6 doctors from the hospital didn’t survive.

As oxygen tanks drained with no way to refill them, Celis says all his staff could do was try to make patients comfortable.

“You weren’t doing something heroic,” he says. “You were just resisting because you had to do your job. You felt responsible to be there but with this immense fear for your children, your wife, your family.”

A small miracle in Iquitos

In Iquitos, the story of an isolation center captures the mounting tragedy – and a possible path forward.

At that same time that the main hospital in Iquitos was overrun with COVID patients, Padre Raymundo Portelli was overseeing a church-run isolation center for what were supposed to be mild to moderate COVID cases.

“I was attending nearly 70 to 80 patients hospitalized there,” the doctor-priest says.

But more and more people kept testing positive. And many the patients in the isolation center were getting progressively sicker. Given that services at the main hospital had collapsed Portelli had nowhere to transfer them.

People wait outside the medical clinic of the priest and doctor, Raymond Portelli, located in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. Portelli sees 30 patients a day and says he now rarely sees COVID cases.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“Patients were dying for lack of oxygen,” he says. “And I was sitting here, I remember I’d said mass for them. But I didn’t know what to do.”

Then a friend in Lima suggested that Portelli should take up a collection to buy a new oxygen plant and bring it to Iquitos. Portelli laughs as he recalls the conversation. He was skeptical. He didn’t know how much an oxygen bottling plant would cost, or even if he could get hold of the industrial compressors and other materials needed for one as it was becoming clear around the world that oxygen was a key treatment for COVID. Nonetheless, he posted a request for donations on his Facebook page.

“And in one day, one day! there was a million soles in my accounts.” Portelli was amazed.

Volunteers sort medicines that are distributed free of charge at a medical clinic in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. The pastor of the church was instrumental in bringing in a desperately-needed oxygen plant to the city in the worst days of the COVID pandemic.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

A million Peruvian soles is about $250,000. Within two weeks Padre Raymundo along with the local health department had bought the equipment in Lima for a new bottling plant, arranged to fly it to Iquitos and assembled it at the regional hospital. At first the demand for oxygen was so great from health workers and citizens lining up with cannisters for a sick family member that the city had to station police officers at the plant to keep a semblance of order.

Padre Raymundo’s fundraiser continued, and he eventually raised enough money for four more plants for Iquitos.

Health authorities also built a temporary 150-bed COVID ward on what used to be a soccer field behind the regional hospital. It wasn’t finished until after the first wave of the pandemic had subsided over several months, hitting a low in November. But Dr. Celis says it was literally a lifesaver during the second wave that swept in to the Amazon region in January 2021.

A mixed forecast for the future

Peru’s second wave of cases peaked in April of this year. Cases and deaths have now plateaued at relatively levels. Health officials say they’ve been bracing for a third wave that so far hasn’t arrived. The problem now, Dr. Celis says, is that the regional hospital is once again packed … but not with COVID patients. People with cancer, HIV, TB and other medical issues who’d put off seeking care for months are streaming in for care.

Yet the hospital has far fewer staff to treat them.

“Medical staff is not something that’s increased,” Celis says. “It’s decreased. Doctors have died. Nurses have died. And people are exhausted. Some don’t want to be in high risk areas anymore. So instead of more health personnel, you have less.”

The problem isn’t just in Iquitos. The first two waves of COVID were incredibly lethal in Peru. Despite having a population that’s less than half the size of the United Kingdom, Peru’s registered 50,000 more deaths than the U.K. The pandemic so far has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American nation.

The Violeta Carrera neighborhood in Iquitos, Peru. Crowded living conditions contributed to the rapid spread of the coronavirus across Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

The impact of the pandemic on families who lost loved ones and on Peru as a whole will likely be felt for years. The novel coronavirus exposed and exploited the vulnerabilities in the emerging South American country.

Despite this, Padre Raymundo says people are eager to move on.

“They want to forget,” he says. Forget the wave of death that arrived just a matter of weeks after many people in the city first heard about a disease called COVID-19 that was spreading thousands of miles away in Asia.

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Crypto enthusiasts want to buy an NBA team, after failing to purchase US Constitution

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Crypto enthusiasts want to buy an NBA team, after failing to purchase US Constitution

The Krause House DAO is a group organized by cryptocurrency fans that is raising money to attempt to purchase an NBA franchise.

Krause House DAO

Krause House DAO

Thousands of cryptocurrency investors recently raised more than $40 million and nearly — but ultimately fell short of — purchasing a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, a separate group of crypto fans is building momentum with another acquisition target: An NBA franchise.

In both cases, the crypto enthusiasts organized under what’s known as a decentralized autonomous organization, or a DAO, which is an online group with a collective bank account and a mission statement.

Calling itself Krause House DAO, a reference to the late Chicago Bulls general manager, Jerry Krause, the group of some 2,000 members raised the equivalent of $4 million U.S. in the cryptocurrency Ethereum in six days. The crowdfunding, in the form of an NFT sale, ended Thursday morning.

The idea isn’t exactly a slam dunk yet.

For one thing, it is no where in the universe of what the group would need to place a credible bid on even the least-valuable NBA team (The Memphis Grizzlies, estimated to be valued around $1.3 billion).

Second, convincing the NBA to be open to a collectively-controlled crypto investment might not be the easiest sales pitch.

Organizers of Krause House DAO are asking the public to please refrain from laughing.

“We understand the reader’s first instinct may be to scoff at this and say owners will never let this happen,” reads the group’s so-called “flightpaper,” a nod to the more traditional white paper research report.

“It’s important to understand that there was a time not too long ago where players were at the same place on the totem pole where fans are today,” it says. “There’s no reason fans can’t do the same if organized correctly.”

A co-creator of Krause House DAO, speaking to NPR only by his pseudonym on the social network Discord, said the money raised so far will be invested into future projects focused on becoming a serious NBA team bidder one day. The exact plan for all the new cash is light on specifics, however.

Members of the group will vote on where the money should be spent. The ultimate aim is to be able to prove to franchise owners that a DAO can be an effective way to run a professional basketball team.

In its Discord community, organizers sign off from updates about the group with “WAGBAT,” which stands for: “We are going to buy a team.”

The pandemic ushered in a new generation of crypto investors, but there were few ways to use the newfound riches. Some turned to acquiring NFTs — a kind of limited-edition digital collectible — but now there is a growing push to move on to loftier ideas, like trying to help create the next version of the Internet. This, dubbed Web3, seeks to give collective control of major online sites to the crypto masses. A DAO is part of that utopian dream, only now hoping for collective ownership of things in the real world, like an NBA team.

Investor Michael Lewkowitz, who put the equivalent of $100,000 into Krause House DAO, dismissed questions about whether the effort is just the latest crypto community publicity stunt.

“Kraus House is absolutely serious,” Lewkowitz said in an interview. “We’re used to thinking about a billionaire buying a team as a one-time event. But this will be different. It’s about people coming together and taking ownership of something they’re really passionate about. Sports should be in the hands of people who care most about it.”

In some ways, the DAO community is still licking its wounds from the ConstitutionDAO flop.

That group, which bid on a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution, has decided to dissolve, with investors now attempting to recoup as much of their money back as possible, some of which having been gobbled up by notoriously-high transaction costs known as gas fees.

But Lewkowitz, who invested in ConstitutionDAO, sees a silver lining. No surprise, since crypto fanatics tends to be an enthusiastic and optimistic lot.

“You can see it as a bid that was lost, or you can view it as thousands of people who came together around a common cause and almost doing something amazing,” Lewkowitz said.

While crypto fans taking control of an NBA franchise may be a pipedream right now, the group’s members do now have NFTs, of course.

With the NFTs, which are images that resemble a tickets to an an imaginary Krause House basketball game, comes voting power in the community, in the form of a $KRAUSE token.

But the disclaimer on the page, the proverbial fine print, concedes to what may be the end result of this movement.

“Neither this ticket NFT nor $KRAUSE are a promise for future ownership of a team,” says the group’s site.

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India’s farmers faced down a popular prime minister and won. What will they do now?

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India’s farmers faced down a popular prime minister and won. What will they do now?

Supporters of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a group of farmers’ organizations, hold flags during a protest to mark one year since the introduction of divisive farm laws and to demand the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill, in Hyderabad, India, on Thursday.

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

GHAZIPUR BORDER, New Delhi — Every day for the past year, a sugarcane farmer in a bright-green turban has been chanting prayers inside a bamboo tent erected in the middle of a highway on the Indian capital’s outskirts.

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, who is in his 50s, has built a little shrine in this sprawling protest camp, with jars of water from the Ganges River, soil from his farm about 30 miles away and an oil lamp that holds special meaning for him. It belonged to his ancestors.

“This is an eternal flame that’s been burning continuously since 1947, during India’s fight for independence,” he explains. “It guides us during protest movements.”

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, a sugarcane farmer from India’s Uttar Pradesh state, has built a little shrine inside his bamboo tent at a protest camp erected in the middle of a highway on the eastern outskirts of India’s capital.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

This week, Pagdiwale believes the lamp brought good fortune again. On Wednesday, India’s Cabinet ratified the repeal of three controversial agriculture laws the farmers have been protesting against for the past year.

They’ve held tractor rallies, blocked highways and built encampments like the one Pagdiwale has been living in. Friday is the first anniversary of their mobilization — which morphed into the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule.

“A ruler needs to think about his subjects. But Modi didn’t consult us,” Pagdiwale says. “He brought these laws and thought no one would raise their voice?”

Now, with Modi backing down and repealing the laws, some farmers are packing up and going back to their fields. Others say they’ll hunker down and make more demands.

Theirs was a victory for nonviolent resistance, farmers say. Even as India tops lists of countries where democracy is backsliding, it’s a rare example of a popular grassroots movement effecting political change.

But analysts say Modi’s turnaround is also an astute political move, which could strengthen his hand in the end.

Portraits of famous Indian social reformers hang on the walls of an assembly tent in Ghazipur, eastern Delhi. The portraits include farmers during the struggle for India’s independence, as well as B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit scholar (formerly known as “untouchable”) who was the chief author of India’s constitution.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Farmers mobilized the biggest challenge yet to a popular prime minister’s rule

Passed by parliament in September 2020, the three farm laws sought to deregulate Indian agriculture, lifting government supervision of crop sales and allowing corporations to negotiate directly with farmers. The government called them much-needed free market reforms. But many farmers feared they would cut into their already meager profits and favor big businesses instead.

In response, farmers waged one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns since India won its independence from Britain. More than half of Indians — as many as 800 million people — make a living, directly or indirectly, from farming.

Many of them are poor. Rising fertilizer, pesticide and seed prices have left a growing number of farmers in debt. There’s been an epidemic of farmer suicides.

But India’s farmers are the biggest agriculture workforce in the world. And when they gathered by the hundreds of thousands in the streets, they grabbed attention.

In January, India’s Supreme Court suspended the farm laws’ implementation, ordering the government to negotiate with farm unions. Then this month, Modi — India’s most popular prime minister in decades — capitulated.

“This is a great victory of the nonviolent people’s struggle, following the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi,” Medha Patkar, a renowned Indian social reformer, tells NPR by phone from her base in rural Maharashtra state.

Gandhi used nonviolent protest to fight a colonial power. The farmers used it to fight a powerful government that passed agriculture reform without consulting them.

“Across the world, democratic governance is collapsing. Yet we always have a ray of hope,” Patkar says. “Capitalist forces are challenged, and that challenge, in India, is coming from our farmers and laborers.”

Sparse crowds earlier this week at an assembly of farmer protesters in Ghazipur, eastern Delhi. Friday marks the first anniversary of the farmer protests.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

While the protesters were overwhelmingly nonviolent, some of their rallies were marred by clashes. On Jan. 26 — Republic Day, a national holiday — protesting farmers broke through police barricades in Delhi and scrambled atop the 17th century Red Fort, waving flags. Police charged after them, beating protesters with bamboo rods called lathis and firing tear gas. One farmer died in the chaos.

In October, the son of one of Modi’s government ministers allegedly rammed his father’s car into a crowd of farmer protesters, killing four of them. The politician’s son was arrested. The incident became a rallying cry for farmers and their supporters.

But while farmers celebrate their victory this week, analysts say there may be a silver lining for the prime minister, too.

Some see the government’s response as a shrewd political move

Elections are expected in early 2022 in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and in Punjab, another northern state. Both are agricultural bases where farmers have held huge protest rallies, and where farm unions hold sway. (Many farmers in other states, by contrast, have not been as involved in the anti-government protests; some even quietly supported the farm laws.)

While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, is the incumbent power in Uttar Pradesh, farmers and observers say the party has been hemorrhaging support in farming areas in southern and western parts of the state.

“As the elections come closer, I think the government realized that they would have to give in,” development economist Jayati Ghosh, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells NPR during a recent visit to Delhi.

Likewise in Punjab, an opposition-ruled state, the BJP had little hope of making inroads without farmers’ votes. Punjab is known as India’s breadbasket, where rice and wheat farmers supply a disproportionate share of the country’s food staples. It’s also a Sikh-majority state, unlike most of India, which has a Hindu majority.

Pro-farmer graffiti on a highway barricade near Ghazipur, where Indian farmers have been camping out for a year, protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Modi first announced his intention to repeal the laws on Nov. 19 — a major Sikh holiday.

“This is entirely electoral. This is catering to the voters of Punjab, which has been the center of the farmers’ agitation,” Ghosh says. “[Modi] wants to wipe away the very bitter memory the farmers have of his own words. He called them ‘professional agitators.’ His ministers called them anti-national, disorderly. All kinds of abuse was thrown their way. He wants to make everyone forget this before the elections.”

As the BBC has reported, digital investigators also uncovered a network of fake social media profiles that sought to slander Sikhs and boost the image of the Indian government during the farmers’ protests. It bears the hallmark of previous BJP disinformation campaigns, though there is no evidence of a link and the government refused to comment on the report.

In his Nov. 19 speech, Modi called the farmers his “brothers.”

“I apologize to the people of the country with a true and pure heart,” Modi said in a televised speech. “There must have been some deficiency in our efforts that we could not convince some farmers.”

It was an apology some found ambiguous. But Modi may be hoping it helps win over farmers in the key states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. If it does, his farm laws may go down in history as the collateral damage of a turnaround that helps Modi solidify even more power.

Farmers aren’t sure whether to forgive the prime minister

Pagdiwale, the sugarcane farmer, says he’s unsure whether Modi’s apology is enough to win his vote. He’s from Uttar Pradesh and voted for the BJP once in the past, he says. Now he’s undecided.

“If this administration is ready to listen to farmers going forward, we can consider voting for them,” Pagdiwale says. “But if they come up with any such harsh laws for farmers in the future, then they will again lose our respect.”

Many economists say Indian agriculture is still in desperate need of reform. It employs about 60% of Indians, but amounts to less than 15% of the country’s gross domestic product. It’s possible that Modi’s government will come up with subsequent agriculture bills. But farmers will likely be wary.

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, in a green turban, smokes a traditional hookah pipe from his home state of Uttar Pradesh. Pagdiwale is a sugarcane farmer who’s spent the past year camping out in the Indian capital, protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Meanwhile, farm unions still have one big unmet demand around the issue of minimum support prices.

Currently, the government sets minimum prices for 22 crops that are considered staples, including wheat and rice. But it’s not technically illegal to sell those crops below the minimum support price, or MSP. Farmers want MSPs written into law, and better enforced. (With lax oversight, some wholesaler buyers ignore the minimum prices and cheat farmers into selling their crops at lower rates, often at a loss.) Some farmers also want the list of eligible crops expanded beyond those 22 staples.

Ghosh, the economist, says it’s a reasonable request. But she doubts the government will agree. She thinks Modi’s apology may be as far as he’s willing to go.

“I am amazed that the farmers have managed to win so far against an intransigent government that never likes to admit defeat. So they have achieved a lot. But will they be able to push the MSP into law? I doubt it,” Ghosh says. “The government may do the classic moves of governments that feel cornered: They will set up a committee, they will have discussions, they will prolong the whole thing — and focus on winning elections.”

Some farmers say they won’t budge from their protest camps until their MSP demands are met. But others are already packing up.

Farmers are deciding whether to stay in their protest camps or go home

The protest camp in Ghazipur, on the eastern edge of Delhi, may take some time to disassemble. There are thousands of tents, with tens of thousands of cots and sleeping bags. There are several mess tents with kitchens, and even a laundry station. Women hang clothes to dry on the edge of a highway flyover. Water tanker trucks deliver fresh supplies.

Residents say that at its fullest, the camp hosted more than 2 million farmers. Two even larger camps lie to the city’s north and west. The camps have been supported by donations to farmer groups and Sikh temples from as far away as California.

Scenes from a farmers’ protest camp on the eastern outskirts of India’s capital. At its fullest, residents say this camp held more than 2 million farmers. But crowds have thinned after a year of protests, and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi capitulated to the farmers’ demands, and indicated he will repeal three controversial farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

But when NPR visited this week, the Ghazipur camp had emptied. Only a few hundred farmers remained. They’re holding assemblies there this weekend to plan their next moves.

“Modi is thinking only about the elections. Maybe he’s thinking of power. But we are thinking about the country,” says Pardeep Hooda, 42, who hails from a farming family in Haryana state and works in the seed business.

He says he’s unsure whether to stay or go home.

“I will miss all these friends! It’s been one year. Now these [fellow farmers] are like my family,” Hooda says. “This has been the best year of my life. It really educated me how to fight, and how to live.”

Freelance producer Runjhun Sharma assisted with this report from New Delhi.

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Stephen Sondheim, the Broadway legend, has died at 91

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Stephen Sondheim, the Broadway legend, has died at 91

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in New York in 1976. Sondheim died on Friday at age 91.

R. Jones/Getty Images

R. Jones/Getty Images

Stephen Sondheim, the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Broadway songwriter has died at age 91. His death occurred early this morning, according to Aaron Meier at DKC O&M, the producers of Company on Broadway.

Sondheim would have been the first to tell you he was a Broadway baby. As a teenager, he learned about theatrical songwriting from a master – Oscar Hammerstein, the author of Showboat and Oklahoma!, among others – and, by the time Sondheim was twenty seven, he had his first show, West Side Story, on Broadway.

Even though he only wrote lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music for West Side Story, it was the beginning of a remarkable career in which Sondheim – as lyricist and composer – elevated what was, essentially, a lighthearted, optimistic commercial entertainment into an art form.

Sondheim’s shows, with their intricately crafted scores, reflected his restless curiosity about human nature – from the barber exacting murderous revenge in Sweeney Todd, to the struggling painter Georges Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George. Sondheim looked at contemporary marriage – and ambivalence – in Company, the culture clash between 19th-century Japan and the United States in Pacific Overtures, the dark side of fairy tales in Into the Woods, and even surveyed presidential Assassins.

Over the course of a career which stretched for more than 60 years, Sondheim received both critical praise and brickbats for his adventurous work. Frank Rich is a columnist for New York Magazine and former drama critic for The New York Times.

“Perhaps no one more than Sondheim contributed to just keeping the form alive of what had been the classic Broadway musical. He reinvented it,” Rich says. “He kept it fresh, interesting, figuring out new ways, to, you know, muck around with it for each show.”

Sondheim was notoriously painstaking in his craft – and actually published two large books featuring his lyrics and explaining his writing process. He told WHYY’s Fresh Air in 2010 that before he wrote a bar of music or came up with a rhyme, he needed to consult the show’s script.

“I always write after the librettist has started to write a scene or two,” Sondheim said, “so that I can divine and imitate the style the writer is using, both in terms of dialogue and approach and getting to know the characters as he is forming them.”

And that specificity made performers like Bernadette Peters love his work. “He writes as if he’s an actor, as if he’s playing the role … If you have a quarter note, there’s a reason – the quarter note helps you express what you’re feeling at that moment.”

“Send in the Clowns” was the only hit song Sondheim ever wrote. It’s from his show A Little Night Music, which itself was a modest success. The musical was originally directed by Hal Prince, one of Sondheim’s most frequent collaborators.

Laurence Maslon, who co-produced the PBS series Broadway, says their envelope-pushing work was never really commercial.

“Not a single show he ever wrote ran more than a thousand performances,” Maslon observes. “And they play all over the world and they’re revived every five minutes, but they simply don’t have that commercial traction, that even Hammerstein had back in the day.”

In fact, starting in the 1980s, Sondheim exclusively developed his work at not-for-profit theaters, a period that also saw the start of his collaborations with James Lapine.

“My first not-for-profit show was Sunday in the Park with George and that was because of Lapine,” Sondheim told Fresh Air. “And, of course, it was such a pleasure, compared to doing it on Broadway. I mean, the lack of pressure, not having to worry about everything from budget to backers, and it was just fun to do. And that’s the way theater should be done – just for the love of it.”

Sunday in the Park with George, written with James Lapine, eventually migrated to Broadway, where it won a Pulitzer Prize — but again, it wasn’t a commercial success. Like many other artists who are now considered masters, it took a while for Sondheim’s shows to catch on, and for Sondheim to move from a cult figure to a cultural icon. He said he was always keenly aware of making an impact with his writing.

“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences,” Sondheim said. “Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.”

And the feelings he stirred in audiences will continue well beyond his death.

The attached audio story was produced by Bob Mondello.

Neda Ulaby contributed to this report.

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More veterans with PTSD will soon get help from service dogs. Thank the ‘PAWS’ Act

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More veterans with PTSD will soon get help from service dogs. Thank the ‘PAWS’ Act

Danyelle Clark-Gutierrez and her service dog, Lisa, shop for food at a grocery store. Clark-Gutierrez got the yellow Labrador retriever to help her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder after she experienced military sexual trauma while serving in the Air Force.

Stephanie O’Neill for KHN

Stephanie O’Neill for KHN

It’s supper time in the Whittier, California, home of Air Force Veteran Danyelle Clark-Gutierrez. Eagerly awaiting a bowl of kibble and canned dog food is Lisa, a three-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever.

Lisa almost dances with excitement, her nails clicking on the kitchen floor. In this moment, she appears more like an exuberant puppy than an expensive, highly-trained service animal. But that’s exactly what Lisa is, and she now helps Clark-Gutierrez manage her post-traumatic stress symptoms in the day-to-day.

KHN logo

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News.

“Having her now, it’s like I can go anywhere,” Clark-Gutierrez says. “And yes, if somebody did come at me, I’d have warning; I could run.”

A growing body of research into PTSD and service animals paved the way for President Joe Biden to sign into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The legislation, enacted in August, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to open its service dog referral program to veterans with PTSD, and to launch a five-year pilot program in which veterans with PTSD help train service dogs for other veterans.

Clark-Gutierrez, 33, is among the 1 in 4 female vets who’ve reported experiencing military sexual trauma (MST) while serving in the U.S. Armed Services.

MST, combat violence and brain injuries are among the experiences that put service personnel at greater risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The symptoms include flashbacks to the traumatic event, severe anxiety, nightmares and hypervigilance. Psychologists note that such symptoms are actually a normal reaction to experiencing or witnessing such violence. A diagnosis of PTSD happens when the symptoms get worse or remain for months or years.

A search for help leads to Lisa

That’s what happened to Clark-Gutierrez after ongoing sexual harassment by a fellow airman escalated to a physical attack about a decade ago. The lawyer and mother of three says she always needed her husband by her side in order to feel safe leaving home. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) prescribed her a cascade of medications after diagnosing her with PTSD. At one point, Clark-Gutierrez says, she was prescribed more than a dozen pills a day.

“I had medication and then I had medication for the two or three side effects for each medication,” she says. “And every time they gave me a new med, they had to give me three more. I just couldn’t do it anymore, I was just getting so tired, so we started looking at other therapies.”

And that’s how she got her service dog, Lisa. Her husband, also an Air Force veteran, found the non-profit group, K9s for Warriors, which rescues dogs – many from kill shelters – and turns them into service animals for veterans with PTSD. Lisa is one of about 700 dogs the group has paired with veterans dealing with on-going symptoms caused by traumatic experiences in the past.

“Now with Lisa we take bike rides, we go down to the park; we go to Home Depot,” says Clark-Gutierrez. “I go grocery shopping – normal-people things that I get to do that I didn’t get to do before Lisa.”

Research show service dogs relieve PTSD symptoms

That comes as no surprise to Maggie O’Haire, an associate professor of Human-Animal Interaction at Purdue University. Her ongoing research suggests while service dogs aren’t necessarily a cure for PTSD, they do ease its symptoms. Her published studies include one showing veterans partnered with these dogs experience less anger and anxiety and get better sleep than those without. Another one suggests service dogs improve cortisol levels in traumatized veterans.

“We actually saw patterns of that stress hormone that were more similar to healthy adults who don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder,” O’Haire says.

A congressionally-mandated VA study, published earlier this year on the impact of service dogs on veterans with PTSD suggests those who partnered with these animals have less suicidal ideation and more symptom improvement than those without them.

Until now, the federal dog referral program – which relies on non-profit service dog organizations to pay for these dogs and to provide them to veterans for free – required that the veteran have a physical mobility issue, such as a lost limb, paralysis or blindness, in order to participate. Those with PTSD but without a physical disability, such as Clark-Gutierrez, were on their own in qualifying and arranging for a service dog.

Training for PTSD service dogs costs about $25,000

The new effort created by the federal law will be offered at five VA medical centers nationwide, in partnership with accredited service dog training organizations – to give veterans with PTSD the chance to train mental health service dogs for fellow veterans. It’s modeled on an existing program at the Palo Alto, Calif. VA.

“This bill is really about therapeutic on-the-job training, or ‘training the trainer,'” says Adam Webb, spokesman for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who introduced the legislation. “We don’t anticipate VA will start prescribing PTSD service dogs, but the data we generate from this pilot program will likely be useful in making that case in the future.”

The Congressional Budget Office expects the federal pilot program will cost the VA about $19 million. The law stops short of requiring the VA to pay for the dogs. Instead, the agency will partner with accredited service dog organizations which use private money to cover the cost of adoption, training and pairing the dogs with veterans.

Still, the law marks a welcomed about-face in VA policy, says K9s For Warriors CEO Rory Diamond.

“For the last ten years the VA has essentially told us that they don’t recognize service dogs as helping a veteran with post traumatic stress,” Diamond says.

For vets with PTSD, a service dog is like a ‘battle buddy’ for life

PTSD service dogs are often confused with emotional support dogs, Diamond says. The latter provide companionship and are not trained in a specific task to support a disability. PTSD service dogs, by contrast, cost about $25,000 to adopt and train a dog to understand dozens of general commands to assist veterans with PTSD and then to further train it for the needs of the particular veteran, he says.

“So ‘cover’ for example,” Diamond says, “The dog will sit next to the warrior, look behind them and alert them if someone comes up from behind. Or ‘block’ so they’ll stand perpendicular and give them some space from whatever’s in front of them.”

Army Master Sergeant David Crenshaw, of New Jersey says his service dog, Doc, a German short-haired pointer and Labrador mix, has changed his life.

“We teach in the military to have a battle buddy. Your battle buddy is that person you can call on any time of the day or night to get you out of every sticky situation,” Crenshaw says. “And these service animals act as a battle buddy.”

Just how much that’s true became evident to Crenshaw a few months ago. Because of persistent hypervigilance that’s part of his combat-caused PTSD, Crenshaw always avoided large gatherings. But this summer, Doc helped him successfully navigate big crowds at Disney World – a significant first for Crenshaw and his family.

“I was not agitated. I was not anxious. I was not upset,” Crenshaw, 39, says. “It was truly, truly amazing and so much so that I didn’t even have to even stop to think about it in the moment. It just happened naturally.”

PTSD rates vary among veterans of different wars

Crenshaw says because of Doc, he no longer takes any of his PTSD medications and he no longer uses alcohol to self-medicate. Clark-Gutierrez says Lisa, too, has helped her to quit using alcohol she long-relied upon and to stop taking VA-prescribed medications for panic attacks, nightmares and periods of disassociation.

“Lisa checks on me all the time,” Clark-Gutierrez says. “If she sees that I’m just kind of out of it, she’ll (do) whatever she has to do to bring me back. I can’t even put into words how helpful that is.”

We actually save the VA money over time,” Diamond says. “Our warriors are far less likely to be on expensive prescription drugs, are far less likely to use other VA services and far more likely to go to school or go to work. So it’s a win, win, win across the board.

The number of veterans with PTSD varies by war with up to 20 percent of those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq having the condition in any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

This story was produced as part of NPR’s health reporting partnership with KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues.

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New docuseries gives fans unprecedented access to The Beatles

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New docuseries gives fans unprecedented access to The Beatles

NPR Music critic Ann Powers reviews a new docuseries called “The Beatles: Get Back”. It centers around hours of unseen footage of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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The EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over a new COVID variant

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The EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over a new COVID variant

A young woman reacts as she receives a Pfizer jab against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Denis Farrell/AP

Denis Farrell/AP

BRUSSELS — The European Union said Friday it is planning to stop air travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant as the 27-nation bloc is battling a massive spike in cases.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Germany said von der Leyen’s proposal could be enacted as soon as Friday night. Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travelers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.

A fourth spike of the coronavirus is hitting the 27-nation EU especially badly, with governments scrambling to tighten restrictions in an attempt to contain spread. The flight ban proposal came in the wake of similar action from Britain on Thursday.

The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the dominant delta strain, and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.

The World Health Organization’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

The World Health Organization says coronavirus infections jumped 11% in Europe in the past week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. The WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by the spring.

The EU’s emergency brake mechanism has been set up to deal with such emergencies.

Where the epidemiological situation of a third country or region worsens quickly, in particular if a variant of concern or of interest has been detected, member states should adopt an urgent, temporary restriction on all travel into the EU. This emergency brake should not apply to EU citizens, long-term EU residents and certain categories of essential travelers, who should nevertheless be subject to appropriate testing and quarantine measures, even if fully vaccinated.

Such restrictions should be reviewed at least every two weeks.

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New coronavirus variant in South Africa raises concern

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New coronavirus variant in South Africa raises concern

A vile containing Pfizer vaccine to be administered is seen ahead of the launch of the VaxuMzansi National Vaccine Day Campaign in South Africa on Sept. 24, 2021.

Rajesh Jantilal /Getty Images

Rajesh Jantilal /Getty Images

Virologists are rushing to learn more about a variant of the Covid-19 virus that was first identified in Botswana, and which is rapidly outcompeting other versions of the virus in the region of South Africa that includes Johannesburg.

The variant, currently denominated B.1.1.529, reportedly has twice as many of the mutations displayed by the Delta variant, which became the dominant variant in most of the world over the summer.

It’s not clear yet whether the mutations make this variant more infectious or whether it causes more severe illness, but researchers say the high number of mutations to the “spike proteins” — the focus of a body’s immune response — may make it more able to get past the body’s defenses.

Despite the spread of this variant, the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa is still well below the Delta surge earlier this year. But numbers are beginning to tick up again.

Until more is known about the variant, health authorities in the United Kingdom are taking the precaution of cancelling flights from the six countries in southern Africa, adding them to the country’s “red list” for travelers.

The World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the variant. If it’s determined to be of special interest or concern, it’s likely to be named “Nu,” the next Greek letter in the current naming scheme.

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