Sunday, March 19, 2023

Madeleine: mystery and madness

There have been a great many reported sightings of Madeleine McCann since her disappearance in 2007, but the claim by a young woman that she is probably Madeleine is getting enormous media coverage worldwide and prompting yet more bizarre speculation.

The latest claim could be proven in the coming days or weeks, though it seems more likely it will be dismissed as a load of nonsense.

Julia Faustyna, also known as Julia Wendell or Wandelt, has reportedly submitted three different DNA samples for forensic examination in the United States where she is being looked after within the family of a woman called Dr Fia Johansson.

Having lived with parents in Poland for most if not all of her life, Julia is said to be very happy to have left because of internet death threats and parents who took insufficient care of her.

Several key questions come to mind while we await the outcome of the DNA tests:

Is Julia of sound mind?

Who is Dr Johansson?

What is known about Julia’s Polish parents?

What do Kate and Gerry McCann think of all this?

Julia believes she could be Madeleine largely because of a rare misshaped pupil in her right eye. Madeleine had a similar marking. Eye specialists say only one in 10,000 people have this coloboma condition. The chances of someone having exactly the same disorder are said to be only seven in one million. While Julia took to the internet to make her claim, it is obvious she was seeking attention. This she certainly got and her internet messages and images went viral.

Since then facial recognition software has apparently given Julia’s internet images a “90% verdict” against her claim.

If Julia is 21-years of age, as her Polish parents and tabloids across the world are reporting, she is not Madeleine McCann. Madeleine would now be 19. A recent doubt is whether Julia has long to live. There are fears she may have life-threatening leukemia.

The woman who took Julia to the United States is being described as a private investigator and a self-confessed psychic medium. Many people with mental or physical problems seek help from psychics as a last resort if normal treatment is not healing them.

On the other hand, rational people reject physics as illogical proponents of the supernatural who dispatch delusions or deliberate untruths. Like Julia, Dr Johansson has gained a vast amount of fame and critics suggest that this may be her main objective in looking after Julia.

Dr Johansson has advised police in California of the death threats and the bounty placed on Julia’s head, possibly by sex traffickers. The police are apparently now examining these vile messages sent to Julia via Instagram. 

The parents of Julia in Poland are in a hopeless situation. Julia has said that neither they nor her siblings treated her properly. While being accused of receiving Julia from sex traffickers, the Polish couple are said to have refused to supply any DNA evidence to prove otherwise. So when was Julia born and to whom? Surely it would be possible to at least find a birth certificate or obtain some sort of official documentation to show the facts about her early life? Dr Johansson has been quoted as saying she tried but was unable to find any records of Julia’s first five years.

Kate and Gerry McCann have understandable remained silent on all this. They have always been adamant that Madeleine was abducted from their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz. They are thought to remain quietly in contact with the London Metropolitan Police who have been investigating the abduction theory for many years.

A number of independent researchers, as well as many members of the general public, particularly in Portugal, still believe that circumstantial evidence strongly suggests a cover-up and that Kate and Gerry McCann know how and when she died.

But if Madeleine really was abducted and she is now Julia, her real parents in the UK will no doubt be desperately looking forward to being reunited with her as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, as an indication of the grotesque depths this mystery has sunk to, an “exclusive” report in the Daily Star in the UK has said that a living Nostradamus fears “black magic” was at play in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

A completely different angle to the overall Madeleine story appeared in a recent edition of a much more reliable newspaper, The Guardian, in which Ben Leyland revealed the mental problems of his mother, Brenda, who committed suicide in 2014, two days after the airing of a Sky News report about the abusive tweets she had directed at Kate and Gerry McCann.     

For now, the very strange and very sad Madeleine McCann saga continues.



Wednesday, March 15, 2023



 Behind this week’s headlines

Iberian summit

Portugal and Spain are holding their 34th Iberian summit meeting today, Wednesday, in Lanzarote. Topics on the agenda will range from European Union issues and cross-border strategies to cultural affairs. A dozen agreements are expected to be signed, reports Luca News.

Civil servants strike

Participation in the strike by civil servants planned for Friday will be “massive”, the leader of the Common Front of civil service trade unions has predicted. Disruption is expected in central and local administrations, as well as in healthcare and education.

Residence permits

The new portal for immigrants from Portuguese-speaking countries seeking residence permits from the immigration and border service (SEF) received a deluge of applicants. More than 6,300 registered within the first two hours of operation, the government announced on Monday. Most applications are thought to have come from Brazilians. A reconstruction of SEF is to be completed between the end of March and the first days of April.

Suspending priests

The Bishop of Beja has said “there is no place for abusers in the priesthood.” This came after he apologised for saying priests suspected of sexual abuse should be forgiven if they are repentant. However, some bishops are still demanding hard evidence to proceed with suspensions. This has been criticised by Portugal’s president.

Mediterranean tragedy

“There is still a lot of work to do together” to find solutions,” said Portugal foreign minister, referring to the intensification of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from North, which he described as “a tragedy.”

Housng shortage

The government has a number of key proposals to combat the current housing shortage for Portuguese residents. They are to be discussed and approved by the cabinet between 16 and 30 March.

Maddie McCann claim

The young woman making headlines around the world by claiming to be Madeleine McCann has submitted samples for three different forensic examinations to try and establish if she is indeed the person who disappeared from Praia da Luz in 2007. Having left Poland because of death threats, she is in the United States under the care of a private investigator, Dra Fra Johansson, who says the DNA test results may be passed to the judicial police in Portugal.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sanctions and the cost of living

The people of Portugal are struggling with a cost of living crisis that shows no sign of abating any time soon despite – and perhaps because of - sanctions imposed by the West on Russia in response to its war in Ukraine.

Dr Uwe Werblow (pictured below), now retired and living in the Algarve, served for decades as a senior official with the European Commission Directorate-General for Development. He questions whether sanctions are of any use in forcing ​a​ country to behave better. More on that in a moment.

Inflation in Portugal settled at 8.2% in February, slightly down for the fourth consecutive month, but the cost of foodstuffs has increased by 21.5% since the same time last year. House prices had risen by 18.7%, the highest in three decades. Rents have significantly increased too, but wages have not.

Government data shows that more than half of the working population earn ​less​ than €1,000 a month. The minimum wage is €760. It is little wonder that thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets of Lisbon to demand an end to letting the poor get poorer in what is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

The current crisis started with the COVID pandemic and was later fuelled by energy price hikes as a result of the war in Ukraine. The crisis has now spread to all commodities, especially food, throughout the European Union and far beyond. It’s reckoned to be the worst cost of living crisis in 50 years.

The rising costs are the most pressing worry for 93% of Europeans, according to a recent European Parliament Eurobarometer survey. In Greece, 100% of respondents said they were worried. In Cyprus the figure was 99%, followed by 98% in Italy and the same in Portugal. These worries are felt regardless of gender or age, as well as educational or socio-professional backgrounds.

The second biggest issue to surface from the survey was that 82% of respondents worried about ​the threat of poverty and social exclusion. Global warming and the danger of the Ukraine war spreading across Europe were equal worries, but only in third place with 81%.

Only a third of Europeans expressed satisfaction with what their national government was doing to tackle the rising cost of living, while about 45% of respondents said they were already having difficulty managing bills on their personal income.

However, not everyone is losing out. Energy companies, pharmaceutical corporations, big tech and multinationals operating in the food and luxury sectors have all been raking in billions of euros in profits, say politicians in the European Parliament.

The fossil fuel industry has turned the war in Ukraine into a​n ​opportunity for extra profits. The Shell, TotalEnergies, Eni and Repsol companies reportedly made €78 billion in profits up to September last year.

“The fossil fuel industry has avoided having to foot the bill of an energy crisis of its own making,” according to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby supporters in EU policy making. It was the spike in energy prices that followed the invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions on Russia, coming o​n​ top of post-COVID difficulties, “that cascaded into a full-scale cost of living crisis,” says the group.

Restrictions introduced during the COVID pandemic impacted heavily on incomes and living costs everywhere. Compared with many other countries, the Portuguese government did remarkably well in handling the pandemic, but the cost of living crisis is a very different matter, largely outside the government’s ability to control.

Russia is severely harming - or even crippling - economies by limiting energy and essential food supplies, as well as fertilisers, metals and other important exports from Ukraine and the Soviet Union itself.

In the Algarve, Dr Uwe Werblow was forthright in his opinion about the impact of sanctions. “My main question is: are western sanctions against Russia more harmful for our own economies and people than for Russia?”

He continued: “Sanctions as a means to discipline trouble- making countries and regimes instead of going to war was developed by Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, in 1910.
Looking at a number of recent cases, I have the impression that the “economic war” hardly works in our globalised world. The Cuban regime has survived 50 years. Obama stopped the sanctions and looked for alternative measures. Iran, since Trump reinstated the sanctions in 2018, has increased GNP by four times in 2022. Russia makes more money with oil and gas than ever before. The new clients India and China and others are very happy!

“As a result, I see plenty of opportunities and trade partners to help weaken and undermine sanctions.... the creation of new alliances to create even more trouble.... and, very often, a weakening of our own western economy.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


Behind this week's headlines


Tourism soaring

The occupancy rate last month in Algarve hotels and resorts was its highest in 16 years, according to the National Statistics Institute. The overall number of international tourists to Portugal almost doubled last year. 2023 is predicted to be another exceptionally busy year for tourism in the Algarve, Lisbon and other popular Portuguese destinations.  


Catholic abuse

The Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon has ruled that no priests accused of sexually abusing children will be suspended without “proven facts” and a canonical process carried out by the Holy See. However, the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon has promised there will be “zero tolerance” for abusive priests. New and hopefully more detailed measures are expected to be announced this week. 


Airline boss sacked

The government has fired the CEO of Portugal’s state-owned airline, TAP. She was caught in a scandal involving a severance payment of €500,000 to a former board member. The board chairman has also been fired. Neither will receive any compensation. The beneficiary of the severance payment has been ordered to refund €450,000. The government is now looking to privatise the airline. 


Troubled teachers 

School teachers, particularly in the main cities, Lisbon and Porto, have continued to publicly protest against what they regard as poor wages and other unacceptable aspects of their professional employment. They say they are determined to “fight on.” Meanwhile, pupils and their parents remain confused as to when teachers are available for normal classes.


Ocean protection

Portugal’s president has welcomed the UN High Seas Treaty announced at the weekend. Well over a decade in the making, the treaty aims by 2030 to protect marine species in 30% of the world’s international waters where all countries have a right to fish, ship and do research. Only 1.2% of these waters are currently protected.  Almost 200 countries have signed the new, historic, legally binding agreement.


Reducing shellfish contamination

Researchers at the Algarve Centre of Marine Sciences at the University of the Algarve have developed a way of reducing biotoxin contamination in shellfish. The biotoxin originates in the algae eaten by shellfish without causing them any harm, but biotoxins can cause illness and even death to humans and other mammals that eat them.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Breakthrough drug for AMD


A drug has been developed to help those with the dry version of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that up until now has remained untreatable.

Many people in Portugal and around the world suffer from this disease, which causes a loss of vision in the centre of the retina. It nearly always only affects people after the age of 50, but then it progressively worsens making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to carry out some ordinary activities such as reading, writing, driving and watching television. 

There are two kinds of AMD: dry and wet. Both cause a blurring of vision that can eventually lead almost to blindness. The wet form has long been treatable, though it can be at considerable cost and the treatment is not always successful. For decades, most elderly people with the dry kind have given up hope of a remedy in their lifetime. 

The president of the Portuguese Society of Ophthalmology, Dr Rufino Silva, explains on the society’s website that AMD initially shows practically no symptoms and affected people may not even know they have the disease. Only examination by an ophthalmologist allows the correct diagnosis to be made. 

Prevention involves a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, taking vitamins and antioxidants that have been studied for this disease and which may be prescribed by an ophthalmologist. Importantly, it also involves taking physical exercise and not smoking. 

Dr Silva says that anyone who notices a distortion of images should immediately consult an ophthalmologist, and that it is also important to start treatment within one or two weeks.

Persons who already know they have ADM at first see objects or people's faces somewhat distorted, then a shadow appears in the central field of vision, preventing them from seeing clearly a  face they may be looking at. They may not recognise friends passing by in the street or sitting at the next table in a restaurant. 

The disease progresses with time and in the intermediate stages can cause changes in contrast, colour and low-light vision. In the later stages, there is a much more serious loss of sight that may almost reach blindness. It is the most common cause of near blindness in Portugal for persons over 65 years of age.

The treatment for wet AMD can prevent severe vision loss. It is done with intravitreal injections and it may be necessary to maintain this treatment for several years. A new drug, Vabysmo, was introduced last year for both wet AMD and diabetic macular edema (DME). It was the first bispecific antibody approved for eye treatment.

The new drug for dry AMD is called Syfovre. Although it is not a cure and does not bring back normal vision, clinical trials have shown it can slow the progression of the disease. It will be administered with an injection to the eye every 25 to 60 days. 

Syfovre has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and patients in the United States are expected to start having treatment this week. It is still too early to tell just how beneficial the drug will be and there are even question marks about possible risks, such as turning dry into wet AMD.  

However, Geraldine Hoad, research manager at the Macular Society in the UK has said: “This development is a huge milestone for patients living with dry AMD, who up to this point have not had any treatment available for their condition. We hope to have a clearer picture in the coming months.” 

 A submission is being made to the British Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency to have Syfovre approved in the United Kingdom. Before it can be administered in Portugal or any EU member country, the drug will need the approval of the European Commission.  

+ Apologies: this posting, scheduled for Sunday as usual, was delayed because of a computer technical problem.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Behind this week's headlines

Shoppers beware!

The Portuguese Food and Economic Security Authority has been carrying out inspections on supermarkets because some may have been charging more than displayed on shelves. Eighty inspectors were at work checking on Wednesday as basic basket prices for foodstuffs increased by 21.1% last year, more than twice the rate of inflation.


Inflation dropping

The National Statistics Institute announced on Tuesday that the consumer price index fell from January by an estimated 0.2% to 8.2% in February. This was the fourth consecutive fall.


More renewable electricity

The government wants to increase the amount of renewable energy in electricity production to 80% in the next three years, according to the minister of environment and climate action. Portugal has natural resources that cannot be underestimated, he said.


Cutting plastic waste

Ahead of a UN meeting on plastic rubbish, the EU wants sweeping new packaging regulations for Portugal and all 26 other nations in the bloc. The new rules would require companies to make the containers for takeaway food and drinks easier to reuse and recycle, thus causing less pollution, according to Bloomberg Green.


Child abuse in 2022

Portugal’s criminal investigation police (PJ) detained 210 people for sex crimes against children in 2022, the highest number in the last five years. The Luca news agency was informed of this by the criminal coordinator of these cases in Lisbon and the Tagus Valley.


Affordable housing

The state wants to make more land available for affordable housing projects in the wake of scrapping golden visas and banning new short-term rental licences that have greatly pushed up housing prices for residents while their wages have remained the same.  


Isabel dos Santos

The former billionaire Isabel dos Santos, whose assets have been frozen in Angola and Portugal, reportedly still owns luxury properties in London worth more than £20 million. Interpol is seeking her arrest for alleged embezzlement, fraud, influence pedalling and money laundering. She is thought to be living in the United Arab Emirates.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

End-of-life care in the Algarve

The Madrugada palliative care association, founded in 2009, continues to give invaluable support at home to an increasing number of people suffering life-limiting illnesses. But it requires more volunteers and more financial help to maintain its comprehensive range of free specialist services.

Based in Praia da Luz, Madrugada (meaning ‘dawn’) relies on volunteers and funding from its four charity shops as well as donations from the community. It has extended its operations eastward in recent years well beyond Lagoa and Silves to Ferreiras near Albufeira.

Madrugada has a clinical team based at the support centre in Praia da Luz that provides regular home visits to patients as well as managing the storage of clinical equipment necessary to facilitate patients. Equipment is provided to patients free of charge.

“At our charity shops in Praia da Luz, Lagos, Lagoa and Ferreiras we rely on volunteers for the daily running of the shops,” says Suzana de Lima, Madrugada’s administration manager. She adds: “ These volunteers provide diverse skills to the shops, such as collecting, sorting and selling. For anyone with a few hours to spare, Madrugada would be grateful if you joined the volunteer team.”

The volunteer community is very diverse, with many coming from countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and some from the Azores and Madeira as well as mainland Portugal.

As an example of the help given to patients living at home in the Algarve, a woman with terminal cancer contacted Madrugada, which  without delay sent an experienced nurse to discuss with both the woman and her husband their personal, pressing needs. The nurse´s advice included a recommendation to contact the palliative care team from the national health services (SNS) responsible for the Barlavento area and located in the local health centre in Lagoa.

A doctor and nurses came to consult and treat the patient with free medications. Similar visits, along with those of the Madrugada nurse, continued regularly each week and it was made clear they were available at any time. The patient – in this case a German-born woman who has lived in the Algarve for many years – was immensely grateful. 

Madrugada charity shops accept and stock clean, good-quality donations ranging from furniture and clothes of all kinds to interesting gift items. They are sold at low prices by courteous volunteer assistants. The money raised helps Madrugada provide complementary therapies, family and bereavement counselling, as well as clinical equipment.

Anyone who feels they would like to help in any way can find details of Madrugada´s work and needs by checking their website or phoning +351 282 761 375. For specialist information, ask to speak to the clinical manager, Tanja Himming or email  For fundraising or volunteer information contact the administration manager, Suzana de Lima on the central phone number of email

Two palliative care conferences are scheduled for Lisbon this year: April 15 and October 28.