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. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Behind this week's headlines

Biden and Putin 

The contrasting speeches yesterday, Tuesday, by President Biden and President Putin were highly relevant in Portugal and the rest of Europe, as in the United States and Russia.  The only thing the presidents seemed to agree on was that the conflict in Ukraine is nowhere near an end. Putin also announced a suspension of Russia’s participation in its last remaining treaty with the United States.  

Reaction to Putin’s suspension

Portugal’s foreign affairs minister has accused President Putin of making “absolutely delusional” claims about the war in Ukraine in his speech on Tuesday when he announced Moscow’s suspension of the nuclear arms control agreement. Portugal’s president says the next few months will be “a decisive period” for the war in Ukraine with the two sides seeking to reach the autumn in a position of strength.

Cold weather coming back

Polar air will cause a sharp drop in temperatures across mainland Portugal to between 5C and 10C amid strong winds and rain, meteorologist Jorge Ponte told the Luca news agency today, Wednesday. There was no indication of when this dismal weather was coming.  

Earthquake team back home

On Monday, the Lisbon City Council honoured the 52-member rescue and recovery team who had returned from Turkey. That same day another 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northwestern Syria causing more deaths and devastation just two weeks after the first double tremor that killed more than 46,000 people and left at least a million homeless.

Handling the housing crisis

The Portuguese government is about to introduce a hefty package of measures to tackle the housing crisis. The highly controversial Golden Visa scheme is being scrapped. No new licences for Airbnb holiday accommodation will be issued. Other measures will be brought into force next month. Portuguese residents have been severely impacted by soaring property purchase and rental prices. Rental prices in Lisbon rose by 37% last year. 

Big tourism surge expected

Reports suggest that there will be a massive increase in the number of tourists who are hoping to come to Portugal this year. This could cause disappointments, as new holiday rentals will be restricted in most popular destinations – the only exceptions being rural areas “without urban pressure.” 

Tourist boat sinks

A tourist boat with 36 people on board, including four children, sank after developing a leak 600 metres off Alfanzina lighthouse in the Algarve on Monday. The nearest rescue services – the Portimão Maritime Police and the Ferragudo Lifeboat – were quickly on the scene along with other nearby tourists’ boats to rescue all from the water.  

Round the Algarve winner

The 26-year-old  Colombian professional road cyclist Dani Martínez won the overall title in this year’s five-stage Volta ao Algarve that started last Wednesday and finished on Sunday. The whole event, covering much of the length and breadth of the region, presented the Algarve in a good light and was followed by cycling enthusiasts around the world.   


Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Catholic Church in crisis

As the shockwaves of last week’s revelations about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Portugal subside somewhat, it is worth remembering that Catholicism has been at the forefront of atrocious behaviour towards children for centuries.

The Catholic Church has certainly not been the only religious or political entity involved in inhumane activity, and historical records are just a backdrop to the moral misconduct in recent decades that has at last been highlighted by those Catholics who have courageously lifted the veil of silence on abuse.

Catholic Crusaders slaughtered hundreds of Muslim and Jewish men, women and children on entering Jerusalem in 1099. The so-called ‘Children’s Crusade,’ initiated supposedly by a divine instruction, sent children to march along with women and elderly people from Europe towards the Holy Land in 1212.

This was during the Crusader wars (1095 to 1291) in which European Catholics made a series of violent and often ruthless invasions into the Middle East to seize land from Muslims and Jews. All three faiths regarded the land in the war zones as sacred. All three worshipped the same God, only in different ways.

A countless number of children were among the victims of the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions that lasted from 1478 to 1834. During the Passover in 1497, Portuguese authorities raided Jewish communities, seized all Jewish children below the age of fourteen and forcibly baptised then into the Catholic faith. Parents were not allowed to be reunited with their children unless they agreed to be baptised too. Many children were lost and many of their parents committed suicide in the churches they were to be baptised in.

Popes and priests were very much involved in slavery. Towards the end of the Middle Ages the Catholic Church abolished the enslavement of Christians, but it was still permissible to enslave non-Christians, including children. In 1761 Portugal banned bringing slaves into this country, but carried on trafficking until 1869 an estimated 4.5 to 6 million slaves from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, mainly to Brazil.

Regarding the Holocaust, the part played by Catholics, particularly Pope Pius Xll, is a highly contentious matter. Since then, however, the issue has not been so much about Catholics harming those of other faiths as harming those of their own. Cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests started in the United States in 1985. The full scale of the systematic priestly perversion began to filter out in 2002 with articles published by the Boston Globe. Numerous bishops arranged cover-ups, many successfully, but by 2012 the dioceses in which the crimes had been committed were forced to pay more than $12 billion in settlements to victims. Critics said the payout allow the Church to escape proper justice.  

A deluge of scandals has rocked the Church in other countries as a result of independent inquiries such as that carried out in Portugal. About 216,000 children were abused by the clergy in France between 1950 and 2020. Many of the thousands of victims in Ireland were abused in Catholic orphanages. Paedophile priests have been abusing in several other European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. There has been more of the same in South America, Canada and New Zealand. In Australia, the Vatican’s former finance chief, Cardinal George Pell, was found guilty in 2018 of sexually abusing choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

On and on it has gone: clergymen abusing, raping and causing life-long trauma. The Church has at times been secretive in allowing many of these criminals to move to other dioceses or retire without punishment. Hypocritical priests have been able to preach to their congregations about the need to avoid sinfulness, but have they themselves been much concerned about divine retribution? Pope Francis has expressed his deep sorrow and disgust. It remains to be seen if he can put an end to the crisis.

Like all the vast number of decent Catholics, especially parents, Pope Francis will be aware of the many kind things mentioned about children in the Bible, such as: “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalms 127:3).

The well-known atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins, claims that forcing religion on children is as bad as child sexual abuse. He has repeatedly said that sexual abuse “arguably causes less long-term psychological damage” than being brought up a Catholic. A growing number of people - former Catholics as well as non-religious people – agree. Catholicism is in steep decline in Portugal as in many other parts of the world. Some think the decline could be terminal in the decades ahead as young people become better educated, more scientifically minded and distrustful of dogmatic teachings.  

Meanwhile, it is ironic that young people from around the world are being encouraged to register as volunteers to help arrange the World Youth Day in Lisbon, which will be attended by Pope Francis in the first week of August.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023


Behind this week's headlines

Courts strike illegally?

The Portuguese Union of Judicial Officers yesterday pledged to press ahead with a one-month strike starting today by court officials. The Luca new agency reports that the union has rejected allegations of illegality made by the Directorate-General of the Administration of Justice and accusing it of intimidation.

Catholic child abuse

At least 4,815 boys and girls were sexually abused by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church over the past 70 years, an independent investigation has concluded. The investigators’ report, published on Monday, noted that this number was just “the tip of the iceberg.” Most of the culprits were priests, some of them Jesuits. There have been apologies, but the report still awaits a proper response from the Catholic Church, both in Portugal and the Vatican.

Teachers strike

Teachers and school workers are likely to continue taking to the streets of Lisbon and elsewhere in mass demonstrations unless the government can soon reach an agreement with the unions about wages and terms of service. Tens of thousands took part in last weekend’s demonstration, the third in less than a month. Meanwhile, the strikes are troubling for pupils and working parents.

Novo Banco back

The Portuguese Finance Ministry announced on Monday that the European Commission has said it will consider the reconstructing process of Novo Banco, a process that began in 2017 and was completed at the end of last year.

Far fewer pupils

The number of pupils attending Portuguese schools dropped by more than 20% in the decade to 2019, according to figures released this week by the Directorate-General for Education and Science Statistics. It’s another indication of the growing percentage of the population aged 65 and over, which now stands at about one quarter.

Major sports event

Some of the biggest names in world bicycle racing will be taking part in the 49th Volte ao Algarve race that started in rain-soaked Portimão today (Feb.15th) and finishes in Lagoa on Sunday. The race covers more than 700 kilometres in five stages all around the region’s roadways. Apart from being an important sporting event, it showcases the Algarve as a tourist destination – although this week’s weather might not help. 


Top security meeting

Portugal will be represented at the 59th Munich Security Conference to be held this coming weekend. Those attending will include the secretary-general of NATO, the president of the European Union, and leading politicians from  the United States and China. Russia’s war in Ukraine – not strange balloons - will be the most pressing subjects up for discussion.


Saint Valentine

Did you happen to wonder on Tuesday who Saint Valentine actually was? No one knows for sure, but there are lots of theories. The News York Times has suggested Valentine’s Day in celebration of two saints who were made into a composite character. One, according to popular legend, was a religious zealot arrested after he defied an order by the pagan Emperor Claudius that forbade Roman soldiers from getting married. He was later beheaded.   


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Greenwashing has got to go!


The European Commission is expected to take decisive action soon against companies suspected of being involved in greenwashing, in other words conning everyone by labelling or advertising products and services with misleading eco-friendly information.

Greenwashing has taken hold as more and more people have become concerned about the environment and global warming. Naturally they want to buy genuinely eco-friendly products. As this honest trade has accelerated in recent years so has the number of cheats cashing in with overstated claims or downright lies.The sole aim of greenwashers is to make a profit. They are not interested in helping the environment.

A decisive plan by the European Commission will be welcomed by the Portuguese Consumer Authority (DGC), which has been working to raise awareness and to educate both professionals and consumers about the risks of greenwashing. For the last two years there has been growing concern in Portugal about the lack of conceptual uniformity across the EU, which would provide a reference or common basis for legitimising green claims.  

“Organic” and “all natural” are the kinds of foods we want to buy in our local supermarket without fuss and bother in this confusing world. But most of us don’t have the time or expertise to investigate the truth of what is being claimed. The reality is that consumers are sometimes being addressed honestly and sometimes not. Hopefully, the EU is soon going to help.   

The process of greenwashing involves placing on packaging or in advertisements claims that may seem straightforward, but which are actually vague and unverifiable. Another trick is to publish an image of a product with a beautiful environmental background.

EU regulators have been studying this greenwashing phenomenon for some time, but it is complicated. For one thing, greenwashing has no legal definition. Fortunately, there is now the EU plan to expose the guilty companies and at least dent their reputations and correct their future business activities. Portugal and all 26 other countries within the union may have to ensure that any claims made by companies about their products are accurately backed by scientific evidence.

Some brands market their products as “green” to lead buyers to believe the products are conforming to high environmental standards. Among the wording shoppers should be careful of are “climate neutral,” “carbon neutral” and “100% C02 compensated.” As the Bloomberg news organisation recently described it: “such claims are a free pass to continue down a damaging environmental road.”

It is easy for a company to say,  “our product is better for the environment than before,” but is it? In what way, and who apart from the company says so? Another favourite reassuring expression used by greenwashers is that the plastics in their products or packaging is “biodegradable” or “compostable,” meaning it will not contribute to the world’s massive plastic waste problem. But are such assurances followed by even a hint that this is really so?  

While greenwashing on its own does not have a legal definition, government enforcement actions and civil suits have been proceeding through security enforcement regulators and consumer protection legislation. The global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, for example, reported on a campaign by Ryan Air claiming to be the “lowest CO2 emissions airline.” This was referred to the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK. The weakness of the claim was shown to be that it was based on a study conducted nearly a decade earlier and it failed to sufficiently support the claim.

It is thought that under the EU draft plan, companies that want to emphasise positive environmental or climate change aspects of their products will have to also highlight any detrimental effects. In the United States, action is being taken at both federal and under security laws at state government levels. Many similar actions are continuing to be taken in many other countries around the world against very doubtful eco-friendly claims.

Hopefully, truth will prevail.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Pesticides versus Pollinators


In line with the European Commission, Portugal is moving ahead with a plan to give greater protection to pollinating insects while reducing the use of pesticides in agriculture to avoid health risks to humans.

The EU executive unveiled a plan last June to reduce the use and risk of pesticides by half by 2030. This proved to be unacceptable among EU member states and the plan is being reconsidered. Environmentalists argue that reform needs to be speeded up.

The global population of pollinating insects, such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and ants, has been decreasing rapidly. The survival of some species is threatened while others have already become extinct. Meanwhile, the risk of pesticides causing serious illnesses has been underestimated.

The use of pesticides – herbicides, fungicides and insecticides - is one of the main causes of the decline in biodiversity, which major United Nations summit meetings on global warming have pledged to stop. Some EU states still do not fully recognise the harmful consequences of plant protection products. Some have been ignoring the EU ban on exporting toxic pesticides to less wealthy countries such as Morocco, South Africa, the Philippines and Mexico.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which consists of more than 600 non-governmental organisations and individuals in over 90 countries, is working hard to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.

 According to PAN, “scientific evidence indicates that pesticides contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions while also making our agricultural system more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, the reduction of systemic pesticide use has been omitted from climate change solutions. The systematic pesticide use is even presented as a climate change mitigation strategy by industrial agriculture interest.”

Among the many other things PAN has emphasised:  The use of pesticides on average in Europe did not decrease in recent years despite much debate on the sustainability of agriculture and despite the entering on the market of pesticides that can be used at low doses. Between 2011 and 2020 pesticide sales in the EU were almost stable, around 350,000 tonnes per year. The vast majority is used in the agricultural sector.”

Last September PAN (not to be confused with the Portuguese political party with the same initials) published the findings of its analysis of large samples of fresh fruit grown in Europe. It concluded that the contamination of apples, pears and plums had almost doubled since 2011. It came as a shocking surprise to learn that 49% of the pears, 44% of the table grapes and 34% of the apples tested were sold with contaminations linked to increased risks of cancer, birth deformities, heart disease and other serious illnesses. Portuguese pears were among the most contaminated (68%). Half of the Portuguese apples were contaminated. Most of the pesticides in question were a health threat even at very low doses, according to the report.

This year, the worldwide value of all pesticides used is expected to reach $130 billion with almost a quarter sold in Europe, making this one if the biggest markets. Only a few corporations share this profitable trade.

The problem of dangerous pesticides for pollinators is not only within the fields of sprayed crops. Pesticides can move from where they were applied by sinking into the soil and groundwater, or rising into the air to get blown far away, sometimes for hundreds of kilometres.

Wild honey and bumble bees and other small insects feed on pollen and nectar. In their wondrous daily lives they naturally pick up polled on their feet and lower bodies and transfer it to other plants. By doing so, they greatly help increase yields of fruits and vegetables. But the killing of these insects comes about when they also pick up deadly pesticides. They may also become contaminated directly with spray or by ingesting contaminated pollen.

Not all crops are dependent on pollinators, but you might like to bear in mind this special one. A certain kind of midge pollinates the small, evergreen cacao trees in Africa’s Ivory Coast, Central and South America and parts of Asia. No midges, no cacao trees - no chocolate.