Rare deer species rediscovered in Afghanistan after surviving two major wars


Researchers have spotted the rare Bactrian deer (Cervus elaphus bactrianus) in the wild in Afghanistan for the first time in more than 40 years. Until now, scientists had feared that the dwindling species had become extinct in the region, after two major wars and years of civil conflict.

The last time the animals had been surveyed in the wild was during the 1970s, and there were only around 120 individuals left in a small pocket in the northeast corner of Afghanistan.

That’s the Takhar Province, near Tajikistan, which was on the border of the USSR during the Soviet-Afghan War in the late 1970s, and then was taken over byMujahedeen leaders in the ’80s.

“That area was not safe,” one of the conservationists who recently spotted the deer, Zalmai Moheb from the University of Massachusetts, told Joshua Rapp Learn from the Smithsonian.

“The Mujahedeen was fighting the Soviet Union … Because of this instability, every household had a gun.”

Researchers had feared the worst, seeing as the deer’s range was already so limited on the Afghanistan side of the border.

But an expedition in 2013 identified hoof prints and droppings from the species, and eventually a fleeting glimpse of a young female deer. The team has justpublished their results in the Deer Specialist Group newsletter of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“It was a great feeling,” said Moheb. “Wow, we’re going to confirm the species here for the first time after 45 years. That will be a big thing for the wildlife in Afghanistan.”

While there hasn’t been constant fighting in the Takhar Province of Afghanistan, there’s been regular conflict with warlords and smugglers, and the arming of the local population means that deer were often hunted for sport or food.

The researchers aren’t sure how many Bactrian deer are now living in Afghanistan, though they note that they’re limited to a remote 280-square-kilometre floodplain that’s cut off from roads by the Amu Darya River, and urgently need conservation to protect them in future.

The good news is that the Bactrian deer is also found in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and the global population has increased from just 350 to 400 in the 1960s to around 1,900 wild animals in 2011, thanks to local conservation efforts.

But the Afghanistan population has been mostly ignored due to conflict in the region.

The researchers hope that their discovery that the Afghan deer are still around and have outlasted multiple local regimes to take their place the ultimate survivors will inspire people to protect them in future – despite the fact that the local political situation is still tumultuous.

“If you wait for one thing to be over to start, at that time you may lose it,” Moheb told the Smithsonian.

1,000 British soldiers given psychiatric help after consuming ‘zombie drug’ – new figures


The British military is accused of failing to protect its soldier’s mental health. Figures show nearly 1,000 have sought psychiatric treatment after being given the MoD’s budget price anti-malarial drug Lariam.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed the figure is much higher than previously thought, with 994 service personnel being admitted to mental health clinics or psychiatric hospitals since 2008.

The figures only go back to 2007, so the true number may be much higher, as Lariam, also known as mefloquine, has been in use for much longer.

The MoD has consistently defended the drug, which is one of several it issues to troops, amid concerns that Lariam is contributing to an Armed Forces mental health epidemic. This is despite growing pressure from senior military figures, campaigners and relatives of those affected.

The drug, banned by US Special Forces two years ago, and which the UK military avoids giving to pilots or divers, is still issued to UK troops.

Its use continues despite evidence linking the anti-malarial to the 2012 Panjwai Massacre, in which a US soldier slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians after taking the drug.

Sergeant Robert Bales has since been sentenced to life imprisonment.

In an internal report, Roche, the drug’s manufacturer, described the killings as an “adverse event.

Roche themselves have conceded that the side effects can include “hallucinations, psychosis, suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-endangering behavior” and may induce “serious neuropsychiatric disorders.

Reuters / Nigel Roddis

The figures come as it was revealed a retired British general, who took the drug during service, is currently in a secure psychiatric unit.

Major General Alastair Duncan commanded British troops in Bosnia. His wife, Ellen, told the Independent: “Like others, I believe that this is a scandal. If 1,000 troops have reported the effects then you can be sure there are others who have not. I know personally of several, and anecdotally of many more.

The long-term effects of this will be more and more in evidence over the coming years.

She said the MoD was “staggeringly unprepared to deal with the fallout.

In 2012, Dr Remington Nevin, a US Army epidemiologist whose research found the drug could be toxic to the brain, told the Daily Mail: “Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It’s dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago.

He said Lariam was “probably the worst-suited drug for the military,” adding that its side effects closely matched the symptoms of combat stress.

Considering why the drug remains in use, one former general speculated that it was a matter of economics over welfare.

Former marine Major General Julian Thompson led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War. He told the Independent: “I can only come to the conclusion that the MoD has a large supply of Lariam, and some ‘chairborne’ jobsworth in the MoD has decreed that as a cost-saving measure, the stocks are to be consumed before an alternative is purchased.

Larium is significantly cheaper than comparable anti-malarials, such as Doxycycline and Malarone.

An MoD spokesperson said: “All our medical advice is based on the current guidelines set out by Public Health England.

Based on this expert advice, the MoD continues to prescribe mefloquine (Lariam) as part of the range of malaria prevention treatments recommended, which help us to protect our personnel from this disease.

The Labour Party responded to the revelations by promising to fully address the impacts and use of Lariam if the party comes to power in the May general election.

Shadow Defense Secretary Vernon Coaker told Channel 4: “Given the growing evidence of the potential damage caused by this drug we are committed to immediately reviewing its use should we form the next government.

Global impact of depression revealed


Depression is the second most common cause of disability worldwide after back pain, according to a review of research.

Depression

The disease must be treated as a global public health priority, experts report in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The study compared clinical depression with more than 200 other diseases and injuries as a cause of disability.

Globally, only a small proportion of patients have access to treatment, the World Health Organization says.

“Start Quote

Depression is a big problem and we definitely need to pay more attention to it than we are now”

Dr Alize Ferrari University of Queensland

Depression was ranked at number two as a global cause of disability, but its impact varied in different countries and regions. For example, rates of major depression were highest in Afghanistan and lowest in Japan. In the UK, depression was ranked at number three in terms of years lived with a disability.

Dr Alize Ferrari from the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health led the study.

“Depression is a big problem and we definitely need to pay more attention to it than we are now,” she told BBC News.

“There’s still more work to be done in terms of awareness of the disease and also in coming up with successful ways of treating it.

“The burden is different between countries, so it tends to be higher in low and middle income countries and lower in high income countries.”

Policy-makers had made an effort to bring depression to the forefront, but there was a lot more work to be done, she added.

“There’s lots of stigma we know associated with mental health,” she explained.

“What one person recognises as disabling might be different to another person and might be different across countries as well, there are lots of cultural implications and interpretations that come in place, which makes it all the more important to raise awareness of the size of the problem and also signs and how to detect it.”

The data – for the year 2010 – follows similar studies in 1990 and 2000 looking at the global burden of depression.

Commenting on the study, Dr Daniel Chisholm, a health economist at the department for mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization said depression was a very disabling condition.

“It’s a big public health challenge and a big problem to be reckoned with but not enough is being done.

“Around the world only a tiny proportion of people get any sort of treatment or diagnosis.”

The WHO recently launched a global mental health action plan to raise awareness among policy-makers.

Polio Eradication by the Numbers.


http://www.ozy.com/acumen/polio-eradication-by-the-numbers/3274.article#b10g24f20b13

Syria: Polio outbreak fears


Polio
Polio can be prevented but not cured

Experts are concerned that polio may have made a return to war-torn Syria.

The World Health Organization says it has received reports of the first suspected outbreak in the country in 14 years.

Syrian’s Ministry of Public Health is launching an urgent response, but experts fear the disease will be hard to control amid civil unrest.

Immunisation is almost impossible to carry out in regions under intense shellfire.

As a result, vaccination rates have been waning – from 95% in 2010 to an estimated 45% in 2013.

At least a third of the country’s public hospitals are out of service, and in some areas, up to 70% of the health workforce has fled.

Outbreak risks have also increased due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and deterioration in water supply.

Polio

  • Caused by a highly-infectious virus
  • Mainly affects children under five years
  • Can lead to irreversible muscle paralysis
  • A course of vaccines against polio can protect a child for life
  • Global eradication efforts continue
  • The disease remains endemic in only a few countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan
  • Mass vaccination is needed to eradicate polio

More than four million Syrians who have relocated to less volatile areas of the country are mostly living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

The WHO says it is already seeing increased cases of measles, typhoid and hepatitis A in Syria.

Dr Jaouad Mahjour, director of the department for communicable diseases at WHO’s regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: “Given the scale of population movement both inside Syria and across borders, together with deteriorating environmental health conditions, outbreaks are inevitable.”

The cluster of suspected polio cases was detected in early October 2013 in Deir al-Zour province.

Initial results from a laboratory in Damascus indicate that at least two of the cases could indeed be polio.

A surveillance alert has been issued for the region to actively search for additional potential cases. Supplementary immunisation activities in neighbouring countries are currently being planned.

WHO’s International Travel and Health recommends that all travellers to and from polio-infected areas be fully vaccinated against polio.

Most people infected with the poliovirus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. These symptomless people carry the virus in their intestines and can “silently” spread the infection to thousands of others before the first case of polio paralysis emerges.

Polio is spread by eating food or drink contaminated with faeces or, more rarely, directly from person-to-person via saliva.

Polio Crusade: The Success Staircase.


 

Following two long hauling decades of global vaccination campaign, the world is at the edge of eradicating polio. Pakistan is one of the only three countries, labouring under a huge burden of polio, Afghanistan and Nigeria being the other two. The national campaign to wipe out polio and various deadly diseases from the roots have feared failure for the past few years and very recently, a devastating blow when the murders of the aid workers made headlines and pushed the agencies to suspend the Polio Crusade. Over 90 percent of the polio cases being reported are from four major transmission zones in Fata, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Baluchistan, central Punjab and Sindh.

542239-Polio-1367269207-636-640x480-300x225

Pakistan declared a national health emergency in January 2011 uncovering an action plan with a singular goal of disrupting transmission of the disease by the year’s end. Unfortunately, the initiative failed. A recent intensification of the disease with emerging violence has been highlighted, which unfortunately continues up to date. The incidence of the highly infectious disease is relatively low in the peaceful areas, Punjab and Sindh and high in KPK, FATA and Baluchistan.

In 2011, Pakistan reported 198 fresh cases, being the highest in the world. Over 188 out of the 198 new infections reported to have emerged from the violence-plagued areas. Similarly, 55 out of 58 cases in 2012 emerged from Baluchistan, FATA and KPK. The ruling under the new leadership could have the government to eradicate polio from Pakistan; a goal we have almost achieved. However, in the light of recent attacks on the health care personnel, which included women, have raised fear and subsequent departure from respective duties, abandoning the vaccination campaigns and various health associated activities.

Many have spoken about the government responsibilities, highlighted the need for education of the masses, remote accessibility, promising security services and making this world an infection-free place to live in. However, Polio and I sat down with the Pakistani dilemma where we discussed weaknesses thereafter coming up with a plan we called the Success Staircase. Polio highlighted the first step towards eradication – Health education, which by definition is a positive impact on individual, which results in a favourable behavioural change, leading to good health. Health education in primary health care aims to foster activities that encourage people to want to be healthy, know how to stay healthy, do what they can to maintain health and seek help when needed.

It remains the duty of all conscientious persons dealing with each other in everyday life. Therefore, it starts form “Us”. – The second step towards enlightenment as mentioned by polio was sensitization. This step is overlooked by the authorities who race towards achieving bigger goals neglecting the basics.

Therefore, the nation can come up with new ideas, polices and agendas once we have successfully eradicated polio. Those who have access to health care services should be given a tutorial supplemented with visuals (as seeing is believing) whereas those who remain unattended and unreachable should be approached through media and community leaders. In health campaigns driven in the country so far, no special efforts have been dedicated to reach to the illiterate population. Do we and our future really require clothing labels, processed food, tea and telecommunication plans to recover our health liabilities?

How about we incorporate polio awareness regimens with the existing advertisements. We can target the product consumed/adopted widely by the masses to spread knowledge. For example, through the mobile facility, we can extend text/pictorial messages and offer free tele-health services. Polio and Publicity go hand in hand.

Back in my childhood days, I memorized a jingle that played in a short advertisement of a family planning service. I sang it like all other poems from the recitation classes. A very good example in today’s time emanates from the practice of hand-washing which is a primary step towards nipping the disease in the bud. The hand-wash product came up with a good theme and a child friendly song, bagging nationwide incentive.

My idea was to contemplate campaigns and advertisements in an entertaining approach to grab mass appeal. Instead of having crippled children look at the sight of ordinary kids performing daily activities coupled with a distressing melody in the backdrop, make the practice of inoculation fun and enamouring. Bright colours, energetic theme and lively environment is definitely heartening. Even the census participation was made encouraging due to the cheerful rattle; it ran over the tube a hundred times in a day resultantly.

Polio asked to re-establish priorities. In addition to door-to-door services, establish and push school-to-school and community–to-community agenda forward. Bangladesh is becoming an emerging economy showing cohesive tendencies to various changes and demands. It achieved a huge reduction in poverty; there has been a growth in trade and education, overcoming most of their challenges.

Therefore, in order for Pakistan to grow into a healthy nation, we need a collective collaboration and sustenance program and adequate funds free of manoeuvre. Continued education and training of the health care personnel is a very important step towards the quality of implementation. The trainees should be motivated and expectant for absolute health care delivery. A very important aspect of this exercise remains bridging the communication gap.

Special attention should be given to areas of barriers such as social and cultural divide, negative attitudes, insufficient emphasis and contradictory messages. The trainees should also be offered attractive quality packages keeping in mind the objectives of occupational health; thereby encouraging performance and dedication. Special training and advancements should be offered to promote remote access and healthcare relief. Considering the recent event in the lawless areas, operations and killings of the charity and aid workers had gripped the localities with fear.

Polio emphasized upon security as a requisite for the protection of the conduct. All health associated movements and activities should have satisfactory safety arrangements due to various events in history that have endangered medicine and medical practice. Polio and I spent hours discussing the merits of pressing a campaign in a low profile manner where authorities could inoculate children in phases, with adequate security arrangements instead of pulling off a nationwide campaign which may not only be strenuous to supervise but also under-productive. Another idea that hit us was to offer general healthcare facilities which obviously encased the polio proposal instead of highlighting special polio camps and workers.

This attempt could smash its way into successful inoculation of a child at a routine visit and subsequent education of the guardian. Polio called in for an enterprise which could regain trust. The government should re-think the measures previously taken for the medical movement; making nationwide announcements for a child friendly campaign. Local authorities should scheme initiatives entitled to gain confidence of the masses which is the gateway to reliance upon the government.

Pharmaceutical fraud is the biggest threat to the integrity of the global drug supply. With meager training and knowledge, the criminals have made their way in the market generating illegitimate profits. The impact of the convincing fakes has a potential to contribute to world health crisis. The government should run and revise inspection and subsequent quality control programs and announce strict penalties to the offenders.

Our great emphasis has been on the government abilities. Our system should realize the crisis Pakistan is falling into. We as health officials should join forces to formulate a singular agenda instead of feeding our personal motives, with a sole purpose of a Healthy Nation, Healthier Environment, and the Healthiest People.

References:

http://www.emro.who.int/countries/pak/ http://europe.wsj.com/home-page http://tribune.com.pk/




Smart lenses make spectacles accessible to millions.


 

Spectacles with variable lenses that can be adjusted by a wearer with no access to specialist eye care are being mass produced.

The first 30,000 pairs will be shipped to Afghanistan, Ghana and Tanzania by the end of the month.

Focusspec is the first self-adjustable lens to be produced in large quantities, though other similar glasses have been designed. The technology is expected to improve the lives of millions of adults in the developing world living with poor eyesight.

The spectacles were developed by Dutch industrial designer Frederik Van Asbeck, based on a discovery in 1964 by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez. Alvarez designed a lens that was convex on one side and concave on the other. He found that by placing two such lenses on top of each other, and moving one relative to the other, the focus could be changed.

“The technology to produce those lenses with the needed high precision — an aberration of a micrometre will cause a headache — was developed only a few years ago,” Van Asbeck told SciDev.Net.

Anyone can adjust the strength of the lenses themselves, by turning wheels located on the side of the spectacles, eliminating the need for an eye expert.

Van Asbeck says Focus on Vision, serving the WHO’s VISION 2020 programme, will produce one million pairs of glasses a year in the Netherlands.

The glasses have been tested in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Nepal and Tanzania.

“I see people’s faces light up when they adjust their spectacles and discover they can read again, take care of themselves, work, get an education,” says Jan in ‘t Veld, a board member for Focus on Vision, which undertook a large part of the fieldwork.

In ‘t Veld says the lenses are scratch-, UV-, water- and dust-resistant — and optically almost as good as the far pricier lenses used in Western countries.

Ben van Noort, co-board member and ophthalmologist, points out that Focusspec lenses can only be adjusted between +0.5 to +4.5 dioptre or -1 to -5 dioptre (most people wear between -6 and +6) and they are unsuitable for astigmatism. “Still, they work for 80–90 per cent of adults,” he says.

Lillian Mujemula, optometrist and main distributor of the glasses in Tanzania agrees: “Most of our clients live in remote areas, where there are no optometrists. People are very happy with the glasses because they are of good quality and easy to use. I believe people can wear them for many years.”

Brien Holden, professor of optometry in Sydney and chairman of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) told SciDev.Net: “The FocusSpec has an important place as a stop-gap solution. But they cannot replace the long-term strategy of educating eye care personnel and creating optical workshops and distribution channels in each community in need”.

Holden also points out there is a need for proper scientific field studies, which ICEE is now in the process of designing.

The spectacles are expected to be sold at local shops, schools and health centres for US$3–5 a pair.

Source: www.scidev.net

A fertilizer that cannot detonate bombs.


researchers-with-sandia-national-laboratories-create-a-non-detonable-fertilizer

The key to fertilizer bombs is the ammonium nitrate.

When mixed with a fuel like diesel, this agricultural staple becomes the highly explosive, raw ingredient for many improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Now, researchers from Sandia National Laboratories have developed a fertilizer that can’t detonate a bomb. And Sandia has decided not to patent or license the formula. Instead, they’re waiving ownership rights, making it freely available in hopes of saving lives, according to a press release earlier this week.

Ammonium nitrate was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and in 65 percent of the 16,300 homemade bombs in Afghanistan in 2012. The Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization issued a call last year for ideas on how to neutralize ammonium nitrate as an IED explosive.

Sandia’s Kevin Fleming came up with a fertilizer formula that’s as good as ammonium nitrate in helping plants grow — but nonexplosive.

The ammonium ion is only weakly attached to the nitrate ion, and the ions can be separated by adding a compound they would rather cling to. Iron sulfate is a readily available compound that steel foundries throw away by the tons.

When mixed with ammonium nitrate, the iron ion “grabs” the nitrate and the ammonium ion takes the sulfate ion. Iron sulfate becomes iron nitrate and ammonium nitrate becomes ammonium sulfate. This reaction occurs if someone tries to alter the fertilizer to make it detonable when mixed with a fuel.

“The ions would rather be with different partners,” Fleming explains. “The iron looks at the ammonium nitrate and says, ‘Can I have your nitrate rather than my sulfate?’ and the ammonium nitrate says, ‘I like sulfate, so I’ll trade you.’”

Ammonium sulfate and iron nitrate are not detonable, even when mixed with a fuel.

Iron sulfate in fertilizer adds iron and helps neutralized soil pH. And it wouldn’t cost more to produce.

Source: Smart Planet