World Water Day 2019: Leaving No One Behind

March 22 is the annual observance of World Water Day. This year’s theme is “No One Left Behind.” But according to a report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, nearly a billion people today live without access to clean drinking water. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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US Meteorologists Retire Hurricane Names Florence, Michael

Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which caused widespread death and destruction in the United States last year, have earned the dubious distinction of having their names retired. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that the two names will be replaced with Francine and Milton, starting with the 2024 hurricane season. 

The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization maintains six lists with 21 names each that are organized alphabetically and alternate between male and female names. 

Each list is used once every six years. The current group goes from 2018 to 2023, with the cycle restarting in 2024. 

Names are retired when meteorologists determine that a hurricane has been so destructive that reusing its name would be insensitive.

The first hurricane name to be retired was Carol, in 1954. So far, 88 names have been dropped from the list. 

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WHO: New Oral Treatment More Effective in Combating Multidrug-Resistant TB

Tuberculosis has plagued humans for thousands of years and continues to do so. In advance of this year’s World TB Day, March 24, the World Health Organization is issuing a call to action to eradicate the disease by 2030.  

As part of these efforts, the WHO is launching an oral drug regimen it says can more effectively treat people with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.  

TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease, killing nearly 4,500 people a day and infecting 10 million people a year.

 

Despite the grim statistics, much progress has been made in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the disease.  The WHO says 54 million lives have been saved since 2000.  But the WHO also warns the gains risk being lost with the emergence of multidrug-resistant TB or MDR-TB.

 

The current treatment for MDR-TB involves a two-year treatment course of painful injections, which provoke many bad side effects.  

 

The WHO says it is hopeful the new oral treatment program it is launching will be more effective in controlling the spread of the particularly virulent form of tuberculosis.  

 

The director of the WHO’s Global TB Program, Tereza Kasaeva, told VOA the new oral drug treatment the WHO is recommending has far fewer adverse side effects.

 

“Of course, it will be definitely much, much easier and there will not be a need for regular frequent visits of the physicians or health workers for making these injections.  No doubt, as we see from the data, the effectiveness, the treatment success will be definitely much, much higher,” Kasaeva said.

 

The South African government has announced it plans to adopt the injection-free treatment.  Kasaeva said the cost of the oral treatment is around $2,000, which is largely unaffordable for low-income countries.   

 

She said South Africa is engaging in talks with pharmaceutical companies to drop the price to $400.

The WHO says South Africa is one of the 20 countries most affected by MDR-TB.  Others include Russia, China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam.

 

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NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Snag

NASA’s plan to scoop up dirt and gravel from an asteroid has hit a snag, but scientists say they can overcome it.

The asteroid Bennu was thought to have wide, open areas suitable for the task. But a recently arrived spacecraft revealed the asteroid is covered with boulders and there don’t seem to be any big, flat spots that could be used to grab samples. 

In a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature, scientists say they plan to take a closer look at a few smaller areas that might work. They said sampling from those spots poses “a substantial challenge.”  

“But I am confident this team is up to that substantial challenge,” the project’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft began orbiting Bennu at the end of last year, after spending two years chasing down the space rock.

When the mission was planned, scientists were aiming to take dirt and gravel from an area measuring at least 55 yards (50 meters) in diameter that was free of boulders or steep slopes, which would pose a hazard.

“It is a more rugged surface than we predicted,” said Lauretta, of the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the paper’s authors. But he said he believed a sample could still be collected.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling.

Patrick Taylor, who studies asteroids at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston but didn’t participate in the spacecraft mission, noted in a telephone interview that the spacecraft was evidently maneuvering more accurately and precisely than had been expected. 

“That gives me confidence they will be able to attempt a sample acquisition,” he said.

Bennu is 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It’s estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across and is the smallest celestial body ever orbited by a spacecraft.

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission.

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WHO Panel Calls for Registry of All Human Gene-Editing Research

It would be irresponsible for any scientist to conduct human gene-editing studies in people, and a central registry of research plans should be set up to ensure transparency, World Health Organization experts said Tuesday.

After its first two-day meeting in Geneva, the WHO panel of gene-editing experts — which was established in December after a Chinese scientist said he had edited the genes of twin babies — said it had agreed on a framework for setting future standards.

It said a central registry of all human genome-editing research was needed “in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work,” and asked the WHO to start setting up such a registry immediately.

“The committee will develop essential tools and guidance for all those working on this new technology to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk to human health,” Soumya Swamanathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said in a statement.

A Chinese scientist last year claimed to have edited the genes of twin baby girls.

News of the births prompted global condemnation, in part because it raised the ethical specter of so-called “designer babies” — in which embryos can be genetically modified to produce children with desirable traits.

Top scientists and ethicists from seven countries called last week for a global moratorium on gene editing of human eggs, sperm or embryos that would result in such genetically-altered babies — saying this “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

The WHO panel’s statement said any human gene-editing work should be done for research only, should not be done in human clinical trials, and should be conducted transparently.

“It is irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing.”

The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed the panel’s initial plans. “Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically,” he said in a statement.

The committee said it aims over the next two years to produce “a comprehensive governance framework” for national, local and international authorities to ensure human genome-editing science progresses within agreed ethical boundaries.

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Chinese Supplements Supplier Sentenced for Fraud

A Chinese national has been sentenced to 18 months in a U.S. prison in connection with a scheme to sell mislabeled dietary supplements to U.S. companies. 

Xu Jia Bao, an executive with Shanghai Waseta International Trade Co., was also sentenced to one year of probation for selling synthetic stimulant ingredients to a purported U.S. manufacturer of dietary supplements.  The U.S. company was, in fact, an undercover informant for the U.S. government. 

The prosecutors said Xu admitted that he and other executives at Waseta knew major American retailers would not carry supplements known to contain certain stimulants, such as DMHA. Xu also admitted that he and Waseta were responsible for a falsely labeled shipment of DMHA that was sent to Texas.

“Consumers are entitled to trust that dietary supplement products accurately identify their ingredients,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will vigorously pursue and prosecute those who attempt to circumvent.” 

Xu was arrested in September 2017 while attending a dietary supplement trade show in Las Vegas.

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Climate Protest the Latest Youth Action for Social Change

In every generation, young people have led movements for social change. Some were successful, others were not. The latest student movement to make headlines began last year, as students skipped classes on Fridays to pressure world leaders to take action on climate. Their coordinated global protest this past Friday was the largest to date. Markus Meyer-Gehlen has more on youth activism.

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Encroaching Humans are Changing Chimpanzee Culture

Chimpanzees are second only to humans as the most complex and diverse of the large primates. But a new report from a large group of scientists including the Wildlife Conservation Society, say that humans are threatening the culture of our closest cousins. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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