Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Oral kits let people test for HIV at home

A quick swab of the gums and people know their test results. In Malawi, many people didn't get tested for HIV before because that meant visiting a clinic - but they didn't want health officials to know their status.
A woman using the OraQuick kit (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Zovko)
The test kit looks like a pregnancy test. And like a pregnancy test it's designed to give fast results: A quick oral swab of the upper and lower gums, and 20 minutes later you'll have the results. One line next to the letter C on the stick means the result is negative; if a second line next to the letter T shows up, the result is HIV positive.
The OraQuick test is over 90 percent accurate, according to the company's website. It has been approved by the United States' Food and Drug Administration.
The whole kit usually costs around $60 (54 euros). But in the southeast African state of Malawi researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust and College of Medicine have been training individuals and are providing OraQuick kits free of charge. To date, over 8,000 such tests have been carried out in Malawi.
"There is a lot hanging on the self testing," said Rodrick Sambakunsi, who works as a counselor with the program. He says the system saves time and is easy to use.
"We are happy with the way it's going. We have the support of the local leaders, the churches and all the communities in the areas where we are working."
Fear prevents many from testing in clinics
Despite many HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and the government offering HIV testing and counseling in antenatal care clinics, many people in Malawi remain reluctant to go for HIV tests as they fear being stigmatized by others. As a result, HIV-infected women give birth in health facilities without knowing that they are infected.
Close-up of a woman using the mouth swab (photo: EPA/HANDOUT +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
The test is easy to use and can be done at home where no one's looking
26-year-old Joshua Mwale learnt about his wife's HIV infection the hard way - after she got tested when she was due for delivery.
"I felt betrayed," he said. "When she was due for delivery, doctors recommended a test. My wife was found to be positive. This forced me to do a test and doctors certified my negative status," he said.
"I felt deceived by my wife, especially when she delivered a premature baby that died five days later. We have since separated and I seek HIV tests every three months."
Two million out of 14 million Malawians are living with HIV/AIDS.
Oral tests carried out at home
Masuzgo Amos is a mother of two. She lives in Blantyre in Malawi's south and has done an oral test herself. She says the OraQuick HIV test is the best weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS because it's a test that can be done at home.
A nurse pricks a patient's finger (photo: picture alliance/dpa/J. Hrusa)
Positive tests need to be followed up with a second, lab-based test at a clinic
"As a woman, I need privacy. I have done self-testing many times and nobody knows my status," she said.
"Most people do not want health personnel to know their status. Even [when you have] tests in health facilities, the perception of people is that you are promiscuous. This makes it difficult for one to walk into a health clinic just to be tested."
Specialists, however, warn that it is important that people act on the results. Any positive result provided by the OraQuick mouth swabs has to be confirmed in a health clinic by a finger-prick blood test.

Ebola no longer poses global risk, says WHO

Ebola no longer poses global risk, says WHO

The WHO says it's confident the last few cases from the deadliest ever outbreak of Ebola in West Africa can be contained. More than 11,300 people have died from the virus since December 2013.
Ebola oubreak in Guinea
In a media briefing in Geneva, WHO chief Margaret Chan said the Ebola outbreak "no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern."
Chan stressed that the three worst affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - remain vulnerable to Ebola flare-ups, including an ongoing cluster of cases in Guinea, which has left five people dead.
But the UN's health agency said all original chains of virus transmission have now ended.
Chan said the "risk of international spread is now low, and...countries currently have the capacity to respond rapidly to new virus emergences."
Her statement brings to an end a nearly 20-month emergency that started in Guinea in late 2013, saw 28,638 cases emerge and 11,300 deaths.
WHO chief Margaret Chan
Chan called for a high level of vigilance in West Africa
Highly contagious virus
At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked fears about a possible global pandemic and led to heavy criticism of the WHO, the U.N. health agency - as governments and aid agencies rushed to help contain the epidemic.
Some governments threatened or enforced travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries.
Chan again on Tuesday reiterated that "there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and that any such measures should be lifted immediately."
She called for further work on a possible Ebola vaccine and better diagnostic tests, and pointed to the risk of sexual transmission.
"Semen can be positive for more than a year," she said, referring to the 1 to 2 per cent of survivors whose semen contains Ebola virus or virus particles for that long.
The WHO said affected countries must make sure that male survivors can have their semen tested.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Bees and the Royal Family

Bees contribute more to British economy than Royal Family

Bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy a year, £150 million more than the Royal Family brings in through tourism.

Bees are worth more to the British economy than the Royal family claim researchers

Bees contribute more to the Britain’s economy than the monarchy, new figures show.

Researchers at the University of Reading estimated the overall value of the pollinators by examining how heavily food crops rely on bees to grow, and how much the sale of these crops contribute to the UK economy.
They found that bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy a year,£150 million more than the Royal Family brings in through tourism.

The figures show that their overall economic value has increased from £220 million in 1996 to £651 million in 2012 - an increase of 191 per cent.
The research also found that 85 per cent of the UK’s apple crop and 45 per cent of the strawberry crop relies on bees to grow. Alone those two crops brought in £200 million to Britain in 2012.
The government is currently reviewing whether to lift a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides which farmers are currently prohibited from using over fear it is causing colony decline.

Bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy
More than 364,000 people have signed a petition organised by 38 Degrees calling for Environment Minister Liz Trust to veto farmers’ requests to use the pesticides on oilseed rape this summer.
38 Degrees campaigner Megan Bentall said: "These figures show that any decline in our bee population would rip through our rural economy.
“Hundreds of thousands of us are asking why the government is even considering allowing harmful pesticides back on British fields. We're calling for Environment Minister Liz Truss and the government to keep the ban on bee-killing pesticides, with no exceptions.
“If we want future generations to be able to eat home-grown strawberries and Bramley apples, we have to keep bee-killing pesticides off our land."

Reading University also discovered that although just two per cent of bee species in Britain do 80 per cent of the crop pollination, more effort should be made to conserve all of Britain’s insects in case they are needed as the climate warms.
Professor Simon Potts, director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) at the University of Reading, said: “The few bee species that currently pollinate our crops are unlikely to be the same types we will need in the future.
“It is critical to protect a wide range of bees and other insects now so that, as Britain’s climate, environment and crop varieties change, we can call on the pollinating species which are best suited to the task.
“We can’t just rely on our current starting line-up of pollinators. We need a large and diverse group of species on the substitutes’ bench, ready to join the game as soon as they are needed, if we are to ensure food production remains stable.”
Honeybee colonies have slumped in the UK from 250,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 100,000 today. Many British apple crops, for example, which previously relied on honeybees, are now almost exclusively pollinated by a handful of wild bee species.
 By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor.

Monday, 28 March 2016

When Death Doesn't Mean Goodbye

Why These People Live With Their Dead Relatives For Years

March 28, 2016 | by Tom Hale

photo credit: Torajan people pose for a photograph with a dead relative. Screenshot via National           Geographicwebsite

For most cultures around the world, death spells the end to our time in the physical world. But for the Torajan people of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the departed continue to "live" with their family after they die. 
This video from National Geographic documents the very curious case of the Torajan people and how they come to terms with death. For weeks, months, even years, they keep their relatives' and loved ones' corpses as part of the family. Throughout this process the deceased are given prayers and even offered food. Even after being placed in a tomb, relatives are sometimes given a kind of “second funeral,” called a ma'nene' ceremony, where the families clean their bodies, provide them with fresh clothes and parade them around. 
Surprisingly, the Lord’s Prayer and readings from the Bible often accompany these traditions. Torajan culture has become heavily infused with Christianity – in contrast to the Muslim majority in wider Indonesia – since in the 16th century when early Dutch colonialists sent over missionaries.
It’s unclear how long this tradition has gone on for, as many pockets of the Torajan culture were only passed down through word of mouth and not written records. However, archeologists have used carbon dating on fragments of Torajan coffin and have suggest the practise could date back over 1,000 years.
You can also read a full write-up for this fascinating Torajan practice on the National Geographic website.