Vaccines. Popular sports drinks. Computers.

They share one quality: They were invented by researchers working at a college or university.

Victoria McGovern says research leads to greater discovery and better education.

McGovern is a senior program officer with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, an organization that supports medical research in the United States and Canada.

“It’s a very good idea to connect the discovery of new things to the teaching of new students,” she told VOA, “because you don’t want people who come out of their education thinking that the world around them is full of solved problems. You want people to come out of an education excited about solving problems themselves.”

Research, however, costs money and most colleges have limited budgets, as well as competing goals and needs.

A large part of being a researcher at a college or university involves applying for grant money, McGovern says, such as to private companies and organizations like hers, or local and national governments.

The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, is an example. The NIH is the U.S. government agency that supports medical and public health research, distributing about $32 billion a year.

Increasingly complex process

The application process for grant money is highly competitive, McGovern says. It can be challenging for researchers who are less skilled at writing.

Kristine Kulage argues that it is more difficult than ever for university researchers to secure funding. Kulage is the director of research and scholarly development at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.

Kulage says that in the 20 years she has been working in university research, the grant application process has become longer and more complex.

“Researchers don’t have time to conduct their research, write their grants and learn how to use all of these new systems through which they have to submit their grants, and all of the ways in which they have to be compliant with regulations,” Kulage told VOA.

“There are so many rules now … it takes individuals who are now trained as research administrators to know what those rules are … and know whether or not the rules are being followed.”

Investing in help

Kulage says schools must do more to support their researchers in gaining grant money. Last November, she published a study that looked at how the nursing school invested $127,000 to create a support system between 2012 and 2016. This system employed administrators to complete grant applications, freeing researchers to spend more time on their work.

Administrators and other researchers met with the grant writers to review the applications. The team was expected to defend its proposal.

Kulage says that over those five years, proposals that went through review were almost twice as likely to be accepted. That $127,000 investment led to Columbia’s School of Nursing earning $3 million in outside funding.

McGovern and Kulage say applying for research funding is very difficult. Having one other person read a proposal and provide feedback is essential.

Large companies often conduct much research and development, but it is typically limited to their industries. University researchers have the freedom to take risks on less popular ideas.

And those risks can lead to important discoveries that colleges and universities have a responsibility to share with the world, she says.

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This year’s flu season in the U.S. is the worst in 15 years and health officials predict there are weeks of sickness ahead. One company’s “smart thermometer” is tracking how the flu is spreading across the country in real time by gathering data every time someone takes a temperature. Michelle Quinn reports.

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Many refugees would like to buy low-carbon stoves and lights but poor access in camps and a lack of funding is forcing them to rely on “dirty and expensive” fuels, a report said Tuesday.

Millions of refugees worldwide struggle to access energy for cooking, lighting and communication and often pay high costs for fuels like firewood, which are bad for their health.

Yet two-thirds would consider paying for clean cookstoves and more than one-third for solar household products, according to a survey by the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI), a partnership among Britain, the United Nations and charities.

“Energy providers don’t tend to think of refugees as potential energy consumers, but the opportunities to build a relationship with them are huge,” Mattia Vianello, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Clean energy for refugees is a global priority for the U.N. refugee agency, which provides free solar power to thousands of displaced people in camps in Jordan and Kenya.

Campaigners are seeking to create a market for cleaner-burning stoves and fuels to supply millions of households worldwide that are using inefficient, dangerous methods.

Perilous smoke

When burned in open fires and traditional stoves, wood, charcoal and other solid fuels emit harmful smoke that claims millions of lives each year, according to the Clean Cooking Working Capital Fund, which promotes stoves that produce less pollution.

In Uganda, refugees collect wood from surrounding areas, “devastating” the local environment and creating tensions with locals, Raffaela Bellanca, an energy adviser with the charity Mercy Corps, said in emailed comments.

Humanitarians should work with the private sector to provide more sustainable energy to displaced people, said the report, which surveyed about 500 refugees, business owners and aid workers in Burkina Faso and Kenya.

“Refugee camps have the potential to become energy innovation hubs with a spillover effect on surrounding host communities,” Bellanca said.

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Cancer patients’ survival prospects are improving, even for some of the deadliest types such as lung cancer, but there are huge disparities between countries, particularly for children, according to a study published on Wednesday.

In the most up-to-date study of cancer survival trends — between 2010 and 2014 — covering countries that are home to two-thirds of the world’s people, researchers found some significant progress, but also wide variations.

While brain tumor survival in children has improved in many countries, the study showed that for children diagnosed as recently as 2014, five-year survival is twice as high in Denmark and Sweden, at around 80 percent, as it is in Mexico and Brazil, at less than 40 percent.

This gap was most likely due to variations in the availability and quality of cancer diagnosis and treatment services, the researchers said.

“Despite improvements in awareness, services and treatments, cancer still kills more than 100,000 children every year worldwide,” said Michel Coleman, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who co-led the research.

“If we are to ensure that more children survive cancer for longer, we need reliable data on the cost and effectiveness of health services in all countries, to compare the impact of strategies in managing childhood cancer.”

Breast cancer

For the research, known as the CONCORD-3 study and published in The Lancet medical journal, the scientists analyzed patient records from 322 cancer registries in 71 countries and territories, comparing five-year survival rates for 18 common cancers for more than 37.5 million adults and children.

For most cancers over the past 15 years, survival is highest in just a few wealthy countries – the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden.

For women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia and the United States between 2010 and 2014 for example, five-year survival is 90 percent. That compares to 66 percent for women diagnosed in India.

Within Europe, five-year breast cancer survival increased to at least 85 percent in 16 countries including Britain, compared with 71 percent in Eastern Europe.

The researchers noted that in some parts of the world, estimation of survival is limited by incomplete data and by legal or administrative obstacles to updating the cancer records with a patient’s date of death. In Africa, they said, as many as 40 percent of patient records did not have full follow-up data, so survival trends could not be systematically assessed.

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Virtual reality, neural feedback and digital therapy were among five ideas to help solve the U.S. opioid crisis that won a global technology challenge on Tuesday.

Winners were selected from hundreds of ideas submitted by researchers, caregivers, service providers and individuals from Ohio, other states and nine countries. The winning entrants will receive $10,000 each to take their ideas to the next phase.

The $8 million Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge was modeled after the Head Health competition launched by the National Football League, Under Armour and General Electric to address traumatic brain injuries suffered playing football. It’s part of a two-pronged strategy Ohio is pursuing to fight the deadly epidemic tied to prescription painkillers; the state has also awarded $10 million in research-and-development grants.

Besides the top prizes awarded to ideas with the highest likelihood of success, 40 runners-up — 20 laypeople and 20 technical professionals or experts — will be entered into a drawing to win $500 cash prizes.

The efforts, spearheaded by Republican Governor John Kasich, came in a state among the hardest hit by the deadly opioid epidemic. There were 4,050 overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, many linked to heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The winners were:

— Judson Brewer (Worcester, Massachusetts): For a digital therapy centered on the psychological theory of mindfulness, which will extend ideas contained in his nationally known Craving to Quit program to opioid addiction.

— Kinematechs LLC (Cincinnati, Ohio): For an augmented reality-based interactive coaching system resembling glasses proposed by Yong Pei and the Kinematechs team that would use motion tracking to customize a surgical patient’s physical rehabilitation routine once he arrives home from the hospital, reducing demand for opioid painkillers. “It’s like an expert sitting right in the glasses,” Pei said in an interview.

— Lee Barrus (Oren, Utah): For an opioid risk assessment screening app suggested by Barrus and the team at InteraSolutions to identify patients with risk factors for opioid abuse. The idea is to enable medical professionals to flag at-risk patients earlier and direct them to alternatives to opioids for fighting pain.

— The Edification Project (Boston, Massachusetts): For a use of virtual reality technology focused on preventing addiction in teens and young adults, framing attitudes early to prevent opioid abuse.

— The University of Dayton Research Institute (Dayton, Ohio): For a neurofeedback application developed by software engineer Kelly Cashion that uses sensors to provide real-time information to patients about their brain activity, allowing them to take back control by better understanding the effects of addiction on their brains. “Some people like to play video games, or look at the sunrise. By making them do these other tasks, anything to help them distract, and by constantly measuring it, you can see what works, reinforcing it and taking back control,” said Nilesh Powar, a senior research engineer who worked with Cashion on the project.

The second stage of the challenge begins in late February and runs through July. It will seek expertise from within the business and innovation community to help advance winning ideas into solutions. The third phase will fund the most promising ideas into products for use in the marketplace.

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Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has been rocked by explosions for years set off by Al-Shabab militants battling to overthrow the weak U.N.-backed government. The frequent bombings have killed or injured thousands of civilians. Now, first responders are offering first aid classes to help Somalis learn how to help their neighbors before the ambulance arrives. Faith Lapidus reports.

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A recent estimate by researchers at the University of Miami suggests that 100 million sharks are killed every year. That overfishing is putting many species at risk of extinction. But it is also having some unintended consequences for other fish that sharks prey on. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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China’s crackdown on imports of plastic trash should be a signal for rich nations to increase recycling and cut down on non-essential products such as plastic drinking straws, the head of the U.N. Environment Program said on Monday.

Erik Solheim, a former Norwegian environment minister, urged developed nations to re-think their use of plastics and not simply seek alternative foreign dumping grounds after China’s restrictions took effect this month.

“We should see the Chinese decision I heard some complaints from Europeans as a great service to the people of China and a wake-up call to the rest of the world,” he said in a telephone interview from Nairobi. “And there are lots of products we simply don’t need.”

Prime examples, he said, were microbeads – tiny pieces of plastic often used in cosmetics which have been found to pollute the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes – and drinking straws.

“The average American uses 600 straws a year,” he said, generating vast amounts of plastic waste. “Everyone can drink straight from the bottle or the cup.”

He suggested restaurants and bars could put up signs along the lines of: “If you desperately need a straw we will provide it.” 

Some companies have already cut back on straws.

He praised bans on microbeads, sometimes used as abrasives in facial scrubs or toothpaste. The United States passed a law in 2015 to ban microbeads and a ban in Britain took effect this month.

Piles of waste have built up in some western ports after China, the main destination for more than half of plastic waste exported by western nations, banned “foreign garbage” including some grades of plastics and paper.

Solheim said companies including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Danone were taking steps to raise plastic recycling or to shift to biodegradable packaging. Kenya has banned plastic bags.

“But the problem is so huge that a lot more needs to be done” by governments and businesses, Solheim said.

“It’s a much better idea if nations overall take care of their own waste,” rather than seek new dumping grounds, he said, adding that: “It’s not obvious that well-run nations like India and Vietnam want to be taking over this waste,” after China’s ban.

Last week, the European Commission outlined a new policy push to promote recycling of plastic. It said it was mulling a tax, curbs on throwaway items such as plastic bags and new quality standards.

In December, almost 200 nations signed a U.N. resolution to eliminate plastic pollution in the oceans, with the U.N. Environment Agency projecting that there could be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.

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New data from 22 high- and low-income countries show antibiotic resistance to a number of serious bacterial infections is growing at an alarming rate. The World Health Organization surveyed one-half million people with suspected bacterial infections between March 2016 and July 2017.

The survey, the first of its kind, is vital in improving and understanding the extent of antimicrobial resistance in the world. World Health Organization Spokesman Christian Lindmeier, tells VOA the findings raise many red flags.

“The data that these countries provided show us that in some of the most common bacteria, the most commonly reported resistant bacteria, we find the resistance of sometimes up to 65 even up to 82 percent, depending on the bacteria. And… these are really alarming data,” he said.

The most commonly reported resistant bacteria include e-coli bacterial infection, staph infections, pneumonia and salmonella. The World Health Organization is encouraging all countries to set up good surveillance systems for detecting drug resistance. This, it says, will provide needed information to tackle what it calls one of the biggest threats to global public health.

If drug resistance is not successfully tackled, Lindmeier warns the world could return to the dangerous days before penicillin was invented.

“A simple infection, a cut, minor surgery suddenly can turn into a potentially most dangerous, life-threatening situation because infections would then prove drug resistant,” he said. “A cancer treatment for example would become a huge challenge on top of the cancer because the already low immune system could not be boosted any more with antibiotics. Any infection would pose an additional risk.”

Lindmeier says some countries are taking these warnings to heart. For example, he notes Kenya is enhancing its national antimicrobial resistance system, Tunisia is now collecting national drug-resistant data, and Korea is strengthening its surveillance system.



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North and South Korea are reporting outbreaks of different strains of influenza, less than two weeks before thousands of visitors from around the world arrive for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South.

North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health reported over 80,000 confirmed cases of the influenza strain H1N1 that is endemic in pigs, known as swine flu, between December 1, 2017 and January 16, 2018, according to a bulletin issued by the International Foundation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Aid and sanctions

The Red Cross cited North Korean health ministry officials saying that three children and one adult have died so far in the outbreak and that there are over 120,000 suspected swine flu cases in the country, and that the outbreak is nationwide with 28 percent of the cases reported in the capital of Pyongyang.

The North Korean government has requested medication to vaccinate high-risk individuals from the World Health Organization and the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), as well as training and equipment for prevention, detection, and treatment to limit the impact of the influenza outbreak. The WHO and UNICEF have not publicly commented on the request.

The Red Cross is planning for $270,000 in emergency aid that includes sending volunteers with masks and protective clothing to conduct training in at risk areas in North Korea.

“The majority of the component of what we are gong to do is hygiene promotion and health education,” said Gwendolyn Pang, acting head of the Red Cross office in Pyongyang.

In September, the South Korean government reportedly delayed sending an $8 million humanitarian aid package to North Korea after Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test earlier that month. The planned donation included $3.5 million going to UNICEF for medicine and nutrition to help children and pregnant women, and $4.5 million to the World Food Program for food aid to North Korean hospital South Korea suspended all humanitarian aid to the North in 2016 following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

Last year’s delay of aid by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in was seen as a show of support for U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy that emphasizes strong economic sanctions along with the threat of military action to force the Kim Jong Un government in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Cross border exposure

This year, Pyongyang has taken a seemingly more conciliatory approach to Seoul by agreeing to participate in the Olympics in South Korea, and has so far refrained from conducting any further provocative missile or nuclear tests. Washington has also supported this Olympic truce by agreeing to postpone joint military exercises with South Korea, until after both the Olympic and Paralympic games end in late March.

However increased Olympic related inter-Korean travel, with South Korean athletes training for skiing events at Kumgang Mountain in North Korea, and a large delegation of North Korean athletes, artists and cheering squads poised to compete and perform across the South, has raised concerns of the virus spreading across borders.

“We are continuing to monitor trends in the North Korean flu. And I will do my best to be more thorough about quarantine (contingencies) in relation to the North Korean people ’s visitation and our visit to North Korea,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Baek Tae-hyun on Monday.

The majority of human infections of the highly contagious H1N1 flu virus come from direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments, according to WHO, and the virus can be be transmitted through human to human contact.

Once transmitted to humans, the influenza virus may cause a mild upper respiratory tract infection (fever and cough), and in some cases a rapid progression to severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and even death.

South Korean outbreak

This weekend a highly pathogenic strain of H5N6 avian influenza was also found on a chicken farm in South Korea near Seoul. Provincial authorities have reportedly ordered that over 500,000 chickens be culled and more than 450,000 eggs destroyed in farms where the virus was detected. . The government is also conducting inspections and disinfections at all poultry farms in the area, quarantining workers at infected poultry farms for a week, and imposing a regional ban on poultry distribution to urban areas.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs there have been a total of 15 cases of bird flu in South Korea since last November, which has forced the authorities to cull nearly 2 million birds.

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Researchers say that 20 percent of abdominal surgery patients will experience some kind of complication. And those complications can go unnoticed for hours between visits by an attending nurse. A new learning algorithm is being developed in Denmark to spot those complications in real time. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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To mark World Leprosy Day, the World Health Organization is calling for the eradication of this ancient disfiguring disease by combating the stigma and discrimination that discourages people from seeking the help they need.

Leprosy, a hideously disfiguring disease that has blighted the lives of countless millions since Biblical days, is curable. And yet, the World Health Organization reports more than 200,000 people, most in Southeast Asia, are affected with the disease and new cases continue to arise every year.

Leprosy is a chronic bacterial disease with a slow incubation period of about five years. In some cases, symptoms may occur within one year, but can take as long as 20 years to appear.

Leprosy was eliminated globally as a public health problem in 2000, but the disease persists in individuals and communities. WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, tells VOA this is unacceptable, as an effective treatment exists that can fully cure people of leprosy.

“Since ’95, WHO has provided this multi-drug therapy free of cost to all leprosy patients in the world,” he said. “In 2016, WHO launched global leprosy strategy, 2016-2020, accelerating toward a leprosy-free world. This is basically to revamp the efforts for leprosy control. The strategy focuses on avoiding disabilities, especially among children.”

This year’s World Leprosy Day focuses on preventing disabilities in children. WHO reports children account for nearly nine percent of all new cases of leprosy, including almost seven percent of those with visible deformities.

The U.N. health agency notes early diagnosis and early treatment can prevent disability. It says disabilities do not occur overnight, but happen after a prolonged period of undiagnosed and untreated disease.

Unfortunately, it notes many people do not seek help until it is too late and deformities already have appeared. This is because of the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy.

WHO is calling for laws discriminating against people with leprosy to be abolished and replaced with policies promoting inclusion of such people within society.

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