The number of people dying from heat waves is likely to rise sharply in some regions by 2080 if policymakers fail to take mitigating steps in climate and health policies, according to the results of a study released Tuesday.

Deaths caused by heat waves could increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, the study found, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States.

Published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the study’s results suggest stricter mitigation policies should be applied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because lower greenhouse gas emissions are linked with fewer deaths due to heat waves.

Antonio Gasparrini, an expert from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who co-led the research, noted that several countries around the world are currently being hit by deadly heat waves and said it was “highly likely” that heat wave frequency and severity would increase under a changing climate.

“The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions … then the projected impact will be much reduced,” he said.

The researchers said they hoped their research, which used mathematical modeling, would help decision-makers in planning strategies for climate change.

Different scenarios

The model used different scenarios characterized by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies, as well as population density to estimate the number of deaths related to heat waves in 412 communities across 20 countries from 2031 to 2080.

The results found that compared with the period 1971 to 2020 and under the extreme scenario, the Philippines would suffer 12 times more excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

Under the same scenario, Australia and the United States could face five times more excess deaths, with Britain potentially seeing four times more excess deaths from heat waves in the same period.

These predictions improved, however, when scenarios were modeled with policies implemented to fulfill the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Under the least extreme scenario, and compared with the period 1971 to 2020, the study predicted that Britain would see only around double the number of excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

The researchers note that their work had some limitations, since it could model only relatively simple assumptions of how countries may or may not adapt climate policies.

The findings “should therefore be interpreted as potential impacts under hypothetical scenarios, and not as projections of [the] future,” they said in a statement.

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Breastfeeding babies within an hour of birth significantly increases their chances of survival, the World Health Organization reports, citing data from 76 countries that find that mother’s milk is rich in health-giving nutrients and antibodies.

However, only 40 percent of infants are breastfed in the first hour of life, according to WHO’s infant and young child feeding specialist, Laurence Grummer-Strawn.

“The delay of breastfeeding puts the babies at increased risk of infection and ultimately increases their risk of death. Just delaying beyond the first hour can increase mortality by about one-third, and waiting until the second day doubles the rate of mortality,” he said.

The worst rates are found in East Asia and the Pacific, where only 32 percent of babies are breastfed in the first hour after birth, Grummer-Strawn said. He added that the numbers are much better in Africa, with eastern and southern Africa seeing average rates of 65 percent.

“What is interesting is this varies tremendously from country to country,” he said. “As we look across Africa, you can see some countries that have very low rates, as low as 20 percent, but other countries, as high as 90 percent. Similarly, in Asia, a substantial difference from one country to another country in these rates.” 

Grummer-Strawn says the difference in rates is not driven by regional patterns, but is mainly driven by the kind of education and medical care prevalent within a country.

The report warns that formula or other drinks must not be given to newborns unless absolutely necessary. It says formula can be dangerous because it sometimes is mixed with contaminated water and delays the infant’s first critical contact with his or her mother.

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The world’s largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90 percent in 35 years, according to an alarming study published in Antarctic Science.

In the 1980s the colony on Pig Island in the sub-Antarctic archipelago of Crozet, about halfway between the tip of Africa and Antarctica, was estimated to contain some two million of the flightless birds.

But recent satellite images show the “colony has declined by 88 percent, from about 500,000 breeding pairs to 60,000 pairs,” the study found.

“It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Center for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first saw the colony in 1982.

The reason for the dramatic decline is still a mystery to the scientists.

Weimerskirch speculated that it could have been affected by a particularly strong El Nino weather event that warmed the southern Indian Ocean in 1997. The event temporarily pushed the fish and squid on which king penguins depend beyond their foraging range.

“This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success” for all the king penguin colonies in the region, Weimerskirch said.

While the other colonies in the region have bounced back, the one on Pig Island continues to decline, stumping scientists.

But until Weimerskirch and other researchers return to Pig Island — hopefully, he said, in early 2019 — they won’t know for sure.

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Japanese scientists said Monday they will start clinical trials next month on a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, transplanting “reprogrammed” stem cells into brains, seeking a breakthrough in treating the neurodegenerative disorder.

Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine made by brain cells, and researchers have long hoped to use stem cells to restore normal production of the neurotransmitter chemical.

The clinical trials come after researchers at Japan’s Kyoto University successfully used human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) to restore functioning brain cells in monkeys last year.

So-called iPS cells are made by removing mature cells from an individual — often from the skin or blood — and reprogramming them to behave like embryonic stem cells. They can then be coaxed into dopamine-producing brain cells.

“This will be the world’s first clinical trial using iPS cells on Parkinson’s disease,” Jun Takahashi, professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for iPS Cell Research and Application, told a news conference.

The center is headed by Shinya Yamanaka, who in 2012 shared a Nobel Prize for medicine with a British scientist, John Gurdon, for the discovery that adult cells can be transformed back into embryo-like cells.

“We intend to carry on conducting our research carefully, yet expeditiously, in coordination with Kyoto University Hospital, so that new treatment using iPS cells will be brought to patients as soon as possible,” Yamanaka said in a statement.

The fact that the clinical trial uses iPS cells rather than human embryonic cells means the treatment would be acceptable in countries such as Ireland and much of Latin America, where embryonic cells are banned.

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The so-called blood-brain barrier around our brains prevents germs and other damaging substances from leaching in through the bloodstream. But it also blocks drugs for Alzheimer’s, brain tumors and other neurological diseases from getting to where they’re needed. Faith Lapidus has details about how researchers are trying to find a way through the barrier.

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Not counting certain types of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the U.S. and worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Now researchers in Europe have come up with a robotic device that may speed detection of cancer tumors, potentially saving thousands of lives. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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Astronomers and local residents gathered to gaze in awe at the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century: 1 hour, 43 minutes. During eclipses, the moon turns a red or brownish color because the light that reaches it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. In Cairo, astronomers with their telescopes volunteered to wow stargazers

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How late is too late to become a mother? Actress Brigitte Nielsen has had her fifth child at 54, reopening debate on the growing number of women using IVF to have babies later in life.

Fertility experts say the average age of mothers is steadily rising across the world, with women increasingly turning to fertility treatments to extend their childbearing years.

Some have renewed calls for women to prioritize having children in their younger and more fertile years, but others said health providers needed to take into account the pressures that led women to put off starting a family.

“We should trust women to make this decision for themselves,” Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a charity.

“What we need is a health care service that supports their decisions rather than trying to cajole women into children at a time that’s not right for them,” she told Reuters.

Nielsen said she conceived using eggs she had frozen in her 40s, an increasingly popular choice among women seeking to extend their fertile years.

Given that the quantity and quality of eggs declines with age, most women trying to conceive in their mid-40s or above would be advised to consider using donor eggs taken from a younger woman.

A recent analysis of fertility treatments in 1,279 institutions across Europe found almost a third of births through egg donation in 2014 were to women aged 40 or older.

One Indian woman thought to be in her 70s gave birth last year using a donor egg, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, a case that promoted debate over the ethics of older women using treatment to conceive.

“There is a global trend for women choosing to have their children later in life,” said Richard Kennedy, the president of the International Federation of Fertility Societies.

“Certainly, in the UK and western Europe it’s personal choices: It’s lifestyle, it’s women pursuing their professions and [they] are making lifestyle choices to delay having families to until their late 30s or early 40s,” he said.

Kennedy said pregnancies of women in their 50s or older “is not something that should necessarily be encouraged,” citing the heightened risks of cardiac and other health problems during pregnancy.

“I think that women should be conscious of their fertility,” he added. “A woman should be encouraged to consider that when she is making decisions around her career and personal life.”

O’Brien, however, said much of the debate around fertility “just ignores the reality of women’s lives.”

She pointed to research by BPAS that found women were aware that fertility declined with age, but were often waiting to have children for practical reasons — such as concern over their financial stability or the impact on their careers.

“The fact that women are able to have children at that stage of their life should be celebrated,” she said. “All this finger-wagging is directed solely at women and that ignores that this is largely a decision taken by two people.”

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Skywatchers around much of the world are looking forward to a complete lunar eclipse that will be the longest this century.

The so-called “blood moon” Friday, when it turns a deep red, will be visible at different times in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America when the sun, Earth and moon line up perfectly, casting Earth’s shadow on the moon.

The total eclipse will last 1 hour and 43 minutes, with the entire event lasting closer to four hours.

In a special treat, Mars is in opposition on Friday — meaning the planet and the sun will be on exact opposite sides of the Earth and will shine its best. Mars is also at its closest approach to Earth this week since 2003, making it appear bigger and brighter.

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A Lebanese lawmaker has introduced a draft bill in parliament that would legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Antoine Habchi said he is proposing using the plant as alternative medicine to fight addiction and at the same time as a way to help Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley restore its economy and generate much needed income.

Habchi said that under the bill, cultivation would be tightly controlled.

However, it will likely take months of discussions before the draft bill would come to a vote.

Lebanon is the third largest cannabis producer in the world, after Morocco and Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

Centered on the Bekaa Valley, known for narcotics production, Lebanon produces some of the finest quality cannabis, mostly processed into hashish.

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In Malawi, pregnant women and new mothers who live in remote villages are getting medical help thanks to a toll-free hotline and text messaging service known as “Chipatala cha pa Foni” or Heath Center by Phone. Run by the nonprofit VillageReach, the program connects expecting mothers in rural areas with health workers. More pregnant women are receiving prenatal care and birth planning thanks to the medical hotline, as Lameck Masina reports for VOA from Lilongwe.

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Rock Steady Boxing NOVA gym opened in McLean, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., last December. That was the good news for 75-year-old Neil Eisner, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago and finds boxing an effective way to fight back against the disease.

Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) was designed especially for people with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to tremors and balance problems. Each exercise in the program focuses on a specific skill — one is combining punches on a bag to work on strength, another is crawling across the floor. Eisner says the exercises help him perform everyday tasks like moving around and getting in and out of bed.

Some strengthening exercises target vocal cords. “One of the things that’s interesting enough is [Parkinson’s patients] tend to have a [softer] voice. When you have that lower voice, and people can’t hear you, you don’t realize. So, he asks us to bring our voice clearly and more loudly,” Eisner said.

​Becoming an RSB trainer

For personal trainer Alec Langstein, working with an older population is familiar. He understands their health issues and the need for them to stay active.

“My aunt has a gym in Westchester, New York, and she does a Rock Steady Boxing program there,” he said. “She invited me up to her gym to check out the program. She thought it would be a perfect fit for what I do. I helped out with a few classes, and it was just, I thought, an amazing program.”

The Rock Steady Boxing nonprofit was founded in 2006 by attorney Scott C. Newman, who was looking for ways to stay active after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 40. Since then, more than 500 boxing programs have been introduced in the U.S. and around the world.

Langstein went to the organization’s headquarters to become an RSB-licensed trainer, and a few months later, he opened his Rock Steady Boxing NOVA gym.

“It’s a typical boxing program,” he explained. “They focus on balance, hand-eye coordination, reaction, footwork. There is some cognitive stuff because in boxing, certain numbers equal certain punches. So, when I yell certain numbers, you have to move and react at the same time. So, the brain and the body are working together. It’s also taking out the aggression some people may have out of having the disease.”

​Improving quality of life

To understand how RSB can help Parkinson’s patients, physical therapist Danielle Sequira says it’s important to know what triggers the symptoms.

“Parkinson’s mainly affects the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. That leads to a lack or a loss of dopamine, which contributes to the movement difficulties,” she said.

While boxing and other exercises don’t cure the disease or stop the dopamine decline, they can improve the patient’s quality of life. Exercises can be modified for people with Parkinson’s, including those in wheelchairs.

“The research shows that exercise helps the brain use dopamine more efficiently,” Sequira said. “My goal usually, after I work with some of my patients with Parkinson’s, is to refer them out to get involved in an exercise program out in the community.”

​The social effect

RSB seems to have helped Victoria Hebert reduce the symptoms of her Parkinson’s. She has a tremor in her left hand, and says certain situations trigger it.

“Being cold, being hot, or sitting with a crowd I’m not very comfortable with, I can’t help starting to shake. I end up having to sit on my hand just to keep it still,” she said.

But with this crowd, Hebert doesn’t feel the need to hide the disease. “These people have become very close in the four or five months we’ve been together.”

“That’s the big part of it, sharing experiences with others,” she added. “I have to say, it’s very embarrassing, but over eight years of time I’ve never met another person with Parkinson’s. Then, I came here, and it was like a whole class of 20, 25 people with it. It was kind of surprising to me, kind of surprising that I, myself, didn’t reach out to anybody before that.”

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