Police in Pakistan say unknown gunmen shot dead a female polio vaccinator and wounded another Thursday, raising the number of deaths to three in attacks against this week’s national immunization campaign.

The latest shooting incident occurred in southwestern Baluchistan province where, police said, assailants on a motorbike opened fire at a polio team in a remote district on the Afghan border. They described the conditions of the injured female health worker as “critical.”

“The women were coming back from the field after administering polio drops to children when they were shot at by two unknown men riding a motorbike,” said Rashid Razzaq, a senior official at the polio emergency center in the provincial capital of Quetta. He told VOA that one victim died instantly while the other received “serious” bullet injuries and is undergoing treatment in a Quetta hospital.

Razzaq confirmed authorities have temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign in Chaman.

Other attacks took place in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, also bordering Afghanistan, where gunmen shot dead two police offices escorting polio vaccinators.

Additionally, authorities also arrested 10 men in the provincial capital Peshawar for spreading unfounded rumors through fake social media videos that a polio vaccine had led to fainting and vomiting.

One of the detainees, identified as school teacher Nazar Muhammad, could be seen in the scaremongering Twitter videos instructing his students to faint and pretend to be sick from the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

The videos quickly went viral, sparking widespread protests in parts of Peshawar, with angry mobs destroying a local health unit. Clerics in mosques used loudspeakers to warn parents against having their children vaccinated.

The scare prompted panicked families to rush their children to hospitals, where doctors examined more than 25,000 and concluded that none had suffered an adverse reaction after receiving the vaccine drops.

Islamic clerics and residents in parts of the religiously conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have long been suspicious of the polio vaccine, claiming it is a Western plot to harm or sterilize Muslim children.

Militants linked to outlawed extremist groups also have taken responsibility for attacks against anti-polio teams in Pakistan, accusing them of working as government spies. The suspicions and attacks have hampered Islamabad’s efforts to eradicate the crippling polio disease from the country, officials admit.

The violence against workers associated with polio immunization efforts have in recent years killed dozens of people in Pakistan, one of three countries in the world — along with Afghanistan and Nigeria — where wild polio virus is still endemic. Nigeria has not reported any new cases for two consecutive years.



читати →

Police in Pakistan say unknown gunmen shot dead a female polio vaccinator and wounded another Thursday, raising the number of deaths to three in attacks against this week’s national immunization campaign.

The latest shooting incident occurred in southwestern Baluchistan province where, police said, assailants on a motorbike opened fire at a polio team in a remote district on the Afghan border. They described the conditions of the injured female health worker as “critical.”

“The women were coming back from the field after administering polio drops to children when they were shot at by two unknown men riding a motorbike,” said Rashid Razzaq, a senior official at the polio emergency center in the provincial capital of Quetta. He told VOA that one victim died instantly while the other received “serious” bullet injuries and is undergoing treatment in a Quetta hospital.

Razzaq confirmed authorities have temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign in Chaman.

Other attacks took place in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, also bordering Afghanistan, where gunmen shot dead two police offices escorting polio vaccinators.

Additionally, authorities also arrested 10 men in the provincial capital Peshawar for spreading unfounded rumors through fake social media videos that a polio vaccine had led to fainting and vomiting.

One of the detainees, identified as school teacher Nazar Muhammad, could be seen in the scaremongering Twitter videos instructing his students to faint and pretend to be sick from the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

The videos quickly went viral, sparking widespread protests in parts of Peshawar, with angry mobs destroying a local health unit. Clerics in mosques used loudspeakers to warn parents against having their children vaccinated.

The scare prompted panicked families to rush their children to hospitals, where doctors examined more than 25,000 and concluded that none had suffered an adverse reaction after receiving the vaccine drops.

Islamic clerics and residents in parts of the religiously conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have long been suspicious of the polio vaccine, claiming it is a Western plot to harm or sterilize Muslim children.

Militants linked to outlawed extremist groups also have taken responsibility for attacks against anti-polio teams in Pakistan, accusing them of working as government spies. The suspicions and attacks have hampered Islamabad’s efforts to eradicate the crippling polio disease from the country, officials admit.

The violence against workers associated with polio immunization efforts have in recent years killed dozens of people in Pakistan, one of three countries in the world — along with Afghanistan and Nigeria — where wild polio virus is still endemic. Nigeria has not reported any new cases for two consecutive years.



читати →

The world lost 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of tropical tree cover last year, the equivalent of 30 soccer pitches a minute, researchers said Thursday, warning the planet’s health was at stake.

It was the fourth highest annual decline since records began in 2001, according to new data from Global Forest Watch, which uses satellite imagery and remote sensing to monitor tree cover losses from Brazil to Ghana.

“The world’s forests are now in the emergency room,” said Frances Seymour, senior fellow at the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI), which led the research. “It’s death by a thousand cuts — the health of the planet is at stake and Band-Aid responses are not enough.”

Seymour said the data represented “heartbreaking losses in real places,” with indigenous communities most vulnerable to losing their homes and livelihoods through deforestation.

Climate implications

The loss of huge swathes of forest around the world also has major implications for climate change as they absorb a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced globally.

“Forests are our greatest defense against climate change and biodiversity loss, but deforestation is getting worse,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK. “Bold action is needed to tackle this global crisis including restoring lost forests. But unless we stop them being destroyed in the first place, we’re just chasing our tail.”

The study found much of the loss occurred in primary rainforest — mature trees that absorb more carbon and are harder to replace.

The rate of destruction in 2018 was lower than in the two previous years. It peaked in 2016 when about 17 million hectares of tropical forest were lost partly because of rampant forest fires, according to the WRI.

The study highlighted new deforestation hotspots, particularly in Africa, where illegal mining, small-scale forest clearing and the expansion of cocoa farms led to an increase in tree loss in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Bright spot: Indonesia

Indonesia was a rare bright spot, with primary forest loss slowing for two years running, after the government imposed a moratorium on forest-clearing.

Indonesia has the world’s third largest total area of tropical forest and is also the biggest producer of palm oil. Environmentalists blame much of the forest destruction on land clearance for oil-palm plantations.

“We hope that this is a sign that our policies so far are having an effect,” said Belinda Margono, a director at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Last year, leading philanthropists pledged a $459 million commitment to rescue shrinking tropical forests that suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a Global Climate Action Summit in California.

But experts said more needed to be done.

“Deforestation causes more climate pollution than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes combined,” said Glenn Hurowitz, chief executive of Mighty Earth, a global environmental campaign organization. “It’s vital that we protect the forests that we still have.”



читати →

As the World Health Organization marks World Malaria Day, April 25, Malawi has launched the pilot phase of Africa’s first ever malaria vaccine.

The WHO chose Malawi, alongside Ghana and Kenya, because of the high numbers of malaria cases and treatment facilities. The pilot phase aims to vaccinate 360,000 children per year, 120,000 of them in Malawi. But, while the vaccine is expected to save thousands of lives, its effectiveness is limited.

Health officials at Malawi’s Likuni Community Hospital are giving children injections of Africa’s first malaria vaccine.

The mosquito-spread disease kills more than 430,000 people per year, most of them African children.

 

WATCH: Malawi Rolls Out Africa’s First Malaria Vaccine for Children

It took more than 30 years and nearly $1 billion to develop a vaccine against malaria.

Known as RTS-S, the vaccine is only helpful for children younger than 2 who receive four doses, at the ages of 5 months, 6 months, 7 months and 22 months.

Michael Kayange is Malawi’s deputy director of health.

“After we did clinical trials, we had several age groups that we looked at. This vaccine was seen to be very, very effective in children aged between 5 months and 22 months. In other age groups it didn’t show any usefulness,” he said.

A long line of mothers brought their children to Tuesday’s launch of the pilot phase of the World Health Organization-approved vaccine.

Malawi’s mothers like Fanny Kaphamtengo are excited about the vaccine’s potential.

She says malaria is a deadly and killer disease for not only children but adults as well. Although she has other children who are not vaccinated, Kaphamtengo says she feels lucky to have her new baby protected from malaria.

Fewer cases, less anemia

Testing between 2009 and 2014 showed the vaccine reduces clinical malaria cases by 40 percent and severe malaria cases by 30 percent. But it also caused a 60 percent reduction in severe malaria anemia, the most common reason children die from malaria.

Kayange says Malawians will still need to take precautions to avoid their children getting ill from malaria.

“This new vaccine is just an additional tool to the control and elimination of malaria in the country,” he said. “So, whoever will get this vaccine, all the children who get the vaccine, we encourage them to use other malaria prevention methods like sleeping under mosquito nets, going to hospital quickly when they have fevers and body aches.”

Millions could be saved

Despite its only partial protection from malaria, the vaccine could save millions of lives in Malawi, Kayange said.

The pilot project will be launched in Ghana and Kenya next week.

The WHO will use the results to inform policy advice before the vaccine is rolled-out in other malaria-hit countries.



читати →

The World Health Organization has issued its first-ever guidance for how much screen time children under 5 should get: not very much, and none at all for those under 1.

The U.N. health agency said Wednesday that kids under 5 should not spend more than one hour watching screens every day – and that less is better.

 

The guidelines are somewhat similar to advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. That group recommends children younger than 18 months should avoid screens other than video chats. It says parents of young children under two should choose “high-quality programming” with educational value and that can be watched with a parent to help kids understand what they’re seeing.

 

Some groups said WHO’s screen time guidelines failed to consider the potential benefits of digital media.

 

WHO’s screen time advice “overly focuses on quantity of screen time and fails to consider the content and context of use,” said Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. “Not all screen time is created equal.”

 

Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the data available were too weak to allow its experts to set any thresholds for the appropriate level of screen time.

 

“Our research has shown that currently there is not strong enough evidence to support the setting of screen time limits,” said Dr. Max Davie, the college’s Officer for Health Improvement. “The restricted screen time limits suggested by WHO do not seem proportionate to the potential harm,” he said.

 

WHO did not specifically detail the potential harm caused by too much screen time, but said the guidelines – which also included recommendations for physical activity and sleep – were needed to address the increasing amount of sedentary behavior in the general population. It noted that physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for death and a contributor to the rise in obesity.

 

The agency said infants less than 1 year should spend at least half an hour every day on their stomachs and that older kids should get at least three hours of physical activity every day.

 



читати →

Despondent, Akon Mathiong points to two small mounds of dirt where she buried her grandsons, 4 and 5 years old, last month. They died after contracting measles in one of the worst-hit areas of South Sudan’s latest outbreak.

“Every time I see the graves I feel like crying,” Mathiong said.

The family said the boys had been vaccinated against the highly infectious disease. Similar infections are prompting questions about whether some vaccines have been compromised in a country largely devastated by conflict.

As South Sudan emerges from a five-year civil war, more than 750 measles cases, including seven deaths, have been reported since January. That’s almost six times the number of cases for all of 2018, according to World Health Organization data.

The increase in measles cases is part of a global one, in part because of misinformation that makes some parents balk at receiving a vaccine. WHO noted a 300% increase in reported measles cases worldwide in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Many in developing countries don’t dispute the vaccine but instead are held back by lack of access. Measles, spread by coughing, sneezing, close contact or infected surfaces, has no specific treatment. Malnourished children and those with weak immune systems can develop severe complications that can lead to death — and malnourishment can reduce how well the vaccine protects them.

Though an emergency vaccination campaign is underway in South Sudan’s 12 affected counties the outbreak is spreading, leading some health officials and residents to doubt the vaccine’s viability in some cases.

“Those kids were vaccinated but they died. It makes me wonder if the vaccine is working,” the boys’ uncle, John Garang Ajak, told The Associated Press during a visit to Kuajok town earlier this month. At least two other vaccinated children in his family contracted measles, he said.

While the AP could not independently verify that the children had been vaccinated, medical workers at Kuajok hospital are seeing some vaccinated children contract measles, said Dr. Garang Nyuol. He has seen more than 10 such cases since January.

To ensure the integrity of the highly effective measles vaccine it must be kept at between 2 degrees Celsius (35 Fahrenheit) and 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit). Kuajok hospital, Gogrial state’s main medical facility, administers measles vaccines year-round, yet several staffers said its two generators often shut down for hours, even days, at a time.

“I’m worried about the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Chok Deng, the director general for the state’s ministry of health, told the AP. He said he reached out to the United Nations children’s agency and WHO for help and was told it was being “followed up.”

UNICEF, which provides the majority of vaccines in South Sudan as well as freezers and generators, said the system is designed to be self-sufficient for 16 hours in case of a power failure. The organization conducts regular maintenance and has not “received any messages about generators in Kuajok not running properly,” said Penelope Campbell, chief of health for UNICEF in South Sudan.

Dr. Ujjiga Thomas, WHO’s Kuajok hub coordinator, said that “at no time has the cold chain been compromised when it comes to fuel or spare parts” at the hospital.

During power outages, medical workers at the hospital move the vaccines to small mobile refrigerators, but experts say a constant shift in temperature reduces the vaccines’ strength.

“If we do not respect the storage temperatures, that can compromise the vaccine’s effectiveness,” said Dr. Alhassane Toure, a vaccination expert with WHO.

Maintaining the cold chain is a challenge across South Sudan, especially in remote areas. An internal document in April from the country’s health cluster, comprised of various aid groups, seen by the AP cited a shortage of “qualified cold chain technicians” to address maintenance issues.

A visit to the Kuajok hospital showed the challenges in containing South Sudan’s measles outbreak. Just one nurse is available for 50 patients. The isolation tent is so hot that patients lie on the ground throughout the compound instead, at risk of infecting others.

“It’s concerning, outbreaks are popping up all over the place,” said Natalie Page, health adviser for Medair South Sudan, which recently vaccinated more than 190,000 children in Gogrial state.

Low vaccination rates allow measles to spread quickly, she said. Just 59% of children under 5 in South Sudan have received the measles vaccine, according to the health ministry. Overall immunization rates need to be 90% to 95% or higher to prevent outbreaks. In order for the vaccine to have maximum efficacy, children need to receive two doses.

With the rainy season starting in May, there is concern that reaching remote communities will become more difficult. Meanwhile three to 10 new cases arrive at Kuajok’s hospital daily.

Cradling her weakened 1-year-old, Amel Makir unsuccessfully tried to get him to nurse from her breast. Their village is a three-hour walk from the hospital and has not been reached with vaccinations. Now the boy has measles.

“It’s been six days and he’s not improving,” Makir said. “I’m worried he’ll only get worse.”



читати →

The awesome power of nature remains undefeated. According to researchers in Britain, even moderate storms can move large boulders weighing as much as 10 (metric) tons. As a major storm follows one that recently hit the African country of Mozambique, researchers warn that even large natural barriers may not offer much defense. Arash Arabasadi reports.



читати →

Americans are becoming increasingly sedentary, spending almost a third of their waking hours sitting down, and computer use is partly to blame, a new study found.

 

Over almost a decade, average daily sitting time increased by roughly an hour, to about eight hours for U.S. teens and almost 6 1/2 hours for adults, according to the researchers. That includes school and work hours, but leisure-time computer use among all ages increased too.

 

By 2016, at least half of American kids and adults spent an hour or more of leisure time daily using computers. The biggest increase was among the oldest adults: 15 percent of retirement-aged adults reported using computers that often in 2003-04, soaring to more than half in 2015-16.

 

Most Americans of all ages watched TV or videos for at least two hours daily and that was mostly unchanged throughout the study, ranging from about 60 percent of kids aged 5 to 11, up to 84 percent of seniors.

 

“Everything we found is concerning,” said lead author Yin Cao, a researcher at Washington University’s medical school in St. Louis. “The overall message is prolonged sitting is highly prevalent,” despite prominent health warnings about the dangers of being too sedentary.

 

The researchers analyzed U.S. government health surveys from almost 52,000 Americans, starting at age 5, from 2001-2016. Total sitting time was assessed for teens and adults starting in 2007. The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

 

Studies have shown that prolonged periods of sitting can increase risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. U.S. activity guidelines released last fall say adults need at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week, things like brisk walking, jogging, biking or tennis. Muscle strengthening two days weekly is also advised. Immediate benefits include reduced blood pressure and anxiety and better sleep. Long-term benefits include improved brain health and lower risks for falls.

 

Kids aged 6 through 17 need 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Regular activity is even recommended for kids as young as 3. But only about 1 in 4 U.S. adults and 1 in 5 teens get recommended amounts.

 

College student Daisy Lawing spends a lot of time sitting, but says she doesn’t have much choice. Classes and homework on the computer take up much of her day.

 

“I always feel bad” about being inactive, she said Tuesday at an Asheville, North Carolina, cafe, explaining that she did a school paper about the benefits of physical activity.

 

“I try to walk a lot, try to work out twice a week. But sometimes I can’t because I’m too busy with school,” Lawing, 21, a junior at Appalachian State University in Boone.

 

Peter T. Katzmarzyk of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said people who sit all day need to do more than the minimum recommended amount of physical activity to counteract the harms of being sedentary.

 

“We’ve just got to really work on the population to get the message out there. Physical activity is good for everyone,” he said.

 



читати →