With three out of four people being at risk of malaria in South-East Asia region, World Health Organisation (WHO) called for greater investment in the battle against malaria on the occasion of World Malaria Day.
Even though the number of confirmed malaria cases in the Region, which is home to a quarter of the world’s population decreased from 2.9 million in 2000 to 2 million in 2012, the disease remains a significant threat to the lives of people.
“1.4 billion people continue to be at risk of malaria in South-East Asia. They are often the poorest, including workers in hilly or forested areas, in development projects such as mining, agroforestry, road and dam constructions, and upland subsistence farming in rural and urban areas,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.
Stressing that the funding needs to be increased for diagnostics, drugs, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and research and response to drug and insecticide resistance, Dr. Singh said, “We need to empower communities to protect themselves. Eliminating malaria will take greater political will.”
India is expected to decrease malaria case incidence by 50-75 per cent by 2015. Sri Lanka is in the elimination phase with no indigenous case reported since November 2012. Maldives has been malaria-free since 1984.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nepal, and Sri Lanka reduced the incidence of malaria cases by more than 75 per cent from 2000 to 2012. Thailand and Timor-Leste are on track to achieve a decrease of over 75 per cent.
But the gains in malaria control, although substantial, could be reversed due to increasing parasite resistance to drugs, mosquito resistance to insecticides and re-introduction of transmission in places where the disease has been eliminated.
The emergence of artemisinin resistance in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam threatens the global achievements in malaria control and elimination.
Artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) is currently the first line treatment for the most lethal type of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum.
Resistance to this drug would compromise the lives of hundreds of thousands of people affected with malaria, and there is an urgent need to invest in ways to contain the spread of resistance to these drugs, said Singh.
“Another danger lies in the fact that the Anopheles mosquitoes, which carry malaria parasites, are increasingly become resistant to insecticides.
“Investments are needed to develop new tools, to conduct operational research to address bottlenecks in malaria control programmes, and to scale-up and ensure rational use of existing interventions,” said Dr. Singh.
In a London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels in the laboratory in a bold attempt to make body parts using stem cells. It is among several labs around the world that are working on the futuristic idea of growing custom-made organs in the lab.
While only a handful of patients have received the British lab-made organs so far, including tear ducts, and windpipes, researchers hope they will soon be able to transplant more types of body parts into patients, including what would be the world’s first nose made partly from stem cells.
“It’s like making a cake,” said Alexander Seifalian, the scientist leading the effort, at University College London. “We just use a different kind of oven.” During a recent visit to his lab, Mr. Seifalian showed off a sophisticated machine used to make molds from a polymer material for various organs.
Last year, he and his team made a nose for a British man who lost his to cancer. Scientists added a salt and sugar solution to the mold of the nose to mimic the somewhat sponge-like texture of the real thing. Stem cells were taken from the patient’s fat and grown in the lab for two weeks before being used to cover the nose scaffold. Later, the nose was implanted into the man’s forearm so that skin would grow to cover it.
Mr. Seifalian said he and his team are waiting for approval from regulatory authorities to transfer the nose onto the patient’s face but couldn’t say when that might happen. Mr. Seifalian estimated about 10 million pounds ($16 million) has gone into his research since 2005 but said he hoped lab-made organs would one day be available for a few hundred dollars.
“If people are not that fussy, we could manufacture different sizes of noses so the surgeon could choose a size and tailor it for patients before implanting it,” he said. “People think your nose is very individual and personal but this is something that we could mass produce like in a factory one day.”
If white coloured clothes have a soothing effect on people, eating white vegetables is beneficial too and you should include more of cauliflower and garlic in your diet. Here’s a list of healthy white vegetables that you should consume more, reports huffingtonpost.com:
Cauliflower: It contains sulfur compounds that are associated with fighting cancer, strengthening bone tissue and maintaining healthy blood vessels.
Mushroom: Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, with barely any sodium, and yet they carry a wealth of selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin D. Mushrooms are also filling, so they can help you control your weight.
Garlic: It is believed to help in growing hair, cause acne to disappear and keep colds and flu at bay. Its antioxidant properties can help boost your immune system.
Potatoes: The white potato provides as much fibre as and more potassium than other commonly consumed vegetables or fruit. A medium skin-on baked potato weighs in at just 163 calories, a whopping 941 milligrams of potassium and 3.6 grams of fibre. Potatoes also provide vitamin C, vitamin B6 and magnesium in addition to small amounts of high quality protein.
The common yeast could give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) the clue it needs to see if humans can survive in deep space. It plans to soon launch yeast, which is a unicellular fungi, in a nano-satellite for an 18-month mission over five lakh kilometres beyond the moon to see how it performs in these conditions.
Speaking to this newspaper on the sidelines of Shaastra, IIT-M’s annual technical festival, Ms Sharmila Bhattac-harya, director of research in the Biomodel Perfor-mance Labora-tory of the Space Biosciences Division of the Nasa Ames Research Centre, says Nasa has started to put micro-organisms in deep space to give it some idea of how humans can survive in it.
“We want to see at a fundamental level what the problems can be when sending humans into deep space. Once you understand the problems and the molecular biological pathway you can start looking at the counter measures. We are doing this over the next few years,” she said, explaining that yeast is a single cell eukaryotic organism, which means the structure of its cell is somewhat similar to that of humans.
“Because its single cell you will see significant percentage of similarity between humans and the yeast. The basic principle of how all these eukaryotic organism function are similar, but the difference is in their complexity and in the number of genes,” she adds.
Interestingly, Nasa in its next mission launching on February 22, will send a fruit fly to outer space on a private spacecraft (SpaceX rocket-SpX-5) to study its cardio vascular functions as the human genome is 77 per cent similar to it.
In a ground-breaking trial, researchers in the UK will test artificial blood made from human stem cells in patients for the first time.
The research, planned for 2016, could pave the way for manufacturing of blood on an industrial scale, which could even supersede donated blood as the main supply for patients.
“We have made red blood cells, for the first time, that are fit to go in a person’s body. Before now, we haven’t really had that,” said Marc Turner, medical director at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, who is leading the 5 million pounds project at the University of Edinburgh.
The trial will involve three patients with thalassaemia, a disorder of the red blood cells that requires regular transfusions. They will receive around 5 ml of blood initially to test whether the cells behave normally in the body. Turner stressed that the trial should not be taken as a signal for people to stop donating blood, but speculated that in 20 years, artificial blood could be the norm.
Turner has spent several years refining a technique to grow mature red blood cells from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – adult skin or blood cells that have been genetically reprogrammed into a stem cell-like state.
The iPS cells are cultured in biochemical conditions similar to those in the human body that trigger their transition towards mature red blood cells. The team has currently reached an efficiency of 40-50 per cent of initial cells turning into red blood cells, and the process takes about a month.
The useable cells can then be separated from immature blood cells and remaining iPS cells using standard blood separation methods, such as centrifuging.
Artificial blood would be made from cells taken from someone with the relatively rare universal blood type O-, which can be transfused into almost any patient, researchers said.
In a bid to cut down their health insurance bill, buyers are increasingly turning to family floater policies – covers where a single sum insured is available for all members of a family. These policies allow the customer to buy a cover with a single ‘floating’ sum insured for, say, Rs 9 lakh rather than buying individual covers of Rs 3 lakh for each person of a four-member family.
In the case of ICICI Lombard General Insurance, the largest private health insurer, sales of family floater policies have risen 6.3% in FY14 on the back of 6.4% growth in FY13. This was even as sales of individual policies dropped 15% after a sluggish 3% growth in the earlier year.
“We are seeing a trend of policyholders shifting from individual to floater policies in health insurance. Our analysis is that in 99% of the cases, this is the right call as it is very unlikely that the entire sum insured will be utilized,” said Sanjay Datta, head (underwriting and claims), ICICI Lombard General Insurance.
According to Datta, family floaters work well from an insurance company’s perspective as well because they diversify risk. “There have been instances when individuals have bought a larger sum insured for themselves and a lower sum insured for children to cut costs. In floater policies, they do not have to make such a call,” he said.
New India Assurance, the largest health insurer, introduced a new floater policy in mid-March. The company has already sold over 5,000 family plans in less than a fortnight. “I would definitely say that the market is moving towards floater plans. There is a growing awareness of the need for a high sum insured and this is possible through a floater plan,” said Segar Sampathkumar, general manager, New India Assurance.
He added that buyers are consciously making a choice when faced with the possibility that more than one person might undergo major medical expenses, but that probability is extremely low. Even for such remote situations, there might be solutions in future. “Insurance companies might come out with solutions like a double insurance cover in case of accidents,” said Sampathkumar.
Manasije Mishra, CEO, Max Bupa Health Insurance, said, “Our research shows that consumers prioritize families’ health over their own and they seek products that can meet the needs of all members. In our experience, as people get more health-aware, more and more are opting for family health insurance policies and with rising cost of healthcare, more customers will choose to obtain comprehensive protection for their families.”
Max Bupa has a policy that covers the health needs of extended families and can cover up to 13 family relationships under a single policy. “The family floater policies are more economical than the individual ones. For instance, in case of a family of three covered under Max Bupa’s policy, all the family members can claim multiple times up to the individual sum assured limits and collectively also to utilize the floater amount, if needed. This will be cost-effective compared to buying three individual health policies for a similar coverage,” said Mishra.
What happens when antibodies, a class of proteins generated by the immune system to neutralise foreign bacteria and viruses, attach themselves to the membrane protein of a human cell and try to destroy it?
Autoimmune diseases are the result. It was these auto-antibodies that were the subject of the 34th T.S. Srinivasan Endowment Oration, delivered by Professor Angela Vincent, Emeritus Professor of Neuro immunology at Oxford University.
“Some brain diseases caused by antibodies come on quite quickly and can become severe quickly. But they can be treated, and the patient gets better. Sometimes, the disease burns itself out and the patient can even go off treatment,” she said.
Speaking about myasthenia gravis, marked by weakness of select muscles, she said that in this disease antibodies bind themselves to acetylcholine receptors, which lead to reduced signalling between nerves and muscles. “Patients have mobility problems, sometimes they can’t keep their eyes open, in some cases they can’t swallow or drink.” But with treatment, under which the patient’s blood is removed through a centrifuge and put back minus the plasma containing the antibodies, there can be a remarkable improvement in just two days.
Sometimes, such diseases appear and disappear quite suddenly. Why does this happen though? While in some patients tumours, a preceding infection or a preceding allergic reaction is thought to have led to the disease, this may not always be the case. “It may just be bad luck if you make one of these particular antibodies,” she said.
In India, probably 10 patients per million per year could be diagnosed with diseases caused by antibodies. The earlier the disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances for the patient are, she said. One interesting question researchers are now looking into is how frequently antibodies are the cause of common diseases such as epilepsy or dementia, she said.
Venu Srinivasan, chairman, TVS Motor Company, delivered the presidential address. Timothy A. Pedley, president, American Academy of Neurology; and E.S. Krishnamoorthy and Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, both of The Institute of Neurological Sciences, VHS in Chennai, spoke.
At a time when farmers in Tamil Nadu are facing a big problem in cultivation due to frequent load shedding, a farmer, Mr. Mr. C. Rajasekaran, from Vettaikaran Irruppu of Kilvelur taluk in Nagappattinam district does not seem to worry much.
The reason is not far to seek he is using oil from Punnai (Tamil name) tree seeds (Calophyllum inophyllum) to operate his five hp motor pump for irrigating his five acres.
His garden, which was once considered to be unfit for any cultivation, since the soil became barren after the tsunami struck, is now home to nearly 35 different tree varieties. Mango, Guavas, Lime, Teak, Cashew, amla, tamarind, and jack are all flourishing well today in what was once considered a wasteland.
While the farmer says that he was able to turn the land fertile only through organic practices, he is well known in the region for propagating the usefulness of punnai seeds.
“If a farmer has two punnai trees on his land, he can reduce the diesel cost considerably. I run the motor for about five months using the oil during summer,” he says.
The tree grows well in coastal regions. Cattle or goats do not eat the leaves thus making it easier for a farmer to grow it. Capable of growing in any type of soil it can withstand heavy winds and produce seeds within five years after planting.
“A farmer can get four to 20 kg of seeds a year from a five year old tree. After 10 years, a tree will yield 10 – 60 kg in a year and the seed yield will be on the increase as the trees grow older. From my experience, a 25 year-old tree yields a minimum of 300 kg and a maximum of 500 kg of seeds,” says Mr. Rajasekaran.
The trees attract lot of honey bees and bats. While the bees help to pollinate the bats eat the fruits and the seeds scatter all over the area through their droppings.
“My daily job in the morning is to collect the seeds and dry them for a week, after which they are broken open to expose the kernel. The kernel is further dried for 10 days before oil extraction,” he adds. From one kg of seed kernel about 750 to 800 ml of oil can be extracted and the cost of producing a litre of oil works out to Rs.10.
“I operate the pump only during summer, for about five months in a year to be precise and for that my requirement is 600 ml of oil for an hour every day. Previously while using diesel my requirement was 900 ml for the same duration of time.
In a year I am able to get 75 litres. The surplus oil is sold to other farmers at Rs. 42 a litre. After extracting the oil, the cake is used as manure for crops,” he explains.
According to the farmer there is no rust formation in the engine and it emits little noise during operation. For the last four years he has been using this oil to run his motor and till date seems to have not faced any problem with the engine.
“I find there is no remarkable difference between a punnai oil and diesel run five Hp motor engine. Both pump 750ml of water in a minute. In fact the engine running on the oil emits less smoke unlike the diesel operated one,” he says.
Unlike casuarina or teak, punnai trees are not normally planted by farmers. The few trees found in some places have been growing there for years similar to the palm trees one finds on the rural roadside.
“But the benefits from the tree are quite remarkable in terms of bio energy. It is the job of the state Agriculture University and Government to popularise this tree among farmers and encourage them to plant it. “If done, in two years or at most in another 10 years we might not face the same power problem we are facing now if all our farmers become aware about this tree he says,” with a smile. Every day his farm draws several visitors who are eager to know more about the oil and its use for their machines.