Archive for September 2013

MENINGITIS THREAT IN AFRICA SALVED BY VACCINE

September 26, 2013

MENINGITIS THREAT IN AFRICA SALVED BY VACCINE

 

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

Gracious day to you fellow global citizens!

 

An alarming report by health experts concerns the 450 millions of Africans who are at risk of meningitis. While the ailment can be cured, response systems are insufficient to reach out to the very poor families who comprise the greater majority in the resource rich continent.

 

The good news that is now ‘knocking on heavens doors’ in Africa and developing countries is that a recently innovated vaccine is now out in the open for immediate usage. Not only does it cure the deadly disease, it can also prevent meningitis from taking place for the persons who immediately seek an intervention.

 

Eradicating meningitis via vaccination is valuable an intervention to me, as my own country used to be very poor whence my own relatives in the provinces died of the ailment. There were also moments in my past when I was on the verge of being hit by meningitis, as I keep on contracting inflammations of my sinus and throat—with infections that can lead to meningitis if not treated early.

 

Chad was employed as a test case for the new vaccine, with stunningly high success. For the details on the report, please refer to the enclosed  article below.

 

Source: http://www.scidev.net/global/health/news/meningitis-vaccine-cuts-cases-by-94-per-cent-in-chad.html

 

[Manila, 24 September 2013]

Meningitis vaccine cuts cases by 94 per cent in Chad

Albert González Farran/UNAMID

Speed read

  • The MenAfriVac vaccine helped cut cases by 94 per cent in the 2012 epidemic season
  • Results are based on analysis of 1.8 million vaccinations in Chad
  • The vaccine’s roll out should continue, but also be monitored

A meningitis vaccine that has recently been rolled out in several African countries has reduced the incidence of the disease by 94 per cent in Chad after just a single dose per person, in what scientists say is a startling success for the new vaccine, called MenAfriVac.
 
And the presence of the bacteria responsible for the disease in people’s throats — carriage prevalence — dropped by 98 per cent, according to the study published in The Lancet today.
 
The research, based on an analysis of data from 1.8 million vaccinations in Chad, revealed that there were no cases of serogroup A meningococcal meningitis, the most dangerous strain of the disease, following vaccination.
 
“This is one of the most dramatic outcomes from a public health intervention that I have seen,” said lead author Brian Greenwood in a press release (12 September).
 
“There are now real prospects that the devastating effects of this infection in Africa can be prevented,” said Greenwood, a professor of clinical tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, which carried out the study together with the Centre de Support en Santé Internationale in Chad and other partners. 
 
Deadly epidemics of meningitis A occur regularly in Sub-Saharan Africa’s meningitis belt, a band of 21 countries stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where around 450 million people are at risk.
 
Group A meningococcus accounts for an estimated 80 to 85 per cent of all cases across the belt, with the most affected countries being Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia and Niger. If untreated, the disease — which mainly affects infants, children and young adults — kills half of those infected.

“One of the most dramatic outcomes from a public health intervention that I have seen”

Brian Greenwood, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

In the new study, researchers compared the impact of Chad’s 2011 vaccination programme on meningitis incidence and carriage in three vaccinated areas with the results from the unvaccinated areas over the same period.
 
When the 2012 epidemic seasons arrived, the incidence of meningitis of any type in the three vaccinated regions was 2.5 per 100,000 people, compared with 43.6 per 100,000 people in the unvaccinated areas.
 
And there were no meningitis A cases in the vaccinated regions, compared with 59 in the unvaccinated regions.
 
Carriage of the bacteria also dropped dramatically among vaccinated people, and even unvaccinated people — those too old or young to be vaccinated — showed no cases after their communities were vaccinated, suggesting that vaccination programmes substantially reduce carriage and transmission.  
 
Although mass vaccination campaigns in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had shown the vaccine to be safe and highly effective so far, “until now, it was not known definitively whether MenAfriVac had a major impact on the incidence of serogroup A epidemics and carriage”, according to Greenwood.
 
The WHO says the vaccine has several advantages over existing vaccines, including: a higher and more long-lasting immune response; reducing the number of throat bacteria, and thus transmission; its expected long-term protection for those vaccinated, their family members and others who are exposed; and its lower than average price.
 
The findings support the case that vaccination programmes should continue across the African meningitis belt, according to Greenwood.
 
But he warns that continuing surveillance and further carriage studies in the belt will be needed to confirm the duration of protection provided by this vaccine.
 
“This is an extremely encouraging sign for those countries that are yet to introduce the vaccine,” Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of the WHO department of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals, said in a press release.
 
“We are not even half-way done with introducing this revolutionary new vaccine across the meningitis belt of Africa, yet we already have extraordinary results.”
 
The vaccine was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between the WHO and PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
Link to paper abstract

References

The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61612-8 (2013)

 

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WORMS CAN BE WIPED OUT BY GM BACTERIA

September 20, 2013

WORMS CAN BE WIPED OUT BY GM BACTERIA

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

Worm parasitism, notably of the pinworm variety, infects over 2 billion children and pregnant mothers across the globe. That’s nearly 1 in every 3 Earthlings infested by the worm disease!

 

Sadly, many worms are now resistant to drugs. Reversing the process, with the object of eliminating worm parasitism in the long run, seems to find its salvation in the genetic modification of a certain bacterium. But while the new panacea awaits trial results on humans, many children and pregnant women will face the scourge of disabilities brought by worm parasitism.

 

The GM bacterium was already tested on hamsters in the laboratory. Gladly, the finds about the impact of the GM strain on the parasite-infested hamsters were positive and conclusive. The next stage—of testing the panacea on humans—is now in the works, which should cheer up many children and mothers.

 

The brightening reportage is shown below.

 

[Manila, 18 September 2013]

 

 

Source: http://www.scidev.net/global/medicine/news/gm-bacteria-could-help-mass-produce-hookworm-drugs.html

 

GM bacteria could help mass produce hookworm drugs

Speed read

  • GM bacteria similar to those used in food makes proteins against parasitic worms
  • The proteins are more effective in animal experiments than currently used drugs
  • The work has yet to reach the pre-clinical stage but plans are underway

[SÃO PAULO] Researchers have produced a protein that kills parasitic intestinal worms, by genetically engineering a bacterium similar to those used in probiotics — raising hopes of more effective and safer therapies for infections that affect up to two billion people worldwide.

“There is a growing number of drug resistant parasites.”

Rose Gomes Monnerat 

The protein, Cry5B, has previously been shown to kill parasitic worms. It is normally produced by Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium used as an insecticide and not considered safe for use in people.

Bacteria containing Cry5B could be an ideal drug against human parasites, researchers say, as they can be easily and cheaply produced in large quantities, as well as shipped and stored under adverse conditions.

The researchers inserted the protein-producing gene into another related bacterium, Bacillus subtilis — strains of which are commonly used in foods such as probiotic yoghurts.

They first showed that the modified strain successfully produces the protein, and then tested it for treating parasitic worms in hamsters.

When given in small doses to hamsters infected with hookworm, Ancylostoma ceylanicum — which is capable of infecting people, and is related to a major human parasite, A. duodenale — the protein reduced the parasite burden by 93 per cent.

The study reports that this is comparable or even more effective than currently approved drugs for treating hookworms, whipworms and large roundworms.

These parasitic worms “are the leading causes of disease burden and disability in children and pregnant women worldwide” and “infect mostly impoverished people in the developing world and contribute significantly to keeping these people trapped in poverty”, the study says.

Rose Gomes Monnerat, a researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), and a member of the study team, tells SciDev.Net: “Treatment of gut parasites has been done with highly toxic drugs so far.”

“There is also a growing number of reports of drug resistant parasites. So it is important to have alternatives to their control,” she adds.

Manoel Victor Franco Lemos, a biologist at São Paulo State University, Brazil, says: “Although the results have been achieved by using animal models of parasitic infections, the worm species used are quite close to those that cause the same infections in humans”.

But he highlights the need for trials on humans.

Raffi Aroian, co-author and a biologist at the University of California, San Diego, says: “We are talking to knowledgeable people about how much pre-clinical testing would have to be done prior to human clinical trials”.

One of the main challenges, Aroian adds, is that although the B. subtilis strain used is a model for food-safe bacteria and used in some probiotics, it is not a proven food-safe bacterium.

“Now we need to put the gene into a proven food-safe one,” he says.

“Additionally, several toxicity tests must also be done until we can ensure its safety,” says Monnerat.

The study will be published in the September issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Link to full article in Applied and Environmental Microbiology

References

Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi:10.1128/AEM.01854-13 (2013)

AID AGENCIES BETTER LOCALIZE THEIR PURCHASES OF MATERIALS

September 16, 2013

AID AGENCIES BETTER LOCALIZE THEIR PURCHASES OF MATERIALS

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

$69 Billion is spent each year by international aid agencies for procurements of needed materials from external markets. The total amount is over half of aid funding for developing countries.

 

The advisory from experts who know the development processes in Africa is this: aid agencies better source materials locally. The behavior will impact as sound social development practice. Besides, the materials sourced from local markets do reduce the cost of materials.

 

I still recall, in my studies on economic history, when aid agencies infused massive aid funds supposedly on Philippine agriculture in the late 40s through the 60s. PH during those days was predominantly agricultural, with farmers and fisherfolks comprising past 75% of the population. Studies showed that the aid agencies bought tractors, fertilizers and seedlings from International Harvester and outside sources. The tractors alone provided headaches for the end-users, as they are hardly practicable in terrains that are hardly fit for them.

 

Let it be stressed that procuring materials in external market bring along with them inefficiencies. Besides, there could be corruption in the procurement processes, as they could favor certain manufacturers or producers that result to padding of prices. In the end, a very small portion of the aid funds actually go directly to the target beneficiaries, thus defeating the purpose of the development endeavor.

 

Below is the insightful report about the subject matter.

 

[Manila, 12 September 2013]

 

Source: http://www.scidev.net/global/aid/news/aid-agencies-should-go-local-when-sourcing-materials.html

Aid agencies should ‘go local’ when sourcing materials

Speed read

  • Buying locally would slash costs, and identify locally appropriate solutions
  • 20 per cent of aid purchases are still tied to firms in donor countries
  • Local social enterprise experts firms to carry out policy reviews

Aid agencies should source development products from local manufacturers to help them make the most of their budgets and improve their impact, a group of small businesses, service providers and manufacturers from Africa said this week.

Development agencies spend around US$69 billion each year on procuring goods and services from external providers — more than 50 per cent of total official development assistance — according to a press release by AidEx, a global humanitarian and development aid event held annually in Brussels. But 20 per cent of bilateral aid purchases are still tied to firms in donor countries, resulting in project expenses increasing by up to 40 per cent.

The group of businesses participating in the AidEx Developing World Supplier Zone — an area of 25 free stalls designed to help businesses from developing countries reach an international buying audience — is now urging aid agencies to carry out procurement policy reviews that would compare the cost, delivery time and social benefits of obtaining goods and services through local providers. They are also calling for the removal of conditions that tie donors to procurement in donor countries.

“Aid agencies’ use of local suppliers is key to maximising business opportunities and upskilling communities.”

Ben Solanky

By using local businesses in Africa, aid agencies could lower transaction costs, shorten delivery times and improve the investment climate in the surrounding region, the press release said.

“It’s vital for aid organisations to seriously consider locally developed solutions in their procurement, as these companies’ offerings have already been tried and tested ‘on the ground’,” said Grant Gibbs, project manager at Hippo Water Roller, a water technology project in South Africa.

“Superimposing First World business models can underestimate differences in African infrastructure — particularly at the rural level — and lead to inefficiencies,” Gibbs added.

Simon Lucas, CEO of Reltex Africa, a humanitarian relief materials supplier based in Kenya, said the benefits of the organisation’s location in Mombasa, for example, are that it “can easily access raw materials and re-export finished goods through supply chain routes across East Africa.”

“This,” he said, “has led to reduced transportation times and decreased environmental impact for humanitarian aid deliveries.

“When looking at purchasing products from Africa, I urge procurement managers to look further than just the price and take into account the social benefits and economic input to the region.” 

Charles Mugasa, of Ugandan social enterprise start-up Chiabiz, said: “Aid agencies must prioritise local companies that have grassroots connections with the community if they are to realise their goals, otherwise the bureaucratic nature of governments can get in the way.”

And Ben Solanky, director of Global Hand, a non-profit matching service for public-private partnerships, added: “Aid agencies’ use of local suppliers is key to maximising business opportunities and upskilling communities.

Dialogue, openness and connectivity between for-profits and non-profits is crucial in Africa — to see the idea of ‘doing well’ become an economic reality.”

 

DESERT’S GRACES: PLANTATIONS CAPTURE CARBON!

September 14, 2013

DESERT’S GRACES: PLANTATIONS CAPTURE CARBON!

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Here’s another one for the good news, fellows! That desert plantations offer basic graces for whole nations.

According to a study published in the Earth System Dynamics, cultivating plants such as jathropa in deserts could absorb up to 25 tones of carbon dioxide annually. Desert plants also reduce desert temperature by a centigrade at least, and also induce rainfalls.

The advantage of desert-fit plants is that they don’t compete with other crops. It just needs some special technical expertise to plant them. In my own country [PH], desert-fit plants are among the top waves for renewable energy or RE sources, backed by policy environment that is among the world’s top as regards RE for power production.

Enclosed is the reportorial from the scidev.net about the intriguing find.

[Manila, 06 September 2013]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/global/desert-science/news/desert-plantations-could-help-capture-carbon.html
Desert plantations could help capture carbon
Speed read
• Each hectare of the tree could absorb up to 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year
• Jatropha needs little water but could be irrigated by desalination plants
• Plantations can also cut average desert temperatures and boost rainfall
Planting trees in coastal deserts could capture carbon dioxide, reduce harsh desert temperatures, boost rainfall, revitalise soils and produce cheap biofuels, say scientists.

Large-scale plantations of the hardy jatropha tree, Jatropha curcas, could help sequester carbon dioxide through a process known as ‘carbon farming’, according to a study based on data gathered in Mexico and Oman that was published in Earth System Dynamics last month (31 July).

Each hectare of the tree could soak up 17-25 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, they say, at a cost of 42-63 euros (about US$56-84) per tonne of gas, the paper says. This makes the technique competitive with high-tech carbon capture and storage.

Klaus Becker, the study’s lead author and director of carbon sequestration consultancy Atmosphere Protect, says that a jatropha plantation covering just three per cent of the Arabian Desert could absorb all the carbon dioxide produced by cars in Germany over two decades.

“Our models show that, because of plantations, average desert temperatures go down by 1.1 degree Celsius, which is a lot,” Becker says. He adds that the plantations would also induce rainfall in desert areas.

Jatropha, which is a biofuel crop, needs little water, and coastal plantations would be irrigated through desalination, Becker says.

He also envisages a role for sewage in such large-scale plantations.

“There are billions and billions of litres of sewage that are discharged into the oceans every week, but instead we could send that water to the desert and plant trees,” he says. “In this situation, you wouldn’t need any expensive artificial nitrogen [to fertilise the trees].”

The team has also been working in Israel’s Negev desert, where they planted 16 tree species, which, they say, is preferable to a jatropha monoculture. “A diversity of trees is good for the environment, good for investors and good for preventing diseases,” says Becker.

At another of the team’s carbon farms — a jatropha plantation in Madagascar — the organic matter content of degraded soil has risen from 0.2 per cent up to three per cent.

Local people now harvest beans planted between the trees, providing a vital source of protein and creating a symbiotic exchange of nitrogen — fixed from air by beans — and shade provided by the jatropha trees.

“Previously, no one had the idea of using uncultivated land to plant these kinds of leguminous beans because they would not grow there. But after four or five years of applying cultivation techniques, the soil quality increases dramatically,” Becker says.

Alex Walker, a research assistant at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, describes carbon farming as a “common-sense approach to rising carbon dioxide levels, with potentially positive biodiversity impacts”.

He adds: “It will grow on non-arable land, and so not compete with food production, but it is more difficult to process and subject to varying yields and absorption volumes”.

Egypt is pioneering an experiment in desert farming, using sewage water after basic treatment to produce wood, woody biomass and biofuel crops, such as casuarina, African mahogany, jojoba and neem, in addition to jatropha.

“In Egypt, there are 15,000 acres planted with trees of good quality but so far they have not been sold to create economic value,” Hany El Kateb, a professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, tells SciDev.Net.

According to El Kateb, Egypt produces more than 6.3 billion cubic metres of sewage water a year, and 5.5 billion cubic metres of this would be sufficient to afforest more than 650,000 hectares of desert lands and store more than 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually in new forests.

El Kateb points out that Egypt has an advantage over European countries that are leaders in forestry, such as Germany, because the same trees grow more than 4.5 times faster in Egypt where the sun shine most of the year.

But Mosaad Kotb Hassanein, director of the Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate in Egypt, says: “One of the big challenges of planting forests in arid areas is the lack of experience, expertise and technical personnel involved in the establishment and management of forest plantations.

“The project in Egypt was lucky to have technical assistance and support establishing a forest administration from the German Academic Exchange Service.”

Additional reporting by Nehal Lasheen.

Link to full paper in Earth System Dynamics

References
Earth System Dynamics doi: 10.5194/esd-4-237-2013 (2013)

SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT DESIGN: INFORMAL MARKETS

September 14, 2013

SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT DESIGN: INFORMAL MARKETS

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day, fellow global citizens!

What makes a product design click in a certain market? As far as developing countries are concerned, the presence of informal markets matter most. This was the astounding finding of a study done in the M.I.T.

I do resonate with the study findings, being a development worker who knows the basic end-users in my country. Those families in the lower middle to lower income brackets comprise a very large portion of the population here, a fact that was highly recognized by big retailers and manufacturers who tailor fit their products for them.

For the product designers, better consult economists who are in the know about markets or end-users. The antiquated Say’s Law, which posits that “a supply creates its own demands,” was long debunked, with John Maynard Keynes providing the coup d’ grace to the demolition of the flawed doctrine.

The lesson forwarded is: don’t ever engineer products that require a lot of time and effort to educate the end-users. In developing countries, among informal markets, such a line of thought won’t work, as the end-users want a quick usage of the items without much ado about how to use them.

Below is the reportage about the revelatory development.

[Manila, 01 September 2013]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/news/study-reveals-secrets-to-successful-product-design.html

Study reveals secrets to successful product design
Speed read
• Sales hits such as a phone for rent were designed for micro-entrepreneurs
• Design guidelines call for a focus on products’ money-making ability
• But a product’s business model is also viewed as crucial
The secret to successful product design for developing countries is to tailor products for informal markets, a study has found.

Some of the best-selling products in emerging markets, such as solar lamps and a Nokia mobile phone, were specifically designed to help the owners of low-income businesses, known as micro-enterprises, make money, the study says.

These micro-enterprises are an untapped but potentially lucrative market and products tailor-made for them could make large profits for both local salesmen and multinational corporations.

The study authors, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, are now planning a large-scale study to evaluate and refine a set of guidelines for those designing products for developing countries.

Design firms in more mature markets generally develop products for consumers or businesses, but not for the informal markets that are prevalent in developing countries, says Maria Yang, co-author of the paper published as part of the ASME international design conference this month (4-7 August).

The study cited mobile phone multinational Nokia as an exception.

In 2003, Nokia launched a phone that dominated sales in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. It was designed for the owners of small, phone-renting businesses, according to the study.

The Nokia 1100 was intended to be shared by many people and used in various environments. It had an easy-grip back for humid climates, a dust-resistant keyboard, an LED torch and several contact lists so users could share the phone and keep personal contact lists separate. Nokia also developed eRefills, a metering tool that displays the exact cost of each call. In addition, Nokia used a fleet of vans to reach rural customers for marketing and product servicing.

“The phones have been used by farmers, fishermen and other producers to check market prices. They have also been used as the basis for money transfers in communities without adequate access to financial services,” Yang tells SciDev.Net.

Products designed for this sector not only benefit local entrepreneurs, but can help develop whole communities.

“The ability to communicate is critical to development at a basic level, particularly when some emerging markets lack the infrastructure to support other key types of communication such as landlines,” says Yang.

The researchers highlighted solar lamps as another example of design success aimed at micro-enterprises.

Solar lamps enable micro-entrepreneurs to keep their businesses open at night. US firm Greenlight Planet has designed one that can also charge mobile phones. This lamp has sold particularly well because buyers can make money by charging phones for a fee.

But supplying emerging markets with solar lamps also benefits the entire community, driving the switch to solar lighting from expensive, potentially dangerous kerosene lighting.

Daniel Schnitzer, founder of the NGO EarthSpark International, which provides solar lamps to micro-entrepreneurs, believes that strong product design is not the only factor in ensuring sales success.

“Way too much effort is put into designing these products, rather than on coming up with the right business model and the right after-sales service model. That’s really what makes these businesses successful,” he says.

He adds that EarthSpark has spent much time and resources on designing education and training materials for the entrepreneurs to use themselves and to give to their customers. “I think this is an area where manufacturers have really fallen short,” Schnitzer says.

But Yang disagrees. “Educating the user can take a long time, which can backfire,” she says. “The best strategy is to come up with a novel product and business models that users can immediately grasp.”

The paper offers some guidelines for future designers that focus on creating products that foster micro-enterprise. For example, it says that designers should think of their target users not only as consumers but also as micro-entrepreneurs, and be aware of their needs. It must be clear how the user can make money from the product, and the product should be upgradable so its performance capacity can grow with the business.

Another guideline calls on designers to consider multi-functionality, for example, the solar lamp’s ability to charge phones was key to its success.

Link to the paper
References
Austin-Breneman, J. and Yang, M. Design for Micro-Enterprise: An Approach to Product Design for Emerging Markets (Proceedings of the ASME 2013 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, 4-7 August)