Congo Deploys Experimental Ebola Treatment as Cases Rise

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has started using the experimental mAb114 Ebola treatment to counter the latest flare-up of the virus, health officials said Tuesday, the first time it has been deployed against an active outbreak.

Forty-two people are believed to have died from the hemorrhagic fever in Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak since the disease was discovered in the 1970s.

In all, there have been 66 cases to date, including 39 confirmed and 27 probable, the health ministry said  Tuesday evening, an increase of nine confirmed cases since Monday.

The outbreak has spread from its epicenter in North Kivu province to neighboring Ituri province after an infected person returned home, Congo’s health ministry said, complicating containment in a region beset by militia violence.

Testing ground

Ebola, which causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea, finds a natural home in Congo’s vast equatorial forests. Continuing flare-ups have made the central African country a testing ground for new treatments against a virus that between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 people in a West African epidemic.

In an outbreak in western Congo that began in April and was declared over in July, an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck & Co. Inc. was given to 3,300 people and was considered central in containing the virus when it reached a city.

The mAb114 treatment was developed in the United States by the National Institutes of Health using the antibodies of the survivor of an Ebola outbreak in the western Congolese city of Kikwit in 1995.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva that medics were already treating five patients with mAb114 and that he had been informed they were doing well.

“We will use it as much as needed,” Tedros said. “But use of the molecules is decided by doctor and patient consent.”

Several other experimental treatments have arrived in the regional hub of Beni and are awaiting approval from an ethics committee, including Remdesivir, Favipiravir and REGN3450, REGN3471 and REGN3479, the health ministry said.

Low risk of global spread

Separately, authorities have vaccinated more than 200 health workers and contacts of Ebola patients. He said the risk of international spread was currently considered low even though it poses a high regional risk because of its proximity to the Ugandan border, which is only about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.

The response is taking place against the backdrop of insecurity caused by dozens of militia groups who regularly kill and kidnap civilians in the region.

“Before I went there I was really worried because of the different nature of the Ebola outbreak in DRC,” Tedros said. “But after the visit I am actually more worried because of what we have observed there firsthand.”

Authorities are reaching out to militia to persuade them to allow access to zones they occupy, he said.


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Ebola Outbreak in Eastern DR Congo Potentially More Dangerous Than West African Epidemic

World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the raging conflict in North Kivu makes the Ebola outbreak in eastern DR Congo more dangerous than the historic 2014-2015 epidemic in West Africa.  More than 11,000 people died from the Ebola virus by the time it was contained in 2016. 

WHO Director-General Tedros returned Sunday from a visit to Beni and Mangina, the epicenters of the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  He says he was worried before he went on this mission, but he is more worried now after having observed first-hand the dangers and difficulties posed by the active conflict in North Kivu.

He says more than 100 armed groups operate in the region.  He says there have been 120 violent incidents this year involving killings, kidnappings, rapes and other atrocities.

“That environment is really conducive for Ebola actually to transmit freely because in that area there are places called Red Zones, inaccessible areas because there are many armed groups that operate in that region … And, these Red Zones could be hiding places for Ebola,” said Tedros.

Tedros is calling on the warring parties for a cessation of hostilities, warning this extremely contagious virus is dangerous for everyone.  Despite the many concerns, he says WHO and partners are moving ahead aggressively with the operation to contain this deadly virus.  

He says more than 216 health workers and 20 people from the community have been vaccinated against Ebola.  He says more vaccinators have been deployed from Guinea to speed this process along, and DRC authorities have given the greenlight for the use of several experimental Ebola drugs.

Tedros says health workers have begun working on case identification and contact tracing, as well as community outreach and educational programs.  He says WHO is working with countries neighboring DRC, and is helping Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan strengthen their surveillance and screening programs to try to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from crossing their borders.  

 

 


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Ebola Death Toll in DRC at 41 as New Drug in Use

Forty-one people have died in the latest outbreak of Ebola in DRC, health authorities said on Tuesday, adding that doctors were using a novel drug to treat patients.

Out of 57 recorded cases as of Monday, 41 were fatal, the Congolese Health Ministry and UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) said. Fourteen of the deaths had been confirmed by lab tests, the ministry said.

Last Friday, the ministry put the tally at 37 deaths, either confirmed or suspected.

The outbreak is the country’s 10th since 1976, when the disease was first identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near the Ebola River, a tributary of the Congo.

Its epicenter is Mangina in the region of Beni, in the strife-torn eastern province of North Kivu.

For the first time since the outbreak was announced on August 1, one fatality was recorded outside of North Kivu — in the neighboring province of Ituri, the ministry’s directorate for disease control said.

It added that doctors in Beni had started to use a novel treatment called mAb114 to treat patients with Ebola.

The treatment is “the first therapeutic drug against the virus to be used in an active Ebola epidemic in the DRC,” it said.

Developed in the United States, the prototype drug is a so-called single monoclonal antibody — a protein that binds on to a specific target of the virus and triggers the body’s immune system to destroy the invader.

The antibody was isolated from a survivor of an Ebola outbreak in the western DRC city of Kikwit in 1995, it said.

In May, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said it was carrying out the first human trials of mAb114 to test it for safety and tolerance.

Fighting could hamper treatment

Use of the experimental treatment in the field comes on the heels of deployment of an unlicensed vaccine in an earlier outbreak of Ebola in the DRC this year.

The decision to use the vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, came after trials during a pandemic in West Africa showed it to be safe and effective, the WHO says.

Immunization with rVSV-ZEBOV was given to front-line health workers to provide them with additional protection — a tactic that has been repeated in the latest outbreak.

Ebola causes serious illness including vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases internal and external bleeding. It is often fatal if untreated.

The WHO has expressed concern that the violence in North Kivu — entailing militias who often fight for control of resources, including a notorious Ugandan rebel force called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) — could hamper the fight against the new outbreak.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visiting the area, on Sunday called for “free and secure access” for health workers, the agency said in a statement.

The outbreak in North Kivu was declared a week after WHO and the Kinshasa government hailed the end of a flareup in northwestern Equateur province which killed 33 people.

In the worst Ebola epidemic, the disease struck the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013-15, killing more than 11,300 people.

 

 

 


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Multi-gene Test May Find Risk for Heart Disease and More

You know your cholesterol, your blood pressure … your heart gene score? Researchers say a new way of analyzing genetic test data may one day help identify people at high risk of a youthful heart attack in time to help.

Today, gene testing mostly focuses on rare mutations in one or a few genes, like those that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, or the BRCA gene responsible for a small fraction of breast cancer. It is less useful for some of the most common diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, because they are influenced by vast numbers of genes-gone-wrong working together in complicated ways.

Monday, researchers reported a new way to measure millions of small genetic variations that add up to cause harm, letting them calculate someone’s inherited risk for the most common form of heart disease and four other serious disorders. The potential cardiac impact: They estimated that up to 25 million Americans may have triple the average person’s risk for coronary artery disease even if they haven’t yet developed warning signs like high cholesterol.

“What I foresee is in five years, each person will know this risk number, this ‘polygenic risk score,’ similar to the way each person knows his or her cholesterol,” said Dr. Sekar Kathiresan who led the research team from the Broad Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

If the approach pans out and doctors adopt it, a bad score wouldn’t mean you’d get a disease, just that your genetic makeup increases the chance — one more piece of information in deciding care. For example, when the researchers tested the system using a DNA database from Britain, less than 1 percent of people with the lowest risk scores were diagnosed with coronary artery disease, compared to 11 percent of people with the highest risk score.

“There are things you can do to lower the risk,” Kathiresan said — the usual advice about diet, exercise, cholesterol medication and not smoking helps.

On the flip side, a low-risk score “doesn’t give you a free pass,” he added. An unhealthy lifestyle could overwhelm the protection of good genes.

The scoring system also can predict an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, breast cancer and an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, the team reported in the journal Nature Genetics — noting that next steps include learning what might likewise lower those risks.

It doesn’t require the most sophisticated type of genetic testing. Instead, Kathiresan can calculate risk scores for those five diseases — eventually maybe more — simply by reanalyzing the kind of raw data people receive after sending a cheek swab to companies like 23andMe.

A geneticist who specializes in cardiovascular disease, he hopes to open a website where people can send in such data to learn their heart risk, as part of continuing research. Kathiresan and co-author Dr. Amit Khera, a Mass General cardiologist, are co-inventors on a patent application for the system.

Other scientists and companies have long sought ways to measure risk from multiple, additive gene effects — the “poly” in polygenic — and Myriad Genetics has begun selling a type of polygenic test for breast cancer risk.

But specialists in heart disease and genetics who weren’t involved with the research called the new findings exciting because of their scope.

“The results should be eye-opening for cardiologists,” said Dr. Charles C. Hong, director of cardiovascular research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The only disappointment is that this score applies only to those with European ancestry, so I wonder if similar scores are in the works for the large majority of the world population that is not white.”

Hong pointed to a friend who recently died of a massive heart attack despite being a super-fit marathon runner who’d never smoked, the kind of puzzling death that doctors have long hoped that a better understanding of genetics could help to prevent.

“Most of the variation in disease risk comes from an enormous number of very tiny effects” in genes, agreed Stanford University genetics professor Jonathan Pritchard. “This is the first time polygenic scores have really been shown to reach the level of precision where they can have an impact” on patient health.

First, the Boston-based team combed previous studies that mapped the DNA of large numbers of people, looking for links to the five diseases — not outright mutations but minor misspellings in the genetic code.

Each variation alone would have only a tiny effect on health. They developed a computerized system that analyzed how those effects add up, and tested it using DNA and medical records from 400,000 people stored in Britain’s UK Biobank. Scores more than three times the average person’s risk were deemed high.


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Calls for Action on Toxics White House Called ‘PR Nightmare’

Lauren Woeher wonders if her 16-month-old daughter has been harmed by tap water contaminated with toxic industrial compounds used in products like nonstick cookware, carpets, firefighting foam and fast-food wrappers.

Henry Betz, at 76, rattles around his house alone at night, thinking about the water his family unknowingly drank for years that was tainted by the same contaminants, and the pancreatic cancers that killed wife Betty Jean and two others in his household.

Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.

 

“You all made me out to be a liar,” Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminster, told Environmental Protection Agency officials at a hearing last month. The meeting drew residents and officials from Horsham and other affected towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and officials from some of the other dozens of states dealing with the same contaminants.

 

At “community engagement sessions” around the country this summer like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly — and decisively — to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

 

The Trump administration called the contamination “a potential public relations nightmare” earlier this year after federal toxicology studies found that some of the compounds are more hazardous than previously acknowledged.

 

PFAS have been in production since the 1940s, and there are about 3,500 different types. Dumped into water, the air or soil, some forms of the compounds are expected to remain intact for thousands of years; one public-health expert dubbed them “forever chemicals.”

 

EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority.

 

So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.

 

In 2016, the EPA set advisory limits — without any direct enforcement — for two kinds of PFAS that had recently been phased out of production in the United States. But manufacturers are still producing, and releasing into the air and water, newer versions of the compounds.

 

Earlier this year, federal toxicologists decided that even the EPA’s 2016 advisory levels for the two phased-out versions of the compound were several times too high for safety.

 

EPA says it will prepare a national management plan for the compounds by the end of the year. But Peter Grevatt, director of the agency’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, told The Associated Press that there’s no deadline for a decision on possible regulatory actions.

 

Reviews of the data, and studies to gather more, are ongoing.

 

Even as the Trump administration says it advocates for clean air and water, it is ceding more regulation to the states and putting a hold on some regulations seen as burdensome to business.

 

In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained PFAS.

 

“I know that you can’t bring back three people that I lost,” Betz, a retired airman, told the federal officials at the Horsham meeting. “But they’re gone.”

 

State lawmakers complained of “a lack of urgency and incompetency” on the part of EPA.

 

“It absolutely disgusts me that the federal government would put PR concerns ahead of public health concerns,” Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens declared.

 

After the meeting, Woeher questioned why it took so long to tell the public about the dangers of the compounds.

 

“They knew they had seeped into the water, and they didn’t tell anybody about it until it was revealed and they had to,” she said.

 

Speaking at her home with her toddler nearby, she asked, “Is this something that, you know, I have to worry? It’s in her.”

 

While contamination of drinking water around military bases and factories gets most of the attention, the EPA says 80 percent of human exposure comes from consumer products in the home.

 

The chemical industry says it believes the versions of the nonstick, stain-resistant compounds in use now are safe, in part because they don’t stay in the body as long as older versions.

 

“As an industry today… we’re very forthcoming meeting any kind of regulatory requirement to disclose any kind of adverse data,” said Jessica Bowman, a senior director at the American Chemistry Council trade group.

 

Independent academics and government regulators say they don’t fully share the industry’s expressed confidence about the safety of PFAS versions now in use.

 

“I don’t know that we’ve done the science yet to really provide any strong guidance” on risks of the kinds of PFAS that U.S. companies are using now, said Andrew Gillespie, associate director at the EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.

 

While EPA considers its next step, states are taking action to tackle PFAS contamination on their own.

 

In Delaware, National Guard troops handed out water after high levels of PFAS were found in a town’s water supply. Michigan last month ordered residents of two towns to stop drinking or cooking with their water, after PFAS were found at 20 times the EPA’s 2016 advisory level. In New Jersey, officials urged fishermen to eat some kinds of fish no more than once a year because of PFAS contamination.

 

Washington became the first state to ban any firefighting foam with the compound.

 

Given the findings on the compounds, alarm bells “should be ringing four out of five” at the EPA, Kerrigan Clough, a former deputy regional EPA administrator, said in an interview with the AP as he waited for a test for PFAS in the water at his Michigan lake home, which is near a military base that used firefighting foam.

 

“If the risk appears to be high, and you’ve got it every place, then you’ve got a different level” of danger and urgency, Clough said. “It’s a serious problem.”

 

Problems with PFAS surfaced partly as a result of a 1999 lawsuit by a farmer who filmed his cattle staggering, frothing and dying in a field near a DuPont disposal site in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for PFAS then used in Teflon.

 

In 2005, under President George W. Bush, the EPA and DuPont settled an EPA complaint that the chemical company knew at least by the mid-1980s that the early PFAS compound posed a substantial risk to human health.

 

Congress has since boosted the agency’s authority to regulate problematic chemicals. That includes toughening up the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and regulatory mandates for the EPA itself in 2016.

 

For PFAS, that should include addressing the new versions of the compounds coming into production, not just tackling old forms that companies already agreed to take offline, Goldman said.

 

“Otherwise it’s the game of whack-a-mole,” she said. “That’s not what you want to do when you’re protecting the public health.”

 


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UN Stepping Up Ebola Screening of Refugees Fleeing DR Congo

The U.N. refugee agency reports it is stepping up efforts to reduce the risk of the spread of the deadly Ebola virus as refugees flee DR Congo. Latest estimates put the number of confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in eastern DRC at 49, including 38 deaths.

The U.N. refugee agency is working closely with DRC authorities and other agencies on actions to contain Ebola on the national and regional level. But, its main focus is to monitor possible Ebola infections among refugees fleeing across the border, mainly to Uganda, from conflict ridden North Kivu and Ituri.

UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler says the number of newly arriving refugees into Uganda from these two Ebola affected provinces increased during July from 170 a day to 250 a day. He says the majority currently is crossing at the Kisoro border point.

“So UNHCR is working with WHO, UNICEF and other partners and with the Ministry of Health of Uganda to intensify screening for Ebola at all border entry points. And, additional health workers have been deployed in the border districts to improve response capacity,” he said.

Spindler notes the World Health Organization is not recommending any restriction on the movement of people. Therefore, he says UNHCR is urging countries neighboring DRC to allow refugees in need of protection to enter their territory and to include them into preparedness and response plans and activities.

The UNHCR says refugees are at the same risk of contracting and transmitting the Ebola virus disease as local farmers, merchants, business people and others moving through the area. Therefore, it urges governments and local communities not to adopt measures that single out refugees. Those measures may not be scientifically sound and will only serve to stigmatize and restrict refugees’ freedom of movement.

 

 

 


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NASA Sends Parker Solar Probe to ‘Go Touch the Sun’

A NASA spacecraft rocketed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible.

No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted.

“Fly baby girl, fly!!” project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before liftoff. She urged it to “go touch the sun!”

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

​Parker watches namesake go

For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of solar wind, a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun, 60 years ago.

“All I can say is, ‘Wow, here we go.’ We’re in for some learning over the next several years,”  Parker said.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn’t about to let it take off without him. Saturday morning’s launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

“I’m just so glad to be here with him,” said NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. “Frankly, there’s no other name that belongs on this mission.”

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe, the size of a small car and well under a ton, racing toward the sun.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun (150 million kilometers), and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.​

Speed record on agenda

Parker will start shattering records this fall.On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. By the time Parker gets to its 22nd orbit of the sun, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour).

Nothing from Planet Earth has ever hit that kind of speed.

Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do.

“To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’”

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe — it’s ours, after all — and so this is one of NASA’s big-time strategic missions. By better understanding the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted. In today’s tech-dependent society, everyone stands to benefit.

With this mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as the University of Chicago’s Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

“The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” Fox said. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.”

The spacecraft’s heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. If there’s any tilting, the spacecraft will correct itself so nothing gets fried. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

​Technology catches up to the dream

A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun’s punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

“We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said. “It’s incredible to be standing here today.”

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

“I’ll bet you 10 bucks it works,” Parker said.


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Eco-Friendly Soccer Club Aims to Inspire Others to Make Meaningful Choices

Talk about going green. One British soccer team has made it its goal to become the first professional sports team in the world to be certified carbon neutral. It’s an official designation recently awarded to the team by the Secretary in charge of Climate Change at the United Nations. But that’s not all. The team may also be the world’s first 100 percent vegan football club. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo has more.


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Confusion Reigns in Italy Over Child Vaccination Mandate

Italians are divided between those who think parents should have the right to decide whether to vaccinate their children and those who feel immunization programs must be decided by the government, which they believe has better access to information. Vaccine regulations differ widely across Europe, and the current situation in Italy is in limbo.

Italians enrolling their children in state-run nursery schools currently are uncertain if they need to provide evidence their children have had 10 vaccinations required by a law that came into effect in March. A week ago, the upper house of parliament voted through an amendment to remove that obligation. But to become law, it must also be approved by the lower house.

Parents have been told that for the time being they can simply provide a self-signed declaration that their children have been vaccinated. Many remain unclear whether their children will be allowed to go to school if they fail to provide a declaration or other evidence of the vaccinations.

A surge of more than 5,000 measles cases last year – the second largest outbreak in Europe – led the government run then by the Democratic Party to pass a bill requiring mandatory vaccinations. However, in the run-up to general elections this year, the 5-Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio and the League led by Matteo Salvini said they would do away with the law. Now in power, they appear to be keeping their promise

Speaking at a recent political rally near Florence, Salvini admitted he had vaccinated his own children and said that parents who have the best interests of their children at heart should be able to make that choice. He added that 10 vaccines are simply too many for some children and it is unthinkable that Italian children may not be able to enroll in school because they have not been vaccinated.

Salvini said a state that requires 10 vaccines must also give parents the certainty that nothing will happen to their children through pre-vaccine tests, which today do not exist. There are 15 European countries, he added, that do not even have a single mandatory vaccine. Noting that Italy now has the most compulsory vaccinations of any country in Europe, Salvini expressed the concern that some multinational or pharmaceutical company may have chosen Italian children as a testing ground.

Italy’s health minister, Giulia Grillo, a doctor and a member of the 5-Star Movement, has made clear the government believes the right balance must be struck between the right to education and the right to health.

Grillo said the 5-Star Movement is not opposed to vaccines and recognizes their importance and usefulness. She added that citizens need to be informed properly about vaccinations and that the National Health Service must provide support to parents and children before and after they are inoculated.

According to a 2010 survey of 27 EU states, plus Norway and Iceland, 15 countries do not have any mandatory vaccinations; the other 14 have at least one. The most common mandatory vaccine is against polio, followed by diphtheria and tetanus.


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Cars Powered by New Fuel Type Tested in Australia

Australian scientists have test driven two cars powered by a carbon-free fuel derived from ammonia.  A team from the Australian government’s research agency, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), says the pioneering technology will allow highly flammable hydrogen to be safely transported in the form of ammonia and used as a widely available fuel.  

Researchers have found a way to use a thin membrane to turn Australian-made hydrogen into ammonia.  This could be shipped safely to markets in Asia, as well as parts of Europe.  At its destination, the liquid ammonia would then be converted back into hydrogen, and used to power cars and buses,  as well as for electricity generation and industrial processes.

David Harris, CSIRO research director says “the special thing about the technology that we have is that it allows you to produce very pure hydrogen directly with a membrane system from ammonia.”

The technology has the support of Japanese car maker Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company.

‘Watershed moment’

Scientists say hydrogen, a highly-flammable gas that can be volatile and hard to transport safely, creates a low emission fuel for cars.  The Australian team describes the membrane technology that separates hydrogen from other gases as a “watershed moment for energy.”

Claire Johnson, the chief executive of Hydrogen Mobility Australia, an industry association, says the pioneering research could forever change the transport sector.

“We see that as a really exciting opportunity to decarbonize the transport sector, but also position Australia as one of the lead suppliers of hydrogen around the world.  There is some competition to play that role, however.  Norway, Brunei and Saudi Arabia have all flagged that they wish to be an exporter of hydrogen around the world.”

There are only a handful of hydrogen-powered cars in Australia, but there are tens of thousands across Japan, South Korea and Singapore.  The South Korean government has recently announced plans for 16,000 more hydrogen-fueled cars and 310 special refilling stations.  

 


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