New York City Bathroom Aims to Prevent Drug Overdoses

A specially-outfitted bathroom in New York City has been converted into a safe haven for drug users. The goal: to curb an overdose crisis that’s sweeping the United States. New data shows drug overdoses killed 47,000 people nationwide in the 12 month period that ended in November 2017. Aside from preventing such deaths, studies show facilities like the one in New York can also reduce HIV infections and emergency calls about overdoses. But the program has its critics. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.


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FDA Approves Drug to Stop Some Malaria Relapses

U.S. regulators Friday approved a simpler, one-dose treatment to prevent relapses of malaria.

Standard treatment now takes two weeks and studies show many patients don’t finish taking every dose.

Malaria is caused by parasites that are spread to people through mosquito bites. Anti-malarial drugs can cure the initial infection, but parasites can get into the liver, hide in a dormant form and cause recurrences months or years later. A second drug is used to stop relapses.

The new drug, GlaxoSmithKline’s Krintafel, only targets the kind of malaria that mainly occurs in South America and Southeast Asia. Most malaria cases and deaths are in Africa, and they involve another species.

In testing, one dose of Krintafel worked about the same as two weeks of the standard treatment, preventing relapses in about three-quarters of patients in six months, the company said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for patients 16 and older, according to GlaxoSmithKline. The company said it’s the first new treatment in six decades for preventing relapses.

GlaxoSmithKline plans to apply soon for approval in Brazil, then other countries where the malaria type is common. It says it will sell the pills at low cost in poor countries.

Millions infected worldwide

Worldwide, malaria infects more than 200 million people a year and kills about half a million, most of them children in Africa. It causes fever, headache, chills and other flulike symptoms. The malaria type Krintafel targets causes about 8.5 million infections annually.

The British drugmaker, working with the World Health Organization, is also developing what could be the world’s first malaria vaccine, but early testing indicates it’s not very effective. Prevention now focuses on using insecticides and bed nets.


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US Loses Latest Attempt to Stop Youths’ Climate Change Suit

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected the Trump administration’s renewed bid to dismiss a lawsuit by young activists who say it is ignoring the perils of climate change.

By a 3-0 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the government fell short of the “high bar” needed to dismiss the Oregon case, originally brought in 2015 against the administration of President Barack Obama.

Twenty-one children and young adults accused federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment but doing nothing about it.

The government contended that letting the case proceed would be too burdensome, unconstitutionally pit the courts against the executive branch, and require improper “agency decision-making” by forcing officials to answer questions about climate change.

But the appeals court said the issues raised “are better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.”

An earlier government bid to end the case failed in March.

The activists, whose ages range from preteen to the early 20s, are seeking various environmental remedies. A trial is scheduled for Oct. 29 in the federal court in Eugene, Oregon.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for the activists did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The case is U.S. et al v U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. No. 18-71928.


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Autonomous Boats Can Offer Help on the Water

If there can be driverless cars on the road, why not driverless boats on the water? Faith Lapidus has details of a team building a robotic boat, and what they want it to do.


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Trump Administration Wants to Scrap Some Species Protection

The Trump administration wants to scrap automatic federal protection for threatened plants and animals, a move that would anger environmentalists but please industry.

A proposal unveiled Thursday would no longer grant threatened species the same instant protection given to endangered species. It would also limit what can be declared a critical habitat for such plants and animals.

Officials with the Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that they wanted to streamline regulations. They said current rules under the Endangered Species Act were inconsistent and confusing.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the new rules would still be very protective of endangered animals.

“At the same time, we hope that they ameliorate some of the unnecessary burden, conflict and uncertainty that is within our current regulatory structure,” he told reporters.

But conservationists called the changes a “wrecking ball” and a gift to big businesses.

“They could decide that building in a species habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn’t constitute harm,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald said.

Industries such as logging, mining and oil drilling have long complained that the Endangered Special Act has stopped them from gaining access to new sources of energy and has stifled economic development.


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Doctors Can Prevent More Amputations With Limb Saving Surgery

For more than 30 years, doctors have worked to save people’s arms and legs. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports, saving a limb after an accident or infection can take an entire team of specialists at a limb preservation center.


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Thai Elephants Help Spread Jungle Fruit’s Seeds

Massive fruit trees in the Thailand evergreen forest need massive herbivores to help spread their seeds, according to a new study.

Based on the diets and habits of mammals, scientists found that elephants are the best allies for the Thai Annonaceae tree to spread its seeds.

In the diverse environment of Khao Yai National Park, there is a complex set of relationships between the plants and animals. Not every species of fruiting tree is an attractive meal to all herbivores. A team of researchers, led by Kim McConkey from the University of Nottingham, set out to study one particular tree, the Platymitra macrocarpa from the family of custard apple trees.

The p. macrocarpa produces 3-to-5-inch fruit that are ripe from May through August. McConkey tracked how often animals visited the trees and ate the fruit, including elephants, bears, monkeys, gibbons and Sambar deer. They measured the animals’ fruit consumption as well as the ensuing seed dispersal and seed viability.

Researchers found the seeds in the dung of some species while others like the Sambar deer regurgitated the large seeds. When asked about tracking animal poop, McConkey admitted, “I’ve got two boys so they just love what I do.”

As expected, the Asian elephants were the major seed dispersers for the p. macrocarpa. Elephants aren’t often seen in the area of the trees McConkey studied, but as she told VOA, “I thought if I’m going to see them feed on any fruit, it’s going to be this one.” Her hunch was borne out in the data, with elephants consuming only 3 percent of the fruit but producing 37 percent of the viable seedlings.

These findings regarding the Asian elephants point to the important role they play in the ecosystem. Jedediah Brodie, chair of conservation in the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana, told VOA that “overhunting in the tropics often drives large animals locally extinct but leaves smaller species like rodents. And this study shows that those smaller animals just are not able to replicate the ecological role of the larger species.”

When looking at the performance of other species, the researchers were surprised by how effective Sambar deer were at dispersing seeds. “Sambar deer generally have quite a bad rap in these forests,” McConkey said. “People think they’re seed predators, but it turns out they actually do disperse a lot of seeds.” While the Sambar deer weren’t quite as effective seed dispersers as gibbons (21 percent), they still produced a respectable 17 percent.

Bruchid beetles were the primary challenge to producing viable seedlings. The beetles, which are known to infest all kinds of seeds and beans, spoiled most of the seeds left exposed on the forest floor. Unlike the regurgitated seeds of the sambar deer, the seeds went through the elephants’ digestive system and were covered by excrement. The seeds were protected from beetles and provided with an effective, natural fertilizer and were able to survive and grow into seedlings.

It is easy to think of animals adapting to their environment through evolution and behavioral change, but we rarely consider the same relationship in the opposite direction. The massive Platymitra macrocarpa has perhaps evolved to provide fruit that appeals to more than one frugivore.

As McConkey told VOA, “The husk of the fruit — it’s like the outer covering of the fruit — has become very thick, and it’s that outer covering that deer eat. But if you open up the fruit, each seed is covered by this juicy, soft pulp, and it’s that that the monkeys and gibbons like.” She thinks that this might be a case where the tree evolved to appeal to multiple animal species to increase the chance of spreading viable seeds.

Despite the variety of animals eating the seeds, elephants are still the tree’s best chance of producing viable seedlings. When asked what might happen if elephants were to disappear from the region, Brodie responded, “That’s the million-dollar question.”

This research is published in PLOS ONE.


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Critics See Japan Anti-Smoking Law as Lax

Japan on Wednesday approved its first national legislation banning smoking inside public facilities, but the watered-down measure excludes many restaurants and bars and is seen by critics as toothless.

The legislation aims to lower secondhand smoking risks ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics amid international calls for a smoke-free event. But ruling party lawmakers with strong ties to the tobacco and restaurant industries opted for a weakened version.

The upper house approved and enacted the bill into law Wednesday after it was approved earlier by the lower house.

Last month, Tokyo separately enacted a stricter ordinance banning smoking at all eateries that have employees, to protect them from secondhand smoke. The ordinance will cover about 84 percent of Tokyo restaurants and bars.

But the law still allows many exceptions and the Tokyo Games may not be fully smoke-free.

Japan often has been called a smokers’ paradise. Until now it has had no binding law controlling secondhand smoke and ranked among the least protected countries by the World Health Organization. That has brought pressure from international Olympic officials. 

The new national law bans indoor smoking at schools, hospitals and government offices. Smoking will be allowed at existing small eateries, including those with less than 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) of customer space, which includes more than half of Japanese establishments. Larger and new eateries must limit smoking to designated rooms.

Violators can face fines of up to 300,000 yen ($2,700) for smokers and up to 500,000 yen ($4,500) for facility managers.

The law will be implemented in phases through April 2020. 

​’Too lenient’

The law allowing smoking at more than half of Japan’s restaurants as exceptions is inadequate, said Hiroyasu Muramatsu, a doctor serving on Tokyo’s anti-smoking committee. “The law is too lenient compared to international standards,” he told Japan’s NHK public television. “We need a full smoking ban.”

The health ministry’s initial draft bill called for stricter measures but faced opposition from lawmakers sympathetic to the restaurant industry. The government also was viewed as opposed to harsher measures because the former monopoly Japan Tobacco is still partly state-owned.

In Japan, almost a fifth of adults still smoke. The rate for men in their 30s to 50s is nearly twice as high, according to a government survey last year.

Most office workers now light up only in smoking rooms or outdoors, and cities are gradually imposing limits on outdoor smoking in public areas. But most restaurants and bars in Japan allow smoking, making them the most common public source of secondhand smoke. 

“Secondhand smoking has been largely considered an issue of the manners, but it’s not,” Kazuo Hasegawa, 47, a nonsmoker who has developed lung cancer, told NHK. “It’s about health hazards. It harms people. And I don’t want younger generations to have to suffer like me.”

In Japan, about 15,000 people, mainly women and children, die annually as a result of secondhand smoke, according to government and WHO estimates. 

 


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Can Polio Workers Overcome Complacency, Conflict, Donor Fatigue to End the Virus?

The world is close to eliminating the threat from polio, but to eradicate the disease, it must be eliminated everywhere. Health officials say that’s the tricky part, because if the virus responsible for the crippling disease exists anywhere, it can still spread worldwide. Sadie Witkowski reports on the challenges that face polio eradication efforts.


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Jupiter’s Moon Count Hits 79; One New Find Is Tiny ‘Oddball’

Astronomers are still finding moons at Jupiter, 400 years after Galileo used his spyglass to spot the first ones.

The latest discovery of a dozen small moons brings the total to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system last year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter’s backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. They saw a new group of objects moving around the giant gas planet but didn’t know whether they were moons or asteroids passing near Jupiter.

“There was no eureka moment,” said Sheppard, who led the team of astronomers. “It took a year to figure out what these objects were.”

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter. The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday. Two were confirmed earlier.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. They are about one to two kilometers across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

And he thinks Jupiter might have even more moons just as small waiting to be found.

“We just haven’t observed them enough,” said Williams, who helped confirm the moons’ orbits.

The team is calling one of the new moons an “oddball” because of its unusual orbit. Sheppard’s girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

Valetudo is in Jupiter’s distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation. Yet it’s orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm’s traffic.

“This moon is going down the highway the wrong way,” Sheppard said.

 Scientists believe moons like Valetudo and its siblings appeared soon after Jupiter formed. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it. Some of that debris was captured as moons.

“What astonishes me about these moons is that they’re the remnants of what the planet formed from,” he said.

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the latest discovery and confirmation.

Galileo detected Jupiter’s four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, in 1610. The latest count of 79 known moons includes eight that have not been seen for several years. Saturn is next with 61, followed by Uranus with 27 and Neptune with 14. Mars has two, Earth has one and Mercury and Venus have none. 


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