OFFICIAL WHO ENDORSEMENT.
The World Health Organization (WHO) held its inaugural summit on traditional medicine in Gandhinagar, India, co-sponsored by the Indian government. This follows WHO’s establishment of the Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Jamnagar and the inclusion of some traditional medicines in its International Classification of Diseases-11 in 2019. The summit aims to explore the integration of traditional medicines into mainstream healthcare and to foster scientific collaboration. Shyama Kuruvilla, WHO’s lead for the initiative, emphasized the significance of these treatments in certain regions. The gathering comprised representatives from all WHO regions, indigenous groups, traditional medicine experts, and data, policy, and science specialists. The WHO remains committed to endorsing only scientifically validated interventions and is calling for global standards for natural cosmetics and herbal medicine industries. Lisa Susan Wieland highlighted the need for robust research on traditional medicine’s safety and efficacy. While the summit is supported by many, there are concerns about uncritically promoting traditional medicine. G.L. Krishna, an advocate for evidence-based traditional medicine, stressed the importance of evaluating traditional systems through modern evidence-based methods. The Indian government has shown support for traditional medicine, and experts hope the summit will establish a detailed strategy to verify the authenticity and safety of traditional medicinal practices. (Nature)
PREVENTING FUTURE FLOODING.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has addressed the urgent need for measures to combat severe flooding that has caused significant death and destruction throughout China, including Beijing. State media reports that at least 90 rivers have exceeded warning levels, and 24 rivers have breached their banks. This places northeastern China, particularly the expansive Songliao Basin, under grave flooding risk. This basin area spans over 1.2 million square kilometers and is home to nearly 100 million people. Amid China’s main flood season, officials have been instructed to prioritize human safety and property, with emphasis on reinforcing dams and appropriately utilizing disaster relief funds. Essential infrastructures like schools, hospitals, and residential buildings need quick restoration or replacement. The nation’s recent heavy rainfall has led to the deaths of 142 people in July. Meanwhile, China faces economic challenges, with growth declining to 0.8% in the quarter ending June and youth unemployment reaching a peak of 21.3%. (Associated Press)
Residents of Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, hurried to evacuate due to a swiftly approaching wildfire. This comes amid Canada’s worst fire season on record, with over 5,700 fires scorching more than 137,000 square kilometers. As of Thursday, over 1,000 wildfires blazed nationwide, with over half uncontained. The fire near Yellowknife was a mere 16 kilometers from the city and threatened the only highway escape route. Premier Caroline Cochrane labeled the situation in the Northwest Territories as “unprecedented.” The evacuation of Yellowknife marked the largest of the year, with approximately 3,300 people airlifted from the city in two days. Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty emphasized the dual threat of the fire and approaching heavy smoke. PM Justin Trudeau called for consistent communication and warned against price hikes during the crisis. The fires heavily impacted Indigenous communities, disrupting vital cultural activities. Thousands have already evacuated from other territories, some reporting harrowing escapes from the flames. (Associated Press)
HURRICANE HEADED FOR CALIFORNIA.
Hurricane Hilary, which escalated rapidly to a Category 4 storm off Mexico’s Pacific coast, poses a threat to Southern California, potentially becoming the region’s first tropical storm in 84 years. The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported that Hilary had winds near 145 mph and was set to intensify further. It’s forecasted to approach Mexico’s Baja California peninsula as a hurricane by Saturday night and reach Southern California as a tropical storm by Sunday. The last tropical storm to land in Southern California occurred on Sept. 25, 1939. Hilary is anticipated to bring heavy rainfall to the Southwestern U.S., especially between Sunday and Wednesday, posing significant flood risks from San Diego to Las Vegas. Predicted rainfall amounts vary between 1 to 10 inches, depending on the region. In response to the anticipated conditions, SpaceX postponed a satellite rocket launch, and the city of Yuma is offering residents sandbags for flood preparation. (Associated Press)
CDC FOLLOWING NEW SARS-COV-2 VARIANT.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it is monitoring a new, highly mutated COVID-19 virus lineage named BA.2.86, detected in the U.S., Denmark, and Israel. The CDC’s protective advice against COVID-19 remains consistent despite this development. The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring” because of its many mutations, though it has been reported in only a few countries so far. This new lineage, with 36 mutations distinct from the dominant XBB.1.5 variant, is believed to trace back to an earlier branch of the virus. Dr. S. Wesley Long suggests its potential to outperform other strains or evade immune responses is still uncertain. Early analysis by virologist Jesse Bloom suggests BA.2.86 might have a similar or higher ability to escape antibodies than the XBB.1.5 variant. However, Bloom posits that BA.2.86 might be less contagious than prevailing variants. Dr. Long expresses concerns about a potential spike in cases but emphasizes the continuing importance of boosters. (Reuters)
FLAGGING MALARIA EARLY.
Malaria, an infectious disease resulting in over half a million deaths annually, is conventionally diagnosed through manual light microscopy, where experts inspect blood films for parasites. This method, though standard, heavily relies on the proficiency of the microscopist and can be affected by fatigue due to heavy workloads. To ease this burden, an international research team tested an automated system combining AI detection software and an automatic scanning microscope. As reported in “Frontiers in Malaria”, this AI system achieved an 88% diagnostic accuracy rate, nearly matching expert diagnoses. The research involved over 1,200 blood samples from travelers returning from malaria-endemic regions. While manual diagnosis found 113 positive samples, the AI system correctly identified 99. The automated system has potential benefits, including consistent results and scalability. However, it also mislabeled 122 samples as positive. Dr. Roxanne Rees-Channer emphasized the system’s promise but noted it’s not yet as accurate as expert microscopists. (Frontiers In)
Apple has potentially discovered an innovative solution to the challenge of using prescription lenses with Virtual Reality (VR) headsets: liquid lenses. Many VR devices are not compatible with glasses, making VR seem inaccessible for some users. A recent patent granted to Apple in the U.S. reveals a design for an “electronic device with liquid lenses.” These “tunable liquid lenses” can adjust their refractive index when electronic signals are sent to them, allowing them to rectify a broad spectrum of eyesight problems without any additional accessories. The headset’s eye-tracking system would calibrate the correction. The patent might also apply to a “pair of glasses,” possibly hinting at Apple’s rumored Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. However, it’s essential to understand that patents don’t necessarily lead to commercial products. If Apple does decide to incorporate liquid lenses into their headsets, it’s uncertain when they would be available. While the first-generation Vision Pro is slated for an early 2024 launch, liquid lenses may not be seen until the third-generation model, giving Apple time to perfect the design. (Tech Radar)
JUST SAY NO.
South Africa will instate a 10-year ban on commercial fishing around six areas inhabited by the endangered African penguin starting in 2024. This decision follows recommendations from an expert panel that identified a complete fishing ban as crucial for the penguin species’ revival, the only penguin species in Africa. Over three decades, African penguin breeding pairs in South Africa dwindled by 73% due to diminished anchovy and sardine populations, their primary food, caused by environmental shifts and commercial fishing.
From 2008 to 2021, an experimental fishing ban around specific islands for 3-year intervals revealed a modest 1% annual increase in the penguin population growth rate. Since 2021, certain areas have seen periodic fishing bans. Minister Barbara Creecy has expanded this ban based on expert advice, though the exact coverage may vary following inputs from fishing and conservation sectors.
Lauren Waller, an Endangered Wildlife Trust scientist, supports the long-term ban. She points out that it will help reduce the penguins’ food competition and allow more comprehensive research into the ban’s effects on penguin survival. The ban could also aid other endangered birds, the Cape gannet and Cape cormorant. However, challenges remain, such as pollution.
The fishing industry is apprehensive about potential job losses and reduced catches due to the ban. Still, some believe the ban’s impact on the fishing sector will be insignificant. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Minette Lontsie.