Daily Archives: January 29, 2015

With new Ebola cases reaching record low, UN health agency targets ending epidemic

29 January 2015 – This week, the number of new Ebola cases recorded in West Africa fell below 100 for the first time in seven months, the World Health Organization reported today as it announced that the battle against the deadly virus has shifted from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.

“To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” WHO said in its latest update containing data up to 25 January 2015.

The WHO announcement came as the United Nations focused on recovery aspects of the Ebola epidemic that affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone the most.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Ebola, Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was to participate in a UN-African Union stakeholders meeting in the Ethiopian capital on the reconstruction of the affected countries, as the Executive Boards of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was meeting today on Ebola Recovery at UN headquarters.

According to WHO, the response to the Ebola epidemic has now moved to a second phase, “as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.”

Geographical distribution of new and total confirmed cases

The agency in its update, said “for the first time since the week ending 29 June 2014, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in the 3 most-affected countries.”

“A combined total of 99 confirmed cases were reported from the 3 countries in the week to 25 January: 30 in Guinea, 4 in Liberia, and 65 in Sierra Leone,” according to the WHO update.

“Case incidence continues to fall in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” it said, but noted that “Guinea reported 30 confirmed cases in the week to 25 January, up from 20 confirmed cases in the previous week.”

The number of total cases was reported at more than 22,000 with some 8,800 deaths.

Global warming won’t lead to more storms, but will make storms stronger

Extreme weatherGlobal warming won’t lead to more storms, but will make storms stronger

Published 30 January 2015

A study by atmospheric physicists finds that global warming will not lead to an overall increasingly stormy atmosphere, a topic debated by scientists for decades. Instead, strong storms will become stronger while weak storms become weaker, and the cumulative result of the number of storms will remain unchanged.

A study led by atmospheric physicists at the University of Toronto finds that global warming will not lead to an overall increasingly stormy atmosphere, a topic debated by scientists for decades. Instead, strong storms will become stronger while weak storms become weaker, and the cumulative result of the number of storms will remain unchanged.

We know that with global warming we’ll get more evaporation of the oceans,” said Frederic Laliberte, a research associate at U of T’s physics department and lead author of a study published this week in Science. “But circulation in the atmosphere is like a heat engine that requires fuel to do work, just like any combustion engine or a convection engine.”

A U of T release notes that the atmosphere’s work as a heat engine occurs when an air mass near the surface takes up water through evaporation as it is warmed by the Sun and moves closer to the Equator. The warmer the air mass is, the more water it takes up. As it reaches the Equator, it begins to ascend through the atmosphere, eventually cooling as it radiates heat out into space.

Cool air can hold less moisture than warm air, so as the air cools, condensation occurs, which releases heat. When enough heat is released, air begins to rise even further, pulling more air behind it producing a thunderstorm. The ultimate “output” of this atmospheric engine is the amount of heat and moisture that is redistributed between the Equator and the North and South Poles.

By viewing the atmospheric circulation as a heat engine, we were able to rely on the laws of thermodynamics to analyze how the circulation would change in a simulation of global warming,” said Laliberte. “We used these laws to quantify how the increase in water vapor that would result from global warming would influence the strength of the atmospheric circulation.”

The researchers borrowed techniques from oceanography and looked at observations and climate simulations. Their approach allowed them to test global warming scenarios and measure the output of atmospheric circulation under warming conditions.

We came up with an improved technique to comprehensively describe how air masses change as they move from the Equator to the poles and back, which let us put a number on the energy efficiency of the atmospheric heat engine and measure its output,” said Laliberte.

The scientists concluded that the increase in water vapor was making the process less efficient by evaporating water into air that is not already saturated with water vapor. They showed that this inefficiency limited the strengthening of atmospheric circulation, though not in a uniform manner. Air masses that are able to reach the top of the atmosphere are strengthened, while those that cannot are weakened.

Put more simply, powerful storms are strengthened at the expense of weaker storms,” said Laliberte. “We believe atmospheric circulation will adapt to this less efficient form of heat transfer and we will see either fewer storms overall or at least a weakening of the most common, weaker storms.”

— Read more in Frederic Laliberte et al., “Constrained work output of the moist atmospheric heat engine in a warming climate,” Science 347, no. 6221 (30 January 2015): 540-43 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1257103)

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Ebola epidemic ebbing: WHO

EbolaEbola epidemic ebbing: WHO

Published 30 January 2015

The World Health Organization(WHO) has reported fewer than 100 new cases of Ebola in West Africa in the last week, which means the outbreak could soon reach its end. Some of the resources allocated to building treatment centers for thousands of sick people are now being diverted to contact-tracing efforts. “Efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” read the WHO’s latest situation report.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported fewer than 100 new cases of Ebola in West Africa in the last week, which means the outbreak could soon reach its end. Some of the resources allocated to building treatment centers for thousands of sick people are now being diverted to contact-tracing efforts.

“Efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” read the WHO’s latest situation report.

The Guardian reports that all previous outbreaks, although on a far smaller scale, have been stopped by tracing and monitoring people who might have made physical contact with someone infected with the virus. Currently, only 50 percent of new cases in Liberia are from people who are known contacts of those who were sick. The figure is 30 percent in Guinea.

The shift in tactics is occurring just as scientists in Guinea report that the virus is mutating. “We know the virus is changing quite a lot,” human geneticist Dr. Anavaj Sakuntabhai told the BBC. “That’s important for diagnosing (new cases) and for treatment. We need to know how the virus (is changing) to keep up with our enemy.”

Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France are now trying to track mutations that could make it easier or harder for the virus to infect others.

Viruses mutate to increase their chances of survival. With Ebola, there have been cases of people who were infected but showed no symptoms. “These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly but more contagious, and that’s something we are afraid of,” Sakuntabhai said.

The reduction in new Ebola cases will make it challenging to trial vaccines against the disease. Trials of the vaccine by GlaxoSmithKline, were due to start among health and burial workers in Liberia, but the country only received four new cases last week. Sierra Leone had sixty-five new cases, while Guinea had thirty. The trial will compare the numbers of people who will become ill among vaccinated and unvaccinated groups of people. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published resultsfrom a second round of safety trials of the same vaccine conducted by Oxford University. The results showed no safety concerns, but researchers claim the sixty human volunteers did not experience “as strong an immune system response to the vaccine as scientists would have liked.”

“These results show that the vaccine has the potential to work, particularly in the people who responded strongly, but I have some doubts about its ultimate effectiveness as the vaccine moves into tests in Africa,” said Dr. Ben Neuman, a lecturer in virology at the University of Reading.

Since the start of the epidemic, about 8,800 people have died out of the 22,000 Ebola cases reported in West Africa.

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UN denounces killing of journalists

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Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The recent killings of journalists in South Sudan and in Iraq have been denounced by the United Nations Cultural Agency, UNESCO.

The Director-General Irina Bokova called on governments on Thursday to improve the safety of media workers in the country.

Stephanie Castro reports.

The death of the five South Sudanese journalists has been described by the UNESCO chief as a “blow to freedom of information and freedom of expression”.

The attack took place in Western Bahr el Ghazal on 25 January. A total of 11 people died in the roadside ambush by unidentified gunmen.

Four of the reporters worked for the state-run Raja FM station and the fifth was a cameraman with the public television channel, SSTV.

Two of the slain media workers were women.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi broadcaster, Ali Al-Ansari, was killed on 23 January while covering a military operation conducted by Iraqi Security Forces against extremist groups.

Ms Bokova called for a better protection of journalists working in dangerous environments.

Stephanie Castro, United Nations.

Duration: 44″

UN AND AFRICA: Farmers in Malawi in urgent need of help after heavy flooding

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Damaged Jali-Phalombe road and bridge in Malawi. Photo: WFP/Steve Khuleya

• Devastating floods in Malawi have left thousands of farmers without crops and livestock, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The agency estimates that 60,000 hectares of land and 250,000 farming families have been affected by the heavy rains that have hit the Southern African country. FAO says there is a “very narrow window” to replant crops.

Tracing Ebola “difficult and dangerous” job in Guinea

Photo: WHO/C. Banluta

• In Guinea finding people who have come in contact with a family member or friend infected with Ebola is not only difficult but also dangerous, according to the UN. The intervention, called “contact tracing” is being used to effectively control the Ebola Virus Disease outbreaks in the West African region. In September last year, eight members of an outreach team died after being attacked with stones and clubs by villagers from Wome in the southeast of the country.

Child soldiers in South Sudan released from army

Children in South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS/Ilya Medvedev

• Around 3000 child soldiers in South Sudan are scheduled to be released from fighting, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The children were recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army’s Cobra Faction. Some had been fighting for almost four years in the country’s civil conflict. UNICEF, which is facilitating the process, says close to 250 children have already been demobilized and will soon start to be reintegrated in schools.

Producer/Presenter: Derrick Mbatha
Production Assistant: Sandra Guy
Studio Engineer: Shalako Gordon
Duration: 10’00”