Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Reason: Hungry for Biotechnology: How Europe starves the world's poor

The promise of biotechnology in easing world hunger...

Reason: Hungry for Biotechnology: How Europe starves the world's poor: "The European Union and fellow traveling anti-biotech activists may well succeed in bottling up the next wave of genetically improved crops that aim directly at helping poor farmers in the developing world. How? Anti-biotech European regulations are spooking the governments of poor countries into preventing their farmers from growing the new genetically enhanced crops. And that’s a shame, because researchers in laboratories and plant breeding stations around the world are endowing new biotech crop varieties with traits like disease resistance and improved nutritional value."...

Then there is golden rice. Golden rice was the first crop developed specifically as a nutritional enhancement for hundreds of millions of vitamin A–deficient poor people whose main staple is rice. In the developing world some 500,000 people per year go blind due to vitamin A deficiency. Conventional rice produces almost no vitamin A. Golden rice has a yellow hue because it has been genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, the yellow precursor molecule that is turned into vitamin A by the body. The original version of golden rice released in 2000 contained beta-carotene genes from daffodils, and a serving of it provided about 20 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). A new version released this year, containing genes from corn (maize) has boosted the amount of beta-carotene per serving to 50 percent of the RDA. ...

PSD Blog - The World Bank Group - Private Sector Development

Ideas on how to Increase International Aid Effectiveness with multiple links...

PSD Blog - The World Bank Group - Private Sector Development: "How to increase aid effectiveness?

The U.K.’s DFID and the finance ministers of Burkina Faso and Tanzania were recently asked how they would increase aid effectiveness.

DFID favors greater country ownership:

…the most promising path to better aid is a “country-led” approach, in which governments of developing countries themselves define and lead the poverty reduction agenda.

Mr. Comparé (Burkina Faso) believes strengthening capacity is key:

The main difficulty… is persistently low absorption capacity for externally finance projects, with only about 70 percent of money committed by donors getting effectively disbursed.

While Mr. Mramba (Tanzania) touts ‘smart’ partnerships that:

…better coordinate and harmonize [donor] support and align it with national priorities and government systems and procedures.

For a summary of the many issues involved see Peter Heller on Making Aid Work or this World Bank reading list." - Aid is Not the Answer

This is a must-read editorial in today's WSJ imo for anyone interested in international development--it summarizes the main points of Mr. Prahalad's excellent book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid," which I have referenced numerous times on this blog... - Aid is Not the Answer: "

Aid is Not the Answer

August 31, 2005; Page A8

The G-8, led by Tony Blair and supported by Jeffery Sachs and Bono, believe that debt relief and a doubling of aid from rich countries to poor, especially in Africa, is the way to go. A less popular alternative focuses on the involvement of the private sector in poverty alleviation through the development of market-based ecosystems.

Irrespective of which route we take, we need to build an infrastructure to deal with poverty. There is an implicit aid overhead. According to Prof. Sachs, out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing. How much of the remaining 40% escaped corrupt officials to benefit the intended recipients is not known.

Take America's approach to aid. Of the $1 billion in food aid provided by the U.S. in 2004, 90% of it was spent on U.S. produce. George Bush's plan for AIDS required that all groups receiving cash for drugs use FDA-approved drugs (typically expensive branded products) rather than invest in generic drugs and prevention programs likely to work in a specific country. The poor (the intended beneficiaries), or the NGOs and foundations working with them, receive a small percentage of the total aid and have very little say in how it is used. Aid may benefit aid givers and aid administrators as much as aid recipients.

In contrast, private sector investments must focus on making a return on investment. While building an infrastructure -- in this case a market-based ecosystem -- managers recognize that the percentage of funds allocated to overheads and non-revenue-generating investments must be stringently controlled. Because of the accountability for profits, private sector investments tend to be subject to less corruption.

Proponents of aid recognize, rightly, that the poor do not have access to even the basics of an acceptable quality of life. Somewhat syllogistically, they conclude from this that the poor cannot create wealth. Hence the need, they argue, to give them something -- an exercise, in essence, of wealth substitution...

When established private sector firms (including multinationals) start to look at those at the bottom of the economic pyramid -- about five billion people in all -- as potential consumers, the entire process of poverty alleviation takes on a new perspective. The motivation of entrepreneurs and the private sector is profit. They recognize that there is money to be made by serving consumer needs in the poorest countries in the world. And they are right...

Global firms increasingly realize that the bottom-of-the-pyramid markets are a source of innovation in business models -- potentially, even, of "breakthrough" innovation. Innovations in technology, capital intensity, delivery, governance (e.g. in collaboration with civil society organizations) and price-performance levels are all needed to create a market at the lowest-income level. To "make poverty history," leaders in private, public and civil-society organizations need to embrace entrepreneurship and innovation as antidotes to poverty. Wealth-substitution through aid must give way to wealth-creation through entrepreneurship.

Photojournalist shots for Mercy Ships

Chek out this link which features a photojournalist who is covering the Christian charity, Mercy Ships. If you click on the patient link on this site , you will see some typical tumors seen in Africa and the results of surgery for these. These are the types of tumors that my friend, Dr.Devin Harrison saw on a regular basis during his last two years in Nigeria.

Wired News: Scientists Decipher Chimp DNA

Wired News: Scientists Decipher Chimp DNA: "Scientists have deciphered the DNA of the chimpanzee, the closest living relative of humankind, and made comprehensive comparisons with the human genetic blueprint. It's a step toward finding a biological answer to a key question: What makes us human?

There are no firm answers yet about how humans picked up key traits such as walking upright and developing complex language. But the work has produced a long list of DNA differences with the chimp and some hints about which ones might be crucial."...

Humans and chimps have evolved separately since splitting from a common ancestor about 6 million years ago, and their DNA remains highly similar -- about 96 percent to almost 99 percent identical, depending on how the comparison is made.

Still, the number of genetic differences between a human and a chimp is about 10 times more than between any two humans, the federal genome institute says. It's the differences -- some 40 million -- that attract the attention of scientists. ...

PSP-One: Resource Center: Resource Details

I haven't read the entire document, but it looks interesting...

PSP-One: Resource Center: Resource Details: "Private Health Insurance: Implications for Developing Countries

By Neelam Sekhri, William Savedoff

Contributed By WHO


Private health insurance is playing an increasing role in both high- and low-income countries, yet is poorly understood by researchers and policy-makers. This paper shows that the distinction between private and public health insurance is often exaggerated since well regulated private insurance markets share many features with public insurance systems. It notes that private health insurance preceded many modern social insurance systems in western Europe, allowing these countries to develop the mechanisms, institutions and capacities that subsequently made it possible to provide universal access to health care. We also review international experiences with private insurance, demonstrating that its role is not restricted to any particular region or level of national income. The seven countries that finance more than 20% of their health care via private health insurance are Brazil, Chile, Namibia, South Africa, the United States, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. In each case, private health insurance provides primary financial protection for workers and their families while public health-care funds are targeted to programmes covering poor and vulnerable populations. We make recommendations for policy in developing countries, arguing that private health insurance cannot be ignored. Instead, it can be harnessed to serve the public interest if governments implement effective regulations and focus public funds on programmes for those who are poor and vulnerable. It can also be used as a transitional form of health insurance to develop experience with insurance institutions while the public sector increases its own capacity to manage and finance health-care coverage." Print Page: TIME Magazine -- Who Speaks for Her?

More on Sudan from Time magazine... Print Page: TIME Magazine -- Who Speaks for Her?: "The rapes continued through the day. Kicked and beaten, their hands bound behind their backs, the women lay side by side on the dusty earth beneath Sudan's scorching sun. Nine in all, they were spoils of war, taken last April from their village of Khor Abeche in a dawn raid by the Arab militiamen known as Janjaweed, who had descended on camels and horses and in pickups mounted with machine guns. The women's village, on the cusp of rebel and government redoubts in South Darfur, was burned and looted; their husbands and fathers and brothers were shot when they protested.

At the Janjaweed camp, the men took turns smothering the women's faces in their long, colorful shawls. The victims were told they were the rebels' whores and daughters, they recounted to TIME, and when they cried out, they were threatened with death. As the blistering day gave way to a chill dusk, the women lay there, denied food and water, some sobbing and others asleep from exhaustion. With the morning came the rebels' counterattack. The Janjaweed fled, leaving the women behind."

Nearly 2 1/2 years since fighting erupted between African rebels and government-backed Arab militias in Sudan's western Darfur region, the horror continues. When TIME published a cover story last October on the unfolding genocide against Darfur's non-Arab Muslims, some 50,000 had died and 1.4 million had been forced from their homes. Since then, the war has claimed tens of thousands more; 2.4 million are now displaced.

Taking Action Now: An Interview with Nate Wright

An interesting interview with a student activist for Darfur...

Taking Action Now: An Interview with Nate Wright: "Among the few who have stepped up to fill the void is 21-year-old Georgetown senior Nate Wright. A year ago, Wright co-founded Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) with senior Ben Bixby, the president of the campus’s Jewish Student Association, and with help from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Their goal was to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide, raise relief funds for humanitarian aid, and lobby for immediate political action. To their surprise, their plan didn’t just light a spark at Georgetown—it spread like wildfire to other schools, and Wright’s national STAND Coalition now has tens of thousands of students connected across nearly 200 campuses in the United States and Canada."...

MJ: What was it like producing that documentary? What was it like being there?

NW: You want to be able to go over there and say that when you come back, things are going to change. You want to be able to promise [the refugees] so much more than you can deliver them. It definitely gives you an incredible sense of helplessness when you can’t really bring them anything more than a voice. I mean, they are incredibly grateful just for the opportunity to be heard and to know that they haven’t been forgotten, but there is sort of this sense of helplessness. At the same point in time, there are so many absolutely amazing stories. The first refugee that we met as we were going to these camps in eastern Chad started talking about these students from D.C. who were giving up their privileges to help the people in Darfur. It even took me a minute to realize that he was talking about the project that we had done: When we did that first STANDFast back in November, myself and several other of the students did an interview with Voice of America, and he could have been listening to my voice. It was something that he was incredibly touched by—the fact that students in the United States hadn’t forgotten about them and cared about them and were trying to do something to make their lives better.

And even though everyone would talk about how they didn’t have enough food and water, whenever you walked into anyone’s tent, you would have to ask them not bring you any food or water because they’re just so hospitable. Even though they can tell you’ve got money—we’re wearing clothing that hasn’t been torn apart—to see these people in these conditions offering you food and water, it’s incredibly moving. I don’t think that they can really understand how people in the United States could see this and not do something. It really seemed as if that idea was beyond them, that someone could see their suffering and not want to help them....

Off camera, Darfur deteriorates - The Boston Globe

From the fomer director of African affairs at the National Security Council...

Off camera, Darfur deteriorates - The Boston Globe: "THE DEATH of Sudan's rebel leader-turned-vice-president John Garang has pushed the crisis in Darfur even further off the international radar screen. While the peace agreement that Garang crafted between his southern-based rebels and the Khartoum government has paved the way for a new government of national unity, Darfur is now suffering stage two of the ruling party's brutal counterinsurgency strategy. Stage one was well documented: the wholesale annihilation of the way of life and livelihoods of the civilian supporters of the rebellion. The Bush administration called this genocide.

Stage two, however, occurs largely off camera. The engineers of Darfur's agony are gradually exterminating the survivors of stage one -- the 2.5 million frightened civilians living in hastily erected camps. The rape of women is systematic and relentless, access to humanitarian aid is denied, and vulnerable Darfurians are losing their will to survive..."

The war in Darfur illustrates the two fundamental elements of the ruling party's strategy for maintaining power. First, its backers kill and displace as many people as they can until the international spotlight shines too brightly. Then, they turn the ethnic diversity of Sudan into an instrument of war and political control. It is a pattern of destruction that defines 16 years of misrule: in the oil fields, throughout other parts of the south, in the central Nuba Mountains, and now in Darfur...

The crisis in Sudan would abate rapidly if the international community, led by the United States, pursued three simultaneous policy tracks: civilian protection, peace promotion, and war crimes accountability.

Check out!

If you are like me, you are in the habit of searching google or yahoo only on the net. But this comparison tool from shows in a graphical manner how little overlap there is between the two search engines.

Here is the link:

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Woe unto you, ye shall hunger

From African Bullets and Honey...

I am in a sad mood today having just had an argument with someone very close to me and so have been seeing ill portents and darkness everywhere I look. And so this little story on Reuters caught my eye and seeing as I was already feeling kind of messed up, reduced me to hot little tears. Yes, I know, it is rather dramatic. It turns out that there is now food being made in factories just for starving Africans. Some of our societies have failed to the point that even food can no longer be taken for granted and charity has become a way of life. Plumpy'nut - made of peanut paste, sugar and a special vitamin - is not being made to feed people in hunger camps, it is being advertised as a charity intervention before starvation really strikes. In other words, preparations must be made for Africans even before they have started starving since it is reliably known that the need will be there sooner or later. "We wanted a product that doesn't need to be mixed with water and fulfils all nutritional needs; we also believe food should taste good. Maybe that's a French thing," says Michel Lescanne, the creator of Plumpy'nut which is made in a 'picturesque' village in Northern France. Nutriset, the product's maker, though formed as a non-profit, has few corporate rivals. With a staff of 50, its turnover is expected to be 15 million euros in 2005, a 50 percent increase on last year. It will produce some 2,500 tonnes of Plumpy'nut that will feed a quarter million children. So there you have it and good luck to them. If African entrepreneurs will not step in to create cheap food products then their countrymen shall either starve or shall provide opportunity for others. African misery is the greatest natural resource in that continent. While people argue about gold and oil, no one notices that there is far more money generated by the humanitarian industry on the basis of African misery than by mining or drilling corporates. It makes me wonder whether Niger has businesspeople at all. See more on Plumpy'nut.

The Zimbabwean Pundit: Death (of a nation) by constitution

Mugabe continues to consolidate power and kill his beautiful country...

The Zimbabwean Pundit: Death (of a nation) by constitution:

The draft version of a bill purporting to amend Zimbabwe's constitution was introduced in parliament this week largely unnoticed in MSM the world over. Sadly for those of us for whom the Zimbabwean crisis is an inescapable reality, the proposed 17th amendment is going to effectively eradicate property rights,cinch off the last outlets our beleagured populace had left to mitigate the harsh circumstances at home and expose the national fiscus to further ZANU-PF looting by reintroducing senate.

ethiopundit: Revolutionary Democracy Recycled

Revolutionary Democracy vs Revolutionary Feudal Aristocracy in Ethiopia...

ethiopundit: Revolutionary Democracy Recycled:

All this at whatever cost to the 70 million hostages of the tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy in power. It remains important to understand revolutionary democracy, because it is as fundamentally destructive as any policy that came out of Mengistu's Dergue.

The big difference is the need to accomadate the imperialist camp (donor nations) which won the Cold War with the pretense of freedom and free markets. Another fundamental difference is that this government is far more intelligent (not necessarily a good thing) than the Dergue while sharing its destructive totalitarian worldview.

Indeed, one of the interesting features of the internal document is the obstacles put forth by 'imperialists' (the donor community) to the program and how to manipulate them inot financing what is essentially an economic plan for eternal poverty, begging and lack of freedom.

interim thoughts...: India, operating models and innovation

India and technology...

interim thoughts...: India, operating models and innovation:

India, operating models and innovation

In the recent Businessweek issue on India and China, BW had a piece on some unique business operating models in India. It talks about ITC limiteds e-choupal scheme which is the name given for a VSAT linked computer terminal in a village which farmers can use to seek latest prices of crops before selling the same. It prevents the farmers from getting cheated at the hands of middlemen.

...would access the company's intranet -- dubbed e-chaupal, for electronic 'town square' -- twice a day to check ITC's own offer price for produce, as well as prices in the closest village market, in the state capital, in New Delhi, and on the Chicago commodities exchange. The site relayed daily weather conditions and educated users about new farming techniques worldwide. In the evening, the local children took free lessons on the computer. In return, the farmers would usually give ITC first dibs on their crops, thus eliminating the middlemen...

The other example it provides is of Bharti Telecom which recently outsourced its entire network management operations to Ericsson.

... in February, 2004, Bharti became the largest telco in the world to try something truly radical. It outsourced its entire cellular network to its three existing equipment suppliers: Ericsson (ERICY ), Nokia (NOK ), and Siemens (SI ) -- a $725 million, three-year deal. The move to 'deep outsourcing' was revolutionary. Networks are as crucial to telecom players as engines are to auto makers. But it worked, and the effect on Bharti was profound. With executives no longer focused on managing the network, Bharti has turned its attention to marketing and customer service. In a year it has added 6 million subscribers...

It also talks about ICICI bank, which it says, has turned itself into a low-cost consumer bank by building its own high-tech back office and is expanding in rural India by setting up automated teller machines in villages...

Some other innovations that I think are unique are: ICICI (and a few other banks) allow transactions where one can use an ATM to donate money to temples. (Indians donate so much temples that the Tirupati temple is second only to Vatican in terms of the money received. Some say it is the richest.) Volvo in India leases buses rather than sell them to transport corporations (both private and government). The Simputer is another innovation from India, as is the home delivery of financial instruments (drafts) by some banks. There is also Air Deccan, which, at its cheapest, is perhaps the cheapest airline in the world (some of its tickets sell at INR 1, which is well, about 1/40th of a USD). Hindustan Lever Ltd., Unilevers subsidiary in India has a Project Shakti which is a micro credit program using SHGs (self help groups)

It is not to say that these models are the best or that working in India gives answers to every problem faced by any company in India, but with its diversity and population, it is a unique place by all means. India is slowly moving onto the international corporate resume as a "must have" destination.

Simon World :: Chinese and Indian Models

Development before democracy?

Simon World :: Chinese and Indian Models:

Chinese and Indian Models

No, no, not the type that pose in swimsuits and lingerie - I speak of their models of development. Before you close this browser window though, consider that the relative success or failure of these two great Asian nations may very well determine the course of the 21st century, and set the example for other developing countries to follow. An interesting survey in Business Week looked at the views of prominent Indians and Chinese on the comparison between the risks to India and China going forward.

What I found interesting is that all the Chinese interviewed declined to comment on risks facing India (probably because more Indians know about China's problems than the other way around). The Indians, on the other hand, all believed that the main risk China had was the one thing their country had that the Chinese did not - their lack of democracy. They think that sooner or later (and many seem to believe sooner) China's affluence will force political change. Only one Chinese saw that as a risk, and he was a political science professor in Canada.

What both countries had in common is that they both tried forms of government for several decades that proved to be dismal failures for their people. However, it is a common argument in both countries to say that they needed that experience of dismal failure to get it right this time around. In a sense, the government of neither country has changed since 1950 - India is still a democracy, China still run by the Communist Party. But only to hair splitters will it not be obvious that both countries have now emphasized economic development over economic equality and autarky, whereas the reverse was the case. My personal view is that India was unique amongst developing countries in that their independence in 1948 was more propelled from within, rather than only a need for the colonizing power (Britain) to give up the country (although that was a contributing factor

The Longevity Meme -- live healthily - fight aging - extend your life

The Longevity Meme -- live healthily - fight aging - extend your life:

Very good news for the branch of regenerative medicine that attempts to mimic the ability of certain lizards to regenerate entire body parts. The Australian reports that researchers 'have created 'miracle mice' that can regenerate amputated limbs or damaged vital organs, making them able to recover from injuries that would kill or permanently disable normal animals. The experimental animals are unique among mammals in their ability to regrow their heart, toes, joints and tail. And when cells from the test mouse are injected into ordinary mice, they too acquire the ability to regenerate.' It appears that this is 'controlled by about a dozen genes. Professor Heber-Katz says she is still researching the genes' exact functions, but it seems almost certain humans have comparable genes.' Wow. Full details to be presented at the SENS conference.

TCS: Tech Central Station - What If Syria Is Guilty?

Hariri and Syria...
TCS: Tech Central Station - What If Syria Is Guilty?:

BEIRUT -- Late last week, Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on behalf of the UN Security Council, released a preliminary report on his inquiry, scheduled to be completed by mid-September. The Western media have given relatively little attention to the investigation; however, if Syria is found guilty, as many observers are beginning to foresee, this could lead to the destabilization of Syria's regime, if not to its actual downfall.

NASA - Sunset Planets

For any of you who haven't had a chance to view this, it is truly beautiful!

Friday, August 26, 2005 Wire Story

Aresunate therapy decreases death rate from malaria in East Asia... Wire Story: "August 26,2005 | LONDON -- Treating adults with severe cases of malaria with the drug artesunate -- rather than quinine -- could save tens of thousands of lives in the developing world, new research suggests.

A study reported this week in The Lancet medical journal shows for the first time that artesunate is better at saving lives than the standard medication, quinine, reducing the chance of death from malaria by 35 percent.

Scientists have known for some years that the newer drug -- derived from a traditional herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat fever -- works more quickly, is easier to use and has fewer side effects. But it has been unclear whether it was any better at preventing death.

In the study, a team led by Dr. Nick White at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, compared the drugs in 1,461 adults with severe malaria being treated in hospitals in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Myanmar.

Half the patients were given intravenous artesunate, while the others were treated with quinine.

The researchers found that while 164, or 22 percent, of the patients on quinine died from their malaria, only 107, or 15 percent, of the patients getting artesunate died."

Press Release Archive

New finding---The Parietal lobe is involved in visual processing!

Press Release Archive: "Now you see it, now you don’t: ‘Change blindness’ isn’t magic

A team of scientists at UCL (University College London) has discovered why we often miss major changes in our surroundings - such as a traffic light turning green when we’re listening to the radio. Our inability to notice large changes in a visual scene is a phenomenon often exploited by magicians - but only now can scientists put their finger on the exact part of the brain that is so often deceived."

The UCL team shows, in a research paper published in the September issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex (which goes online on 24th August) that the part of the brain called the parietal cortex, the area responsible for concentration, is also critical to our ability to detect changes. The exact critical spot lies just a few centimetres above and behind the right ear – the area many people scratch when concentrating....

Professor Lavie said: “Because the parietal lobe is not part of the visual cortex it was at first surprising to find that activity in the parietal lobe is critical for visual awareness. We have always known that the parietal cortex was responsible for concentrating. But it was a surprise to find out it is also important for detecting visual changes in a scene. The finding that this region of the brain has both these functions, concentration and visual awareness, explains why we can be so easily deceived by, say, a magicians’ trick. When we’re concentrating so hard on something that our processing capacity is at its limits, the parietal cortex is not available to pay attention to new things and even dramatic changes can go unnoticed. If you’re concentrating on what the magician’s left hand is doing, you won’t notice what the right hand is doing.” / Comment & analysis / Comment - The private sector can get water flowing to the poor

An argument for private involvement in water distribution in poor countries from the Financial Times (subscription required)... / Comment & analysis / Comment - The private sector can get water flowing to the poor : "Worldwide, 1.1bn people, mainly in poor countries, do not have access to clean, safe water. The shortage of water helps to perpetuate poverty, disease and early death. However, there is no shortage of water, at least not globally. We use a mere 8 per cent of the water available for human consumption. Instead, bad policies are the main problem. Even Cherrapunji, India, the wettest place on earth, suffers from recurrent water shortages.

Ninety-seven per cent of all water distribution in poor countries is managed by the public sector, which is largely responsible for more than a billion people being without water. Some governments of impoverished nations have turned to business for help, usually with good results."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century - New York Times

A fascinating article with illustrations of how cell phone technology is transforming lives, economies etc...Definitely a worthwhile read...
("The Economist" had a similar article several months ago).

Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century - New York Times: "YANGUYE, South Africa - On this dry mountaintop, 36-year-old Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way.

Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles.

But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone.

People like Ms. Skhakhane have made Africa the world's fastest-growing cellphone market. From 1999 through 2004, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa jumped to 76.8 million, from 7.5 million, an average annual increase of 58 percent. South Africa, the continent's richest nation, accounted for one-fifth of that growth.

Asia, the next fastest-expanding market, grew by an annual average of just 34 percent in that period."...

Africa's cellphone boom has taken the industry by surprise. Africans have never been rabid telephone users; even Mongolians have twice as many land lines per person. And with most Africans living on $2 a day or less, they were supposed to be too poor to justify corporate investments in cellular networks far outside the more prosperous cities and towns.

But when African nations began to privatize their telephone monopolies in the mid-1990's, and fiercely competitive operators began to sell air time in smaller, cheaper units, cellphone use exploded.

Used handsets are available for $50 or less in South Africa, an amount even Ms. Skhakhane's husband was able to finance with the little he saves from his factory job.

It turned out that Africans had never been big phone users because nobody had given them the chance.

One in 11 Africans is now a mobile subscriber. ...

Villagers in the two jungle provinces of Congo are so eager for service that they have built 50-foot-high treehouses to catch signals from distant cellphone towers.

"One man uses it as a public pay phone," said Gilbert Nkuli, deputy managing director of Congo operations for Vodacom Group, one of Africa's biggest mobile operators. Those who want to climb to his platform and use his phone pay him for the privilege.

On a continent where some remote villages still communicate by beating drums, cellphones are a technological revolution akin to television in the 1940's in the United States.

Africa has an average of just one land line for every 33 people, but cellphones are enabling millions of people to skip a technological generation and bound straight from letter-writing to instant messaging.

Although only about 60 percent of Africans are within reach of a signal, the lowest level of penetration in the world, the technology is for many a social and economic godsend.

One pilot program allows about 100 farmers in South Africa's northeast to learn the prevailing prices for produce in major markets, crucial information in negotiations with middlemen.

Health-care workers in the rural southeast summon ambulances to distant clinics via cellphone.

One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her cellphone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells.

"She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer," said Mr. Nkuli of Vodacom. "So she keeps them in the river," tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale....

One problem remains even in the age of cutting-edge cellular technology: How does an African family in a hut lighted by candles charge a mobile phone? A bicycle-driven charger is said to be on the horizon. But that would require a bicycle, a rare possession in much of rural Africa.

In Yanguye, as in other regions, the solution is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car. Ntombenhle Nsele keeps one in her home a few miles down the road from Ms. Skhakhane's. She takes it by bus 20 miles to the nearest town to recharge it in a gas station.

For 80 cents each, Ms. Nsele, 25, lets neighbors charge their mobiles from the battery. She gets at least five customers a week.

"Oooh, a lot of people," she said, smiling. "Too many." - The Quad-City Times Newspaper - The Quad-City Times Newspaper: "Rashida Ishag grew up in the central part of Sudan and her father was a leader in their village.

Wednesday night, she shared about the day when the leaders were asked “to collect the youngers” men to go participate in the genocide taking place in the south.

“He refused,” she said of her father. ‘We are same brothers,’ he told them.”

The army under the control of the Khartoum government did not share that same philosophy. Her father and others from the village were tortured to the point of death and then tossed out barely alive. He died two weeks later.

“After my father died, they came and burned my village in 1995,” she said."

Conflict, neglect cripple healthcare for Congo poor

"But this precarious situation has, of course, been exacerbated by the insecurity, which has reduced healthcare to virtually nothing," he said in the remains of Muvule health center, 75 km (50 miles) southwest of Mitwaba town."Conflict, neglect cripple healthcare for Congo poor - Nearly 200,000 people in a remote corner of Congo share one doctor, three nurses and a hospital most cannot reach, let alone afford, aid workers said on Thursday.

The collapse of the state health system, violence by militia and government soldiers and a lack of outside help have raised death rates in Mitwaba territory in northern Katanga to five times levels usually found in Africa, the relief workers say.

Mitwaba's predicament is similar to that of much of Congo, where, two years after a peace deal was signed, war-related hunger and disease continue to kill 1,000 people a day, on top of 3.8 million that have died since the conflict began in 1998.

'The main reason for the dire situation is the gradual collapse of the state health system,' said Doctor Arsene Enyegue, a doctor working with the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) in Katanga...

The aid agency is also looking after the severely malnourished but can only afford to treat 260 cases per month.

"The main causes of death are malnutrition, malaria and acute respiratory infections -- all easily treated in normal circumstances," Enyegue said. "But here in Mitwaba we have a mortality rate that is four or five times higher than the accepted level in developing African countries."

The International Rescue Committee, a U.S.-based medical charity, established the figure of 3.8 million deaths in the war by surveying 19,500 households in Democratic Republic of Congo.

It found almost half of those who died were children under five and 98 percent of people were killed by disease and malnutrition rather than guns or machetes.

Countless civilians flee attacks in Katanga and do not make it to camps, abandoning their charred homes and looted fields.

While on the road, they are often robbed or taxed by the ill-disciplined and poorly paid government soldiers who have been sent to tackle the Mai Mai fighter

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Publius Pundit - Blogging the democratic revolution

Pat Robertson, in his role as Moses for the 21st century, deems the Commandment "Thou Shallt Not Kill..." does not always apply...

Publius Pundit - Blogging the democratic revolution:


‘Christian’ televangelist Pat Robertson generated unprecedented headlines about Hugo Chavez in the blogosphere and in the U.S. media Tuesday when he publicly called for the assassination of the Venezuelan dictator.

Technorati listed it as its top search on the blogosphere.

Google listed it as its top story worldwide in all categories and ran it as its first banner story above a fatal Peruvian jetliner crash.

Bloomberg did five updates on this ’stop the presses’ news item before beginning more coverage here.

CNN did a special report.

Wikipedia was flooded with inquiries about who Hugo Chavez is.

It was the biggest single Internet traffic day for Venezuela of the year, in some cases topping even the recent plane crash last week and last year’s recall referendum. The degree of U.S. fascination with the topic was unprecedented. It was almost tabloidy, given that both Robertson and Chavez specialize in lengthy television demagoguery and pop off about various things quite explosively.

But in Venezuela, the reaction was a bit different. Hugo Chavez, speaking from Havana on his way home to Caracas, said he’d never heard of this person, Robertson, and he didn’t seem to want to dignify Robertson’s recommendations with a comment. Venezuela’s newspapers (I monitored them all day) had virtually nothing at all mentioning the Robertson incident until the end of the day, when the flood of news from the states seemed to get their attention. - Reading Fine Print, Insurers Question Studies of Drugs

This is a truly excellent artricle, which illustrates how pharm companies are able to get papers published in peer reviewed journals, that are laden with spin...and how difficult it is to really analyze the data. It takes alot of time, attention to detail, and a strong background in statistics at a minimum.

In my own area of vitreoretinal disease, I spend hours reading original studies on drugs for macular degeneration and trying to find the loopholes in study design, results, conclusions etc. It is extremely difficult to get through the spin. Yet patients not uncommonly come in stating that they want a treatment based on a one page ad in the newspaper or a 30 second TV ad...

If you don't subscribe to the wall street journal, let me know... - Reading Fine Print, Insurers Question Studies of Drugs:

As the cost of drugs in the U.S. approaches $250 billion a year, pharmaceutical companies are running up against a growing breed of detective trained to see through marketing spin. Working for insurers, state Medicaid programs and nonprofit bodies, these detectives cast a wary eye on published studies in medical journals, once considered an unimpeachable source. They search for subtle aspects of clinical-trial design that might show the drugs are not all they're cracked up to be.

'You could be duped,' says Siri Childs, who oversees pharmacy policy for the Washington state Medicaid program. 'We know now that just because it's published in a medical journal, that doesn't assure its quality.'


When Dr. Kubota started her current job in 1997, she says she "would just read the abstract," the summary at the beginning of a study. "I guess I was naive," she says. "You kind of assume everything is there for you in the abstract." Today, she quickly homes in on details that aren't mentioned in the abstract and generates a 6-inch stack of papers studded with Post-it notes for each drug...

Some journals are trying themselves to help readers discover marketing messages slipped in amid the scientific data. Last year BMJ, a British journal, published a piece called "Users' guide to detecting misleading claims in clinical research reports," which came with a picture of a reader dumping salt on a medical journal. One piece of advice: Beware when the authors break out one subgroup of patients and claim benefits from the treatment that weren't evident in the whole group.

Wired News: In Asia, the Eyes Have It

Interesting article on perceptual differences between Asians and North Americans...rings true...
Wired News: In Asia, the Eyes Have It: "Asians and North Americans really do see the world differently. Shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene, according to University of Michigan researchers"...

"Asians live in a more socially complicated world than we do," he said in a telephone interview. "They have to pay more attention to others than we do. We are individualists. We can be bulls in a china shop, they can't afford it."...

The findings are reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The key thing in Chinese culture is harmony, Nisbett said, while in the West the key is finding ways to get things done, paying less attention to others.

And that, he said, goes back to the ecology and economy of times thousands of years ago....

Reinforcing the belief that the differences are cultural, he said, when Asians raised in North America were studied, they were intermediate between native Asians and European-Americans, and sometimes closer to Americans in the way they viewed scenes.

Kyle R. Cave of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst commented: "These results are particularly striking because they show that these cultural differences extend to low level perceptual processes such as how we control our eyes. They suggest that the way that we see and explore the world literally depends on where we come from."... Wire Story

Obese patient prefers to gouge self on Nachos sans cognitive dissonance emanating from her Doctor's diagnosis of obesity...and that is why I left internal medicine after a year of internship!

He says he wrote a letter of apology to the woman when he found out she was offended.

Her complaint, filed about a year ago, was initially investigated by a board subcommittee, which recommended that Bennett be sent a confidential letter of concern. The board rejected the suggestion in December and asked the attorney general's office to investigate.

Bennett rejected that office's proposal that he attend a medical education course and acknowledge that he made a mistake."> Wire Story
: "Dr. Terry Bennett says he tells obese patients their weight is bad for their health and their love lives, but the lecture drove one patient to complain to the state.

'I told a fat woman she was obese,' Bennett says. 'I tried to get her attention. I told her, 'You need to get on a program, join a group of like-minded people and peel off the weight that is going to kill you.' '

He says he wrote a letter of apology to the woman when he found out she was offended.

Her complaint, filed about a year ago, was initially investigated by a board subcommittee, which recommended that Bennett be sent a confidential letter of concern. The board rejected the suggestion in December and asked the attorney general's office to investigate.

Bennett rejected that office's proposal that he attend a medical education course and acknowledge that he made a mistake."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NPR : Oil Pits Locals Against Companies, Government

Second part of NPR series on oil in Nigeria...

NPR : Oil Pits Locals Against Companies, Government: "2005 · The American company Chevron faces disruptions -- big and small -- in its Nigeria oil operations on a regular basis.

The company's Escravos tank farm is a collecting hub for oil delivered by pipeline from wells across the delta.

Chevron's neighbors haven't made them feel at home. Protests and attacks often stop the flow of oil.

Residents of in the nearby village of Ugborodo want to see more economic benefit from their rich neighbor. They want more jobs and better schools.

In 2003, ethnic gunmen attacked the pipeline network, shutting the tank farm down for two years.

At a time of growing demand, the ethnic attack on just one company in Nigeria has kept more than 100 million barrels of oil off the world market.

Ethnic leader Bello Obuku says Chevron supports an oppressive government. He says oil companies remind him of a Nigerian general -- one who was executed for aiding and abetting a coup.

Chevron executive Chuck Taylor says the company is now talking to ethnic leaders, and refining the way it spends money on community development."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cafe Hayek: Is Niger's Problem Over-population?

In the comment section of this blog in an article on the famine in Niger, someone had commented that the basic problem in Niger was overpopulation, here is a response to that...
Cafe Hayek: Is Niger's Problem Over-population?: "Is Niger's Problem Over-population?

Inspired by the sad plight of the people of Niger, letters today in two major U.S. newspapers -- the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor -- repeat the age-old myth that poverty is caused by over-population.

Let's look at just a few facts.

Niger's population density is 9 people per square kilometer. Compare this figure to the population densities of much more prosperous countries:

France: 110 people per sq. km.

Czech Republic: 133

Switzerland: 181

Italy: 197

Germany: 236

United Kingdom: 250

Japan: 340

Netherlands: 484

South Korea: 493

Taiwan: 636

Hong Kong: 6641

Now let's cheat big-time in favor of the overpopulation hypothesis by counting as relevant only Niger's arable land. If all Nigeriens lived only on Niger's arable land, the population density of this land would be 260 persons per square kilometer -- much denser than 9 persons per sq. km., but nowhere close to the population density (counting all the square kilometers, arable or not) of the likes of the Netherlands, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

(All facts reported above are calculated from data available at the CIA's World Factbook site.)

Where's the evidence for the apparently indestructible belief that over-population is a fundamental 'cause' of poverty?

The world needs more scholars of the likes of Julian Simon."

Cafe Hayek: Is Niger's Problem Over-population?

In the comment section of this blog in an article on the famine in Niger, someone had commented that the basic problem in Niger was overpopulation, here is a response to that...
Cafe Hayek: Is Niger's Problem Over-population?: "Is Niger's Problem Over-population?

Inspired by the sad plight of the people of Niger, letters today in two major U.S. newspapers -- the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor -- repeat the age-old myth that poverty is caused by over-population.

Let's look at just a few facts.

Niger's population density is 9 people per square kilometer. Compare this figure to the population densities of much more prosperous countries:

France: 110 people per sq. km.

Czech Republic: 133

Switzerland: 181

Italy: 197

Germany: 236

United Kingdom: 250

Japan: 340

Netherlands: 484

South Korea: 493

Taiwan: 636

Hong Kong: 6641

Now let's cheat big-time in favor of the overpopulation hypothesis by counting as relevant only Niger's arable land. If all Nigeriens lived only on Niger's arable land, the population density of this land would be 260 persons per square kilometer -- much denser than 9 persons per sq. km., but nowhere close to the population density (counting all the square kilometers, arable or not) of the likes of the Netherlands, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

(All facts reported above are calculated from data available at the CIA's World Factbook site.)

Where's the evidence for the apparently indestructible belief that over-population is a fundamental 'cause' of poverty?

The world needs more scholars of the likes of Julian Simon."

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner - William Morrow, 2005

A Freakenomics response to the "Peak Oil" article from the NY Times linked below...

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner - William Morrow, 2005: "The cover story of the New York Times Sunday Magazine written by Peter Maass is about 'Peak Oil.' The idea behind 'peak oil' is that the world has been on a path of increasing oil production for many years, and now we are about to peak and go into a situation where there are dwindling reserves, leading to triple-digit prices for a barrel of oil, an unparalleled worldwide depression, and as one web page puts it, 'Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon.'"

BBC NEWS | Technology | Vietnam medic makes DIY endoscope

BBC NEWS | Technology | Vietnam medic makes DIY endoscope: "A hospital doctor in the poor rural area around the Mekong Delta in Vietnam has used his PC and some cheap parts to create a homemade endoscope.

In Vietnam, there is a shortage of endoscopes, with normally only one in each province.

Endoscopy is a minimally invasive diagnostic procedure used to evaluate the interior surfaces of an organ by inserting a small scope in the body. Through the scope, doctors are able to see lesions.

Dr Nguyen Phuoc Huy said his hospital could never afford to buy one as the endoscope costs around $30,000.

Instead he spent two years developing a DIY endoscope to peer inside the bodies of patients without the need for surgery.

Low cost system

The scope captures images from the body of a patient, which are then passed through a webcam to an analysis machine.

Dr Huy spent two years building the system
'The adaptor costs almost nothing because it is simply a system of lens linked to a webcam costing just about $30.

'In total I had to buy only the scope, which is about $800,' Dr Huy told the BBC World Service programme Go Digital."...

NPR : The Race to Share in Nigeria's Oil Bounty

NPR : The Race to Share in Nigeria's Oil Bounty: "he Energy Department says the United States depends on Africa for 18 percent of its petroleum imports. That percentage is growing rapidly. The biggest African producer is Nigeria.

For Nigerians, it's a promising moment. It's also perilous. The fight over who benefits from oil money is going on at all levels of Nigerian society.

Vast oil and gas reserves lie beneath the coastal swamps of the Niger River Delta. It's a desperately poor region with few good roads. And it is less peaceful than it looks.

Oil companies face hostility from gangsters, ethnic militias and even ordinary locals.

International energy companies point out that they've spent millions on Nigerian schools and hospitals. They've also paid billions of dollars in taxes. But that money has a way of disappearing in a country with a reputation for corruption.

Even so, it's good business to stay there as companies scramble across the globe to bolster their proven oil reserves."

BBC NEWS | Africa | Secret film of Zimbabwe 'squalor'

BBC NEWS | Africa | Secret film of Zimbabwe 'squalor': "Amnesty International has released a secretly-shot film from Zimbabwe, showing what it says is the squalid aftermath of Harare's slum clearances."

BBC NEWS | Africa | Dumped in Zimbabwe's poor villages

A personalized account of Mugabe's operation Murambitsvina ("Drive Out Rubbish")...

BBC NEWS | Africa | Dumped in Zimbabwe's poor villages: "For Thomas and his wife, Charity, it was not a happy homecoming.

In fact, it was not really a homecoming at all. The Zimbabwean government had decided that the young couple belonged in a village deep in the dry bush of Matabeleland North province, in western Zimbabwe.

Thomas was born there, but had not lived there since childhood. His ageing grandmother is his only relative still living in the village.

'They were not pleased to receive us since we came empty-handed,' Thomas said. 'They are in a difficult situation with drought. It was a difficult moment for them.'

The United Nations estimates that up to four million Zimbabweans will need food aid over the coming year - mostly in rural areas.

That came to an end in July, when the government's Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out Rubbish] reached the place where they were living.

"We were harassed by police who destroyed our shack - that's why we had to come to this place," Thomas said. "The police said there was too much filth in this city."

Thomas, 23, and Charity, 21, had made a living as informal traders in a squatter camp in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, some 200 km away."...

The government's critics believe that the relocations are part of a strategy to reassert control over urban people who have voted overwhelmingly for the opposition in recent elections.

"They want total political control - they want to peasantify people like [former Cambodian leader] Pol Pot - force them into they country so they can control them," says the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.

People have become dependent on aid from churches
"In the countryside they have no newspaper or radio except Zanu-PF propaganda, and they are controlled by the chiefs, who support the government."

Thomas and Charity were forced onto a truck which took them out of Bulawayo, then a local bus, and ended up walking for several hours through the bush. They say they received no food during the journey.

Charity says she did not even have a chance to say goodbye to her own family: "Since I came here they don't know I'm here. I want to go and tell them where I am." ...

Promises, Promises - New York Times

Trade barriers and rich vs. poor countries

Promises, Promises - New York Times: "The very same representatives of the club of rich countries who go around the world hectoring the poor to open up their markets to free trade put up roadblocks when those countries ask the rich to dismantle their own barriers to free trade in agricultural products.
Last month, negotiations at the W.T.O.'s Geneva headquarters once again brought this sad reality into stark relief. "...

Since then - surprise, surprise - negotiators have made big strides toward agreeing how to cut tariffs on manufactured goods, and, to a lesser extent, services. Both of those are important to rich countries.

And guess where negotiations have stalled? The European Union and the United States are busily fighting over how little they can get away with when it comes to liberalizing farm trade. Listening to these two economic powerhouses snipe about who should be doing what is revolting; neither is doing anything real.

The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its own farmers, encouraging overproduction, which drives down commodity prices. Poor nations' farmers cannot compete with subsidized products, even within their own countries. In recent years, American farmers have been able to dump cotton, wheat, rice, corn and other products on world markets at prices that do not begin to cover their cost of production, all thanks to politicians and at the expense of American taxpayers. Europe's system, meanwhile, is even more odious: United States farm subsidies are equal to only a third of the European Union's.

The Breaking Point - New York Times

An In depth analysis of Saudi Oil Reserves..a bit scary actually...

The Breaking Point - New York Times: "The Breaking Point"

Friday, August 19, 2005

Nanotube sheets come of age

Carbon nanotubes...

Nanotube sheets come of age: "They're soft, strong, and very, very long.

Large, transparent sheets of carbon nanotubes can now be produced at lightning speed. The new technique should allow the nanotubes to be used in commercial devices from heated car windows to flexible television screens."

(from Glenn Reynolds)

The Other Half - New York Times

Chairman of National Action Committee on AIDS in Nigeria highlights the well known fact that many AIDS patients in Africa are victims of sexual violence and suggests some solutions, other than abstinence...

The Other Half - New York Times: "For example, a major partner, the United States government, enthusiastically promotes abstinence until marriage as the main way for young people to avoid H.I.V. infection. Abstinence is one critical prevention strategy, but it cannot be the only one. Focusing on abstinence assumes young people can choose whether to have sex. For adolescent girls in Nigeria and in many other countries, this is an inaccurate assumption. Many girls fall prey to sexual violence and coercion. Many others are married off very young, as young as 13 or 14, long before they are psychologically or physically ready. Abstinence is not an option for these girls, nor is getting their partners to use condoms. It is unacceptable for a woman or girl to ask her partner to use one in our part of the world. In Nigeria, only 23 percent of the men and 8 percent of women use condoms regularly, and, as elsewhere, almost none of them use condoms with a spouse or primary partner."

Private-Sector Mercy - New York Times

A Peace Corps for pharmaceutical companies--similar ideas to those cited in C.K. Prahalad's "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid."

Private-Sector Mercy - New York Times: "BY almost every measure - the spreading disaster of H.I.V. infection and AIDS, the vast suffering caused by malaria - the world is failing to meet the health needs of its poorest people. Yet in the world of public health, there is a growing mood of cautious optimism and commitment based on a novel way of approaching these problems; one that does not rely on Western governments.

In the West, and in developing countries, people and organizations are using proven business strategies to devise workable solutions. This social entrepreneurship is transforming global public health.

Consider the long-standing problem that developing countries have faced in obtaining affordable, effective drugs. The profit-making pharmaceutical business model that works well in generating effective treatments for many diseases in the developed world doesn't work at all for diseases limited to people who have little or no money. Yet it has produced drug leads that could treat and even cure some of the worst diseases that afflict the world's poorest people.

These promising leads are languishing because companies can't justify the enormous costs involved in turning them into therapies that won't return a profit, or even research and development investments. Thus with few exceptions, the pharmaceutical industry has abandoned research on drugs to treat tropical parasitic diseases."...

Today, public health is primarily a government responsibility. While we do need governments for implementation and scale, we need to encourage individuals and corporations to bring fresh ideas. And especially, we need to tap innovative social entrepreneurs like Govindappa Venkataswamy, an Indian doctor who turned an 11-bed clinic into the largest eye care facility in the world, and Vera Cordeiro, a Brazilian doctor who is building a health care system to prevent recurring illnesses in poor children. These entrepreneurs use the classic strategies of a start-up business - product innovation, efficiency improvements and a keen understanding of the customer - to find new solutions to the challenge of improving health.

Feeding More for Less in Niger - New York Times

Interesting details about the details of food aid distribution by he director of the Trade Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy...

Feeding More for Less in Niger - New York Times: "THE famine unfolding today in Niger has too many familiar characteristics. One of the poorest countries in the world is in a deadly crisis - one foreseen and ignored until the cost of intervention had jumped from $1 per child to $80, according to the United Nations.

Many people have died and more will die in the coming weeks and months because rich countries failed to respond in time. United Nations agencies first appealed for money and food in November, but governments have only started to respond seriously in the last few weeks.

It does not have to be this way. Swift and smart reforms to outdated American food-aid programs can move us toward preventing such crises rather than cleaning up after them.

In a study I did this year with Kathleen McAfee, a geographer at the University of California, Berkeley, we concluded that the United States' food-aid system has two main problems - ones that other major donor countries have already taken steps to solve."

First, almost all the aid is in the form of food produced in the United States. The government buys food from American commodity traders. The food is fortified, bagged and shipped by American firms. This approach usually results in costs well over market rate for food, handling and transport. The emphasis on using American commodities and firms is grossly inefficient and means that food is slow to arrive where it is needed. It also prevents the establishment of local food systems.

Most other major donors, particularly those in the European Union, give money instead of food. This frees agencies like the United Nations World Food Program to buy food from farmers near the affected country - farmers who are often very poor - and to send the food quickly where it is most needed....

The second major problem is that the United States sells some of its food aid. It is the only country other than South Korea to sell food aid (albeit for less than commercial prices) or give it to intermediaries that then sell it. Private American aid organizations receive American food aid and sometimes sell the food at local markets to raise money for their other aid programs in the country. Governments of recipient countries also sell food aid at local markets to raise money. The result is a subsidized sale that creates unfair competition for local farmers and commercial traders....

It should transition to cash-based aid and phase out sales of food aid. The United States also needs to work with other donors and local governments to establish regional reserves in the most vulnerable parts of the world so that local authorities and private agencies can respond to crises quickly. The government should make multi-year guaranteed donations to the World Food Program so that the agency has the financial reserves to allow it plan its responses to emerging crises. The United States should also simplify its food aid system, which consists of six different programs administered by two agencies.

Study shows some types of military interventions can slow or stop genocide

Study shows some types of military interventions can slow or stop genocide: "A study published in the latest issue of International Studies Quarterly is the first to examine the effectiveness of military action on the severity of ongoing instances of genocide and polititcide. The study reveals that only overt military interventions that explicitly challenge the perpetrator appear to be effective in reducing the severity of the brutal policies. Military support for targets, or in opposition to the perpetrators, alters the almost complete vulnerability of unarmed civilian targets. And these interventions that directly target the perpetrators were not, on the whole, found to make matters worse for those being attacked. 'If actors wish to slow or stop the killing in an ongoing instance of state-sponsored mass murder, they are more likely to be effective if they oppose the perpetrators of the brutal policy,' author Matthew Krain states. He finds that even military intervention against the perpetrator by a single country or international organization has a measurable effect in the 'typical' case.

When a single international actor challenges the aggressor, the probability that the killings will escalate drops while the probability that the killings will decrease jumps. Each additional intervention by another international actor raises the chance of saving lives. Krain's study examines factors affecting all ongoing instances of state-sponsored mass murder from 1955 to 1997 and simulates the effects of interventions on two cases, including the current case of mass murder in Darfur, Sudan. His results also confirm that attempts to intervene as impartial parties seem ineffective. 'By finding that increasing the number of interventions against perpetrators of genocide or politicide reduces severity this study confirms that international interventions against perpetrators do save lives,' Krain concludes."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wired News: Antibiotics From Crocodile Blood?

Crocodiles are the real a microbial level...

"They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally, almost always without infection,"
Wired News: Antibiotics From Crocodile Blood?: "SYDNEY -- Scientists in Australia's tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antibiotic for humans, after tests showed that the reptile's immune system kills the HIV virus.

The crocodile's immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights which often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs."...

"If you take a test tube of HIV and add crocodile serum it will have a greater effect than human serum. It can kill a much greater number of HIV viral organisms," Britton said from Darwin's Crocodylus Park, a tourism park and research center.

Britton said the crocodile immune system worked differently from the human system by directly attacking bacteria immediately an infection occurred in the body.

"The crocodile has an immune system which attaches to bacteria and tears it apart and it explodes. It's like putting a gun to the head of the bacteria and pulling the trigger," he said.

Center for Global Development : Initiatives: Active: Making Markets for Vaccines

HUndreds of million people die from vaccine related diseases. Here is a proposal to give private companies to develop vaccines, by comitting to purchase large quanitities of a successful vaccine...

Center for Global Development : Initiatives: Active: Making Markets for Vaccines: "Making a commitment in advance to buy vaccines if and when they are developed would create incentives for industry to increase investment in research and development. New commercial investment would complement funding of research and development (R&D) by public and charitable bodies, accelerating the development of vital new vaccines for the developing world.

This report presents the proposal from theory to practice, by showing how a commitment can be consistent with ordinary legal and budgetary principles. A draft contract term sheet is included, highlighting the key elements of a credible guarantee."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Telegraph | News

Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missilesTelegraph | News:

Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missiles
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 12/05/2002)

FORGET dangers from giant meteors: Earth is facing another threat from outer space. Scientists have come to the conclusion that two mysterious explosions in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic missiles.
The two objects were picked up by earthquake detectors as they tore through Earth at up to 900,000 mph. According to scientists, the most plausible explanation is that they were 'strangelets', clumps of matter that have so far defied detection but whose existence was posited 20 years ago.

Formed in the Big Bang and inside extremely dense stars, strangelets are thought to be made from quarks - the subatomic particles found inside protons and neutrons. Unlike ordinary matter, however, they also contain 'strange quarks', particles normally only seen in high-energy accelerators.

The scientists looked for events producing two sharp signals, one as it entered Earth, the other as it emerged again. They found two such events, both in 1993. The first was on the morning of October 22. Seismometers in Turkey and Bolivia recorded a violent event in Antarctica that packed the punch of several thousand tons of TNT. The disturbance then ripped through Earth on a route that ended with it exiting through the floor of the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka just 26 seconds later - implying a speed of 900,000 mph.

The second event took place on November 24, when sensors in Australia and Bolivia picked up an explosion starting in the Pacific south of the Pitcairn Islands and travelling through Earth to appear in Antarctica 19 seconds later.

According to the scientists, both events are consistent with an impact with strangelets at cosmic speeds. In a report about to be submitted to the Seismological Society of America, the team of geologists and physicists concludes: "The only explanation for such events of which we are aware is passage through the earth of ton-sized strange-quark nuggets."

Professor Eugene Herrin, a member of the team, said that two strangelets just one-tenth the breadth of a hair would account for the observations. "These things are extremely dense and travel at 40 times the speed of sound straight through the Earth - they'd hardly slow down as they went through."

U.N. Peacekeeping More Assertive, Creating Risk for Civilians

U.N. Peacekeeping More Assertive, Creating Risk for Civilians: "It also reflected a shift in tactics for U.N. peacekeeping troops, who by the mid-1990s were going out of their way to avoid combat. Now, the blue-helmeted troops are showing a renewed willingness to use considerable firepower against armed groups that they deem a threat to peace efforts.

'There has been a fundamental shift in peacekeeping that very few people have noticed, where U.N. peacekeepers are actually taking proactive, offensive preemptive action against threats,' said Nancy Soderberg, a former U.S. ambassador who oversaw U.N. peacekeeping for the U.S. mission to the United Nations from 1997 to 2000."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Awash in Information, Patients Face a Lonely, Uncertain Road - New York Times

An excellent piece in the nytimes that encapsulates how atypical medical care is in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. I think the underlying issue is that in American culture, there is a widespread delusion that we can control everything with enough information, the right doctors etc...I have had patients, after doing their internet research, tell me exactly how I am going to do their surgery, not valuing my experience in doing several thousand such procedures beforehand, not to mention two decades worth of medical training and practice.

Additionally it can be quite difficult for me to parse through the medical literature on a given topic, especially with regards to manipulation of statistics in peer referenced journals, without even getting into the "over the top spins" of big pharma on their products. I seriously doubt that most patients can tackle these issues.

It is frustrating and time-consuming to have to often re-educate patients when they come to office with misguided information from the internet or based on a sales pitch they saw or heard somewhere.

At the same time, I often find it frustrating that their is no good means to get the word out regarding one's skills etc...Patients usually form their opinion based on "bedside manner," which is only one component of care, especially in surgical specialties. Surgeons can't compete, like professional atheletes, on the number and range of cases (especially successful cases) they have done. Their is no public mechanism for such information...Patients can't tell which doctors are up to date on the latest treatment options. Doctors get known often on the basis of how many research papers they have had published, which is not necessarily an indicator of how good a clinician may be.

I am not even going to get into the whole mess with regards to insurance companies and the underlying threat of malpractice suits that colors every patient encounter here in the U.S....

Awash in Information, Patients Face a Lonely, Uncertain Road - New York Times: "Now, just about out of options, Ms. Gaines faced an excruciating decision. Her last-ditch chemotherapy regimen did seem to be working. Three medical oncologists thought she should stick with it. But two surgical oncologists thought she should first try cryosurgery, injecting liquid nitrogen into the tumors to shrink as many as possible, and then following up with chemotherapy, allowing it to be more effective.

The catch? Ms. Gaines's chances of even surviving the procedure were uncertain.

'Who will decide?' she asked a surgeon from Los Angeles.

The doctor then recited what has become the maddening litany of medical correctness: 'We're in the outer regions of medical knowledge,' he said, 'and none of us knows what you should do. So you have to make the decision, based on your values.'

Ms. Gaines, bald, tumor-ridden and exhausted from chemotherapy, was reeling. 'I'm not a doctor!' she shouted. 'I'm a criminal defense lawyer! How am I supposed to know?'

This is the blessing and the burden of being a modern patient. A generation ago, patients argued for more information, more choice and more say about treatment. To a great extent, that is exactly what they have received: a superabundance of information, often several treatment options and the right to choose among them.

As this new responsibility dawns on patients, some embrace it with a sense of pride and furious determination. But many find the job of being a modern patient, with its slog through medical uncertainty, to be lonely, frightening and overwhelming."...

Such quandaries do not apply only to life-rattling illnesses. Last summer, with the second joint of his left big toe painfully throbbing from gout, Carl Schneider, a law professor at the University of Michigan who had already consulted his internist and a rheumatologist, leaned wearily against a hospital wall as three other doctors argued over which regimen he should follow. One doctor handed him a 20-page Internet printout that cited gout treatment studies, none of them definitive.

"At 57, it's a little late to be starting medical school," Mr. Schneider remarked acidly. "But the burden still falls on me, having to pick among opinions." ...

Like many patients, Ms. Gaines did not turn to a primary care doctor to help coordinate her care or aid with decisions. Increasingly, that soul-healing doctor-patient relationship has become harder to sustain. Whipsawed by insurance plans, patients frequently switch physicians. Pressed by diminishing reimbursements, those doctors are building ever larger, more unwieldy practices, with less time for each patient.

The strain has left doctors themselves feeling exhausted, angry and heartbroken.

"My visits are almost ludicrous," said Dr. John Russo, an internist in West Orange, N.J., who sees 5,000 patients a year. "But economically you have to see so many more patients than you should, just to keep the lights on. You can't sit and talk and really get an entire history. So you do what you were taught as a resident: do more tests, don't spend more time with patients, getting to know them."...

Until the late 1960's, patients perceived doctors, then almost exclusively white men, as unassailable figures of authority. They knew best. But during the social and cultural upheaval that ushered in the women's rights, civil rights and consumers' rights movements, the paternalistic authority of the physician became deeply suspect. Women fought to join the conversation. Challenging the mystification of medicine, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective published "Our Bodies, Ourselves," a landmark guide. Women changed conventional wisdom about the prevalence of hospital deliveries, hysterectomies and mastectomies.

With the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965, health care began to be seen as a right, not a privilege. Patients repositioned themselves as consumers of health care, entitled to as much information as possible. Support groups sought to empower patients with booklets and questions for doctors. ...

By the 1980's, opinion seeking could even turn into doctor-shopping for specific procedures. Patients started suing doctors, an escalating conflict leading to, among other things, high malpractice premiums, Congressional debates and, in the examining rooms, overcautious conversations between litigation-alert doctors and patients.

Within the past decade, the shift in the doctor-patient conversation - from, "This is what's wrong with you, here's what to do," to "Here are your options, what do you want to do?" - became all but complete. Baby boomers had gotten what they had asked for. And then some.

"People want to feel a part of their health care," said David Mechanic, a medical sociologist at Rutgers University. "But they don't want to be abandoned to making decisions all on their own. When a doctor says, 'Here are your options,' without offering expert help and judgment, that is a form of abandonment. "...

"I wondered if he thought about me when I wasn't there," Mr. Sommers said. "I wrote a heartfelt note to my doctor to let him know why I wasn't coming back. But I never heard from him."

Even though he recently found a new neurologist, he does not know if this doctor will become the medical cheerleader and adviser that he longs for. "So my gatekeeper is my girlfriend, not my doctor," Mr. Sommers said. "We hash it all out, we figure out the options. She has a good, clear focused head about this stuff."...

Last summer, as doctors tried to figure out why her husband's urine had turned the color of cola, Joyce Rich went to work figuring it out herself.

Mrs. Rich, 58, a nursery school teacher from New City, N.Y., had to do something with her nervous energy. Like so many people who, when threatened by illness, feel frightened and helpless, she turned into a formidable Googling machine. Doing the homework gave her the comforting illusion of having a measure of control. ...

With patients having so much medical information, being a primary care doctor these days means donning armor daily. Here comes the public, bearing pharmaceutical brochures, sheaves of Internet printouts, pages of time-consuming questions: Vioxx? Total body scans? Why didn't you recommend a carotid artery Doppler?...

9/11 Rescuer Recalls Fear and Faith - New York Times

An individual's compelling account of her 9/11 experience...
9/11 Rescuer Recalls Fear and Faith - New York Times: "A huge cloud of ash came whipping around the corner of a building in Lower Manhattan, swallowing first the daylight and then her. When the dust cloud had her in its suffocating grip, it lifted her off the ground and threw her down, where she lay until fear compelled her once more to her feet and darkness engulfed her once again.

'At this point I laid down and I started saying my prayers,' said the woman, an emergency medical technician named Renae O'Carroll who was responding to the attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, when she became lost in a perilous hail of debris. She saw 'big bolts of fire, fire balls' and then a bright light she accepted as a beacon of the afterlife. 'I said to myself at the moment: 'I guess this is the light, I guess this is my time.' I felt it was opening up and it was my time to go.'"

Saturday, August 13, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Call to stave off African hunger

BBC NEWS | Africa | Call to stave off African hunger: "Call to stave off African hunger
African countries can do more to reduce the number of malnourished children, according to international researchers.

The proportion of malnourished people in sub-Saharan Africa has remained at about 35% since 1970, the International Food Policy Research Institute said.

But population growth means the numbers affected rose to 200 million by 2001.

Further deterioration could be averted if African states invested more in farming and gained better access to rich world markets, the report says.

It warns that the number of malnourished children could grow from 38.6 million now to 41.9 million by 2025.

The report comes amid a severe food crisis in Niger - where up to three million people are suffering shortages."...

The UN says 32,000 children with severe malnutrition could face death without the necessary food and medical treatment.

Besides Niger, hunger also looms in neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

The crisis was triggered by poor harvests and locusts last year.

'Daunting' task

The IFPRI report says the UN Millennium Development goal to halve child malnutrition in Africa by 2015 will fail unless more radical steps are taken now.

According to the Washington-based institute, the entire continent needs at least at least $303bn (£167bn) in new investment to halve hunger by 2015 - a prospect it describes as "daunting". ...

The lead author says the recent pledge by world's richest countries to double aid to the poorest, as well as a promise by African leaders to boost investment in agriculture, would be beneficial.

"Improved crop, land and water management must be supported," Mark Rosegrant said.

Building roads and boosting the information and communication technology sectors would have a positive impact too, the report says.

It also called for better access to world markets for African produce.

Trade liberalisation in agriculture would bring an additional $5.4b to Africa by 2025, it says.

Wired News: HIV Treatment Raises Cure Hopes

Wired News: HIV Treatment Raises Cure Hopes: "LONDON -- A new treatment strategy has shown promise in helping to transform HIV into a curable infection. Preliminary research published this week in The Lancet medical journal outlines how scientists used an anti-convulsant drug to awaken dormant HIV hiding in the body, where it is temporarily invisible but still dangerous.

HIV infection is incurable because current drugs only work when the virus is multiplying, which occurs only when it is in an active cell. However, HIV sometimes infects dormant cells, and when it does, it becomes dormant itself."...

Wired News: HIV Treatment Raises Cure Hopes

Valproic acid--a cure for HIV infection?

Wired News: HIV Treatment Raises Cure Hopes: "'The idea, if we could ever do it, is to purge every latently infected cell. Treat patients for probably two or three years, they'd be able to come off their antiretroviral therapy and they'd be virus-free,' he said.

The study, led by Dr. David Margolis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tested the ability of valproic acid to reduce the number of infected dormant cells.

Four patients on standard therapy were given the pills to take twice daily for three months. The size of this pool of infected dormant cells decreased by 75 percent in three out of the four patients, the study found.

'This finding, though not definitive, suggests that new approaches will allow the cure of HIV in the future,' Margolis said. 'It's a significant conceptual move forward.'

Margolis said he believes the drug reactivates the virus inside a dormant cell, either waking up the cell with it or killing it. Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who also studies the dormant HIV issue, said Margolis' results were an impressive first try.

'It's enormous for just three months' treatment to have such an effect,' he said, adding that the findings merit urgent further study. 'I think it's very exciting news.'

However, other experts were less optimistic. 'It's extremely unlikely that this approach would work,' said Dr. Robert Siliciano, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who was one of the scientists who discovered the dormant infection problem in the mid-1990s. 'It assumes something about the mechanism which we don't know is true. The mechanism may involve other issues that are not affected by this drug.'

'It didn't get all the cells. That's probably because it's not really targeting the right mechanism for latency,' Siliciano said. 'It's got to be a 99.9999 percent reduction to be useful. When you stop the drugs the virus explodes back so quickly, even if you had one latently infected cell left, in a matter of days you would be back to where you started from.'

Siliciano said he also doubts the valproic acid approach will solve the problem because it's likely HIV lies dormant in other types of cells that scientists have not discovered yet and tackling those reservoirs may require a completely different approach.

'It's a little bit premature to be talking about a cure for HIV,' he said."
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