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Biofortification: Combat World Hunger Crisis by breeding nutrient-packed Crops that will fill Stomachs and lessen Effects of Malnutrition

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Scientists are creating seeds with more nutrients to help fight world hunger. HarvestPlus, a Washington-based nonprofit, has been fortifying sees with vital nutrients since 2003. VOA

Scientists are helping to combat the world hunger crisis by breeding nutrient-packed crops that will fill stomachs and lessen the effects of malnutrition.

It’s called biofortification.

It sounds complicated, but the concept is simple: create smarter seeds that grow into more nutrient-dense staple crops than regular ones. Then distribute the seeds on a large scale to farmers in developing countries, so they can grow crops that are more nutritious.

Seeds with more nutrients

This is what researchers at HarvestPlus, a Washington-based nonprofit, have been doing on a large scale since 2003, feeding an estimated 20 million people in 30 countries.

Their biofortified seeds pack one or more vital nutrients, such as iron, zinc and Vitamin A, said Bev Postma, HarvestPlus’ CEO.

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“It’s very important that the seeds are not just high in nutrition, but that they are still high-yielding, they are pest resistant, they are climate resistant — because these are the things a farmer still wants more,” she said.

Deficiencies of these nutrients can leave people more vulnerable to illness and infections, and in extreme cases cause blindness and stunt growth. Children are especially affected.

The organization’s research has found that many of these effects can be reversed in a matter of months once nutrient-packed foods are introduced into the local diet.

150 varieties of 12 staples

HarvestPlus scientists have produced 150 varieties of 12 staple foods, including corn, beans, rice, lentils and wheat.

In 2003, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the organization a $25 million grant over four years to help them scale up. This year, they are one of eight finalists for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which could help them realize their goal of reaching 1 billion people with biofortified crops by 2030.

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“We’re not trying to change behavior, we are looking to see what people are eating and we are just switching out to make that food more nutritious,” Postma said.

Biofortified seeds are produced in a traditional manner, and they are not genetically modified.

Seed distribution

The seeds are distributed through seed companies and sometimes directly to farmers.

“We’ve learned that in some countries, if we give the seed away, we can encourage the farmers to not just grow this new variety, but then ask them to give the next year’s seed that they harvest to four new farmers,” Postma said.

In other instances, she said, they work with seed companies to persuade them to adopt biofortified seeds and sell them as part of a package of options to farmers.

“We find in some instances it is better if farmers are paying for these seeds, because then there is a perceived value and adoption is higher,” she said. Postma said they try to make sure that their seeds are not more expensive than regular varieties.

The organization works with government agriculture and health ministries in developing countries to encourage them to adopt biofortified seeds as a cost-effective way to solve some of their major health problems. (IANS)

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Diseased, Ignored and Suffering Silently : A look into the Health Status of Adivasi Women in Jharkhand

Despite establishment of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) in tribal areas, quality healthcare is still a dream for India’s tribal population.

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health status of Adivasi women
One of the poorest and most marginalized communities in India, the tribal population continues to fight extreme levels of health deprivation, with women and children being most vulnerable. Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 2, 2017 : In his address to the nation on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about his resolve to build a Divya and Bhavya Bharat by creating opportunities for the youth and women and focusing on inclusive development, with safe housing and food security for the poor.

But has Modi ji forgotten about the depleting health status of the people in the south eastern part of the country, particularly the Adivasi populations?

Stemming from a region where people struggle to avail basic necessities how does Modi ji expect the youth to create jobs, when they are not even literate and healthy in the first place?

The health status of Adivasi women and communities in India is in need of special attention. One of the poorest and most marginalized communities in India, the tribal population continues to fight extreme levels of health deprivation, with women and children being most vulnerable.

Health Status of Adivasi Women

Due to rampant poverty, affording fruits and milk for sustenance is an issue affecting the health status of Adivasi women and communities. Additionally, most of the food is served to the male members, who are the bread-earners. As a result, the women have to survive on paani-bhaat (a dish made of stale or leftover rice and water) and saag made from drumstick leaves.

health status of Adivasi women
Health of a man is given more priority than the health of a woman in India’s tribal communities. Wikimedia

With little to no choice to avail other food items, they fail to meet adequate nutritional requirement for their bodies.

According to Archana Kisku, a General Nursing Midwife (GNM) at the Community Health Centre at Dumka district in Jharkhand, even water intake among Adivasi women is lower than what is required which makes them anemic.

“Most of the health centres at the block level in the state do not have blood banks and therefore these women have to be referred somewhere else,” Archana told ANI.

Multiple studies on the maternal health and health status of Adivasi women show poor nutritional status that continues to worsen, along with high rates or morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, tribal states of India record lower utilization of antenatal and postnatal services which can be attributed to illiteracy, monetary reasons, non-availability of services and even deep rooted cultural beliefs.

If you believe these conditions prevail only in Jharkhand, you are wrong. According to a study published in 2016, it was revealed that 80 per cent of the tribal women in Maharashtra’s Melghat area weighed less than 50 kg. ‘Starvation deaths’ continue to affect the health status of Adivasi women, with cases being reported even in advanced states like Kerala.

Thus, it must be realized that malnutrition and anemia are major problems affecting the health status of Adivasi women, irrespective of the area they reside in. However, it must also be noted that the problem is worse in states like Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh.

Health Problems Faced By Adivasi Population

While malnutrition and anemia continue to be the most reported cases, tribal populations are also faced with several endemic infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhea, resulting in untimely deaths. According to a report published in The Hindu in 2016, the Sahariya tribe of Madhya Pradesh was reported to have the highest rates of tuberculosis in India.

Reasons for Poor Health Status of Adivasi Women

The main factors responsible for deteriorating health conditions of India’s Adivasi population can be attributed to

  • Questionable living conditions
  • ignorance
  • lack of health education and literacy in general
  • absence or inaccessible healthcare facilities

The Adivasis are traditionally hunter-gatherers and depend upon the rich forests for their daily source of nutrients. Shifting to government schemes, like the Public Distribution System (PDS) takes them away from their natural state of being, replacing their diverse dietary food consumption in a forest to more restricted packages provided by the government.

Additionally, displacement from their traditional living conditions in forests puts them in a difficult situation, as the Adivasi’s struggle to survive on more ‘urban’ lands.

A major transition in livelihood affects the health status of Adivasi women and men, which then takes a toll.

Adivasi Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth

In an interview to ANI, Archana said, “Adivasi women don’t eat nutritious food during pregnancy and also don’t take iron pills on a regular basis because it is a myth amongst them that they will have problems at the time of delivery of the child due to the pill”.

Nearly 50 per cent of tribal women are known to have haemoglobin deficiency.

The pregnant women in Jharkhand’s Dumka district are found to have only 8 grams of, while 11-14 grams is found in a normal human body. This creates obstructions in childbirth.

Adivasi households are known to rear pigs and goats which diminishes their calcium requirement. Additionally, the womenfolk indulge in labor work and fetch water from far off distances which often result in miscarriages.

health status of Adivasi women
An Adivasi woman with her child. Wikimedia

Adivasi Women and Anemia

As per figures from the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, 71.5 per cent children between the ages of 6 to 59 months in rural areas of Jharkhand were found to be anemic. Furthermore, it was revealed that 67.3 per cent women within the age bracket 15-49 suffered from anemia.

Shockingly, this figure rose to a staggering 85 per cent in case of Adivasi women.

Nutrition, especially of the women, is of least importance in Adivasi communities, which when combined with poverty, lack of awareness and accessibility, create innumerable problems and negatively affect the health status of Adivasi women.

Anemic women naturally cannot be expected to have healthy children, which is why a negatively spiraling trend can be observed in India’s tribal population’s health.

Adivasi Women and Malnutrition

According to Dr Jugal Kishore, Director of Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, malnutrition is a major cause of deaths in India. He observes that one in every three women in India suffer from anemia. The case is worse in Jharkhand where three out of four women are anemic.

As the Adivasi women continue to be anemic, their children are also malnourished.

In a conversation with ANI, State Adviser of the Supreme Court in Jharkhand, Balram revealed the piteous state of pregnant women and nursing mothers who are unable to get adequate nutrition.

He pointed out that these women are unable to receive due benefits of government schemes due to their improper implementation. “Food Safety regulations are being overlooked. In Anganwadi centres there is no proper record maintained of how the health of children suffering from malnutrition is monitored,” he said.

Culture Has A Role To Play Too

Adivasi women continue to depend on midwives to do their deliveries, instead of going to health centres or hospitals. It is also a common belief that consumption of iron or pills would hamper the health status of Adivasi women and their children.

Due to the customs and traditions being passed on over generations, some Adivasi women do not breastfeed their new born after birth, which gravely affects the health of the mother and child alike.

Many such cultural practices also support the proliferation of malnutrition among the Adivasi populations.

State of Public Healthcare Facilities

Despite establishment of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) in tribal areas, quality healthcare is still a dream for India’s tribal population.

These PHC are often at a dearth of doctors and trained paremedics. The non-availability of essential drugs, and proper infrastructure further worsen the case.

health status of Adivasi women
A frail looking Adivasi woman with her child. Wikimedia

Lack of knowledge and transportation in Adivasi regions is a huge drawback and travelling on foot to the PHC is a restraint for the tribal population which further hinders quality healthcare delivery.

Illiteracy is also a major factor for absence of good healthcare, as Adivasis’ fail to realize the need for healthcare and rights for care-seeking.

Even though the Adivasi community of India is deep rooted in traditions and superstitions, they have relatively accepted modern medicine in the last few years. But access to good health care continues to be a major issue of concern.

What Is The State Doing Regarding The Health Status Of Adivasi Women?

Jharkhand Welfare Minister Dr Lewis Marandi asserted that the state government is constantly making efforts to eradicate malnutrition and anemia, as per ANI report.

For the same, malnutrition centres have been opened in various districts of Jharkhand and the government is additionally providing supplementary nutritious food to children between the age of 6 to 72 months at meager costs.

Dr Kishore believes these supplementary food packages are also being sent for pregnant women, but they are not reaching the intended targets in rural and Adivasi areas.

The Road Ahead

As noted by the United Nations Children Fund, India has the highest tally of malnourished children in India. In this regard, in their efforts of remove malnutrition, the central government plans to introduce schemes guaranteeing increased amount of nutritional supplements to pregnant women and lactating mothers.

The State government has also been instructed to improve and closely monitor the functioning of PHC. Recently, the state government in Chhatisgarh extended livelihood opportunities to Adivasi women by training them to drive e-rickshaws, which are also expected to serve as ambulances in case of emergencies.

Similar initiative must be taken in Jharkhand and other states with Adivasi populations to bring the tribal communities to the mainstream.

However, what is crucial at the moment is for the government to spread awareness about the health of women, which must be given equal attention as the health of men in the Adivasi communities. At the same time, it is important to break the superstitions operational around the health status of Adivasi women.

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Treating insomnia in young people can ease mental health problems like Anxiety, Depression: Study

The study is published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal

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A study published Wednesday found that treating insomnia in young people could ease mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
A study published Wednesday found that treating insomnia in young people could ease mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. VOA

London, USA, September 7, 2017: Treating young people who suffer from insomnia by using online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could reduce debilitating mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, scientists said Wednesday.

In a large trial published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, researchers at Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute also found that successfully treating sleep disruption eased psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia.

“Sleep problems are very common in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties,” said Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology who led the work.

“This study turns that old idea on its head, showing that insomnia may actually be a contributory cause of mental health problems.”

The research involved 3,755 university students from across Britain who were randomized into two groups. One group had six sessions of online CBT, each lasting about 20 minutes, and delivered via a digital program called Sleepio. The others had access to standard treatments but no CBT.

Freeman’s team monitored participants’ mental health with a series of online questionnaires at zero, three, 10 and 22 weeks from the start of treatment.

The researchers found that those who had the CBT sleep treatment reduced their insomnia significantly as well as showing small but sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences.

The CBT also led to improvements in depression, anxiety, nightmares, psychological well-being, and daytime work and home functioning.

Andrew Welchman, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust health charity, which helped fund the research, said the results suggested improving sleep may provide a promising route into early treatment to improve mental health.

Freeman added: “A good night’s sleep really can make a difference to people’s psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological problems and emotional problems.” (VOA)

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For the First Time in USA, 53-year-old convict Mark Asay was Executed using Etomidate in Lethal Injection

Etomidate is the drug which was used for Mark Asay's execution

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Mark Asay was executed using Etomidate
Mark Asay was executed using Etomidate. Pixabay
  • Etomidate was invented by scientists from Janssen Pharmaceuticals 
  • The reason behind conviction of Mark Asay last year was that in 1988 he racially motivated killing of 2 men in Jacksonville, Florida
  • Before he shot Booker, he called him a racial epithet

Florida (USA), August 25, 2017: A 53-year-old convict Mark Asay was executed using a new drug called Etomidate for lethal injection on 24 August 2017. This drug has not been used before in the US.

Mark Asay was executed reportedly and one of the three drugs used for lethal injection was etomidate. It’s the first time that in execution they used the drug etomidate.

Earlier midazolam was used for executions but now it is harder to get this drug as some drug manufacturers didn’t want it to be used for executions. Now, Etomidate is a substitution for midazolam.

According to CNN report, Greg Panico, spokesman for the company said, “Etomidate, an intravenous anesthetic, was invented by scientists from Janssen Pharmaceuticals in the 1960s

According to WJAX report, “This month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected arguments from Mark Asay’s attorneys that the new drug would cause too much pain.”  Florida’s highest court said that the inmate Mark Asay had not shown that it would result in more pain and dismissed a motion to block the execution.

The reason behind conviction of Mark Asay last year was that in 1988 he racially motivated killing of 2 men in Jacksonville, Florida.

Also Read: Women-Centric Drug Rehabilitation Centers in Hyderabad is Saving Young Girls from Recreational Drugs like LSD

The two men whom the jury found him guilty of murdering were Robert Lee Booker, who was black and Robert McDowell.  “Before he shot Booker, he called him a racial epithet. Prosecutors say he killed McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, after saying he would pay him for sex,” mentions WJAX report.

“The execution marks Florida’s first since The US Supreme Court ruling temporarily halted the practice in early 2016, saying the state’s sentencing process was unconstitutional because it gave judges, rather than juries, too much power in deciding whether to execute an inmate,” mentions CNN report.

On 24 August 2017, US Supreme Court denied a stay for execution request in Asay’s case and it was scheduled that he would die by injection after 6 p.m. EST. It was also revealed that Asay didn’t have any pending petitions along with the Florida Supreme Court.

In 1979, the death penalty was reinstituted by the state and since then, Mark James Asay is the first white man to be sentenced for the death penalty in Florida for killing a black man.


 

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