Wednesday, 15 February 2017



Forest fire: Kerala to enlist NASA help
KOZHIKODE: FEBRUARY 10, 2017 02:59 
Forest officials will receive real time SMS alerts about the exact location of forest fires.
With summer round the corner, the Forest Department is planning to make use of NASA’s satellite communication system to detect forest fires.
Forest officials, including range officers and divisional forest officers (DFO), will receive real time SMS alerts about the exact location of forest fires. The Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India (FSI) will provide the inputs from NASA.
Some 165 forest fires occurred in Kerala in 2016 with the highest number recorded in Wayanad and Idukki (30 each), followed by Palakkad, 28. Kerala has 11,300 sq km of forest cover mainly in these three districts. Forest fire is one of the major causes of degradation of forests in the country, according to the FSI.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest, Land and Resources) P.K. Kesavan told The Hindu that SMS-based alerts would help reduce the response time to tackle forest fires and marshal resources to reduce damage.
Already, all DFOs have registered their mobile numbers and range officers have been asked to follow suit.
The SMS-based alert system is being adopted close on the heels of the department switching over to the once-prevalent wireless communication network to improve surveillance over Maoist infiltration and poaching and tackle man-animal conflict in the jungles.
Officials said the FSI had been alerting State Forest Departments against forest fires by the MODIS sensor on board the Aqua and Terra satellites of NASA since 2004. But from 2017, the FSI had also started disseminating alerts obtained from SNPP-VIIRS sensor, which has a better resolution compared to MODIS.


Nilambur teak set to enter elite club of products with GI tag

THRISSUR: FEBRUARY 10, 2017 03:02

The timber has superior mechanical and physical properties, besides an incomparable aesthetic appearance

Nilambur teak, internationally known for its superior quality and elegant appearance, will soon be added to the list of Kerala produces with the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
The effort to obtain the GI status for this unique timber variety, pioneered by the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) Cell of the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) with the support of the Nilambur Teak Heritage Society, the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) and the Department of Forests, is set to bear fruit within a month.
It was the Britishers who identified the superior quality of teak from Nilambur plantations and forests. Later, the region became the major supplier of quality teak in the world.
Global appeal
As its fame crossed the seven seas, Nilambur was christened the Mecca of Teak. Tonnes of timber, blessed with superior mechanical and physical properties as well as incomparable aesthetic appearance, were taken to London and other parts of the world. The Nilambur-Shoranur Railway line was laid for transporting the teak logs.
However, fake products with false tags started flooding the wood/ furniture markets as the fame of Nilambur teak increased. Understanding the potential risk, the IPR Cell and the College of Forestry of Kerala Agricultural University motivated the people of Nilambur to protect their rights legally, by registering the unique product as a Geographical Indication under the GI Act.
The Nilambur Teak Heritage Society joined hands with the Kerala Agricultural University to register Nilambur teak as a GI product of India. The IPR Cell of KAU coordinated the legal procedures. Scientific studies to validate the unique qualities of Nilambur teak were done at KAU's College of Forestry. The KFRI Centres at Peechi and Nilambur and the Kerala Forest Department also supported the venture.
The preparations for registering Nilambur teak were initiated with a workshop of stakeholders organised by KAU in 2013. The application for GI registration was submitted to the GI Registry, Chennai, in December 2015. The modalities completed, the formality of bestowing the GI tag on Nilambur teak is expected at the next sitting of the Registry, according to KAU sources. Members of Nilambur Teak Heritage Society, Coordinator of KAU’s IPR Cell and experts from the College of Forestry have been asked to attend the sitting at the GI Registry, scheduled for the end of February.
GI registration of Pokkali rice, one of the first Kerala produces to get the GI tag, meanwhile, has been renewed. Other Kerala products with GI registration include Vazhakulam Pineapple, Wayanadan rice varieties Jeerakasala and Gandhakasala, Tirur Betel vine, Central Travancore Jaggery and Chengalikodan Nendran, a banana variety.


When hospitals infect you

FEBRUARY 12, 2017 00:06 
A 2015 study finds that the rates of hospital-acquired infections and antimicrobial resistance were markedly higher in India than those reported by the CDC in the U.S.
A large number of patients who go to hospitals come back with something more serious. According to the World Health Organisation, at any given time over 1.4 million people across the globe suffer from a nosocomial orhospital-acquired infection (HAI). HAIs account for 2 million cases and about 80,000 deaths a year.
The first step to combat this situation is to improve hygiene practices and implement standard operating procedures at each step, according to the president of the International Nosocomial Infection Control Consortium (INICC), Victor D. Rosenthal, who has been studying the problem for several decades.
“Most HAIs are caused due to [a] lack of compliance with infection control guidelines, such as hand hygiene, [and] use of outdated technology,” he says. The most common types of HAIs are bloodstream infection, pneumonia, urinary tract infection and surgical site infections.

Key findings
A study published in 2015 by the INICC led by Dr. Rosenthal, studied the rate of device-associated infection rates in 40 hospitals from 20 Indian cities over a 10-year period from 2004. The study, which collected data from 236,700 intensive care unit (ICU) patients for 970,713 bed-days, found that rates of HAIs and antimicrobial resistance were markedly higher in India than the rates reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading national public health institute in the United States.
The study found an incidence rate of 7.92 central line-associated bloodstream infections per 1,000 central line-days, 10.6 catheter-associated urinary tract infections per 1,000 urinary catheter-days and a ventilator-associated pneumonia rate of 10.4 per 1,000 mechanical ventilator-days in adult ICUs. The study reports that these high rates could reflect “the typical ICU situation in hospitals in India”.
“In India, adherence to practice bundles is irregular, hospital accreditation is not mandatory, and some of the technology applied is different from that of high-income countries. This situation is further emphasised by the fact that administrative and financial support in public hospitals is insufficient to fund full infection control programmes, which invariably results in extremely low nurse-to-patient staffing ratios — which have proved to be highly connected to high HAI rates in ICUs — and hospital overcrowding,” reads the study.

Issue of overcrowding

Acknowledging India’s serious problem of overcrowding of hospitals which leads to many basic hygiene processes being given the go by, Dr. Rosenthal says limited manpower is an important risk factor. “Having one nurse for three beds in an ICU is an important risk factor. With limited resources, there are limitations on providing a good enough manpower, proper guidelines, proper training, proper education, good behaviour, and right technology,” he explains.
Today more than ever, pathologists are constantly in “catching up” mode trying to counter microorganisms rapidly mutating and adapting to existing known methods of treatment. And the persons most susceptible to infection are those whose immune system is already compromised, say after a surgery or a prolonged visit to the hospital. Referring to the overuse of antibiotic drugs, Dr. Rodenthal sounds a sharp warning to the overuse of antibiotics: “The misuse and excess use of antibiotics increase resistance. The approach should be to prevent infections and in the process bring down the HAI rate together with bacterial resistance, rather than waiting for infections and then treating them with antibiotics.”

Around the World — February 12, 2017

The cost of China’s dirty air
In the largest epidemiological study conducted in the developing world, researchers found that as exposure to fine particulate air pollution in 272 Chinese cities increases, so do deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The researchers have reported their results in “Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Daily Mortality: A Nationwide Analysis in 272 Chinese Cities”, published online ahead of its print version in the American Thoracic Society’sAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
“Fine particulate [PM2.5] air pollution is one of the key public health concerns in developing countries including China, but the epidemiological evidence about its health effects is scarce,” says senior study author Maigeng Zhou, PhD, deputy director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Mortality was significantly higher among people aged 75 and older, and among people with lower levels of education. The association between PM2.5 levels and mortality was stronger in cities with higher average annual temperatures.


Health stories from rural India

FEBRUARY 12, 2017

Using a combination of narratives, science and data, An Atlas of Rural Health: Chronicles from Central India provides a fresh way of looking at the health scenario in India

The rise of witch doctors, quacks and unregistered allopathic doctors as a result of an inadequate health infrastructure is not incidental is a point made by a Bilaspur-based non-governmental organisation using cartograms or maps on which statistical information is shown in diagrammatic form. Using 50 stories that are resonate with rural living, the ambitious project aims to spread awareness about socio-economic reasons for deaths, rather than just medical ones.
One such cartogram in a newly launched “Health Atlas”, is about snake bites. Here, Aghani Bai’s son, Dal Singh, who was bitten by a snake, is given a concotion made of plant root mixed with water to drink. Baiga tribals consider the herb an antidote to snake venom. The local ‘jholachhaap’ doctor administers a saline solution to Singh. In less than 24 hours, he dies, his body turning yellow and fingers swelling as a reaction to the venom. Most snake bites happen at night when transportation facilites are hard to come by. Understanding this, the book suggests numbing the bitten part before going to a health facility as a method of first intervention.
“An Atlas of Rural Health: Chronicles from Central India,” which is produced by the Chhattisgarh-based non profit Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS), is rich in narratives collected over many years, from Bilaspur district where the JSS operates. “This book is not only about Chhattisgarh but also the whole of India as we face [the] same problems everywhere. The book has tried to capture the socio-economic reasons for deaths, rather than just medical ones,” says Dr. Yogesh Jain, Secretary and founder of JSS.
Deaths due to snake bite are among the top 10 reasons for death, according to the Million Death Study by the Registrar General of India. Snake bites kill nearly 46,000 people annually in India with 97% of them occurring in rural areas. And this hardly makes news .
“Mostly, IEC [Information, Education and Communication] materials are very city-centric and have [a] top-down approach. But this book is written by people who work with poor and marginalised people. It explains complex diseases and science in a simple fashion. It will be used by health workers from rural setting,” says Manisha Gupte, co-convener of the Pune-based MASUM, a rural women’s organisation.
In another section, the book gives information on many common ailments in a simple language to help people understand their science and take informed decisions. It captures emerging issues such as antibiotic resistance in community.

The health maps

An interesting part are the health maps, titled “Maps of Inequity” and created with the help of the cartogram software tool, ScapeToad. The method is used to visualise intensity of a variable on a physical map. Apart from a strong visual impact of geographical patterns of diseases, the maps highlight State-wise inequities in India.
“The trend that emerges though the maps shows that resource-poor States have [a] higher burden of diseases than the others,” says Dr. Ajay Verma of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, who worked on the cartograms for JSS.
For example, the malaria map shows that eastern States, including Chhattisgarh, suffer far more than other parts of the country. For maternal mortality ratio, the map shows that even though it has been contained in many parts of India, the northeastern States continue to suffer badly.
The book provides a fresh way of looking at the health scenario in India. With a combination of narratives, science and data, and priced at ₹400, it is a much-needed intervention, especially in times when the buzzwords are privatisation and public-private-partnerships rather than public health.
Jyotsna Singh is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist, reporting on health policies.

Displaced villagers can swing the outcome in Tehri’s Pratapnagar


In 2012, BJP lost to Cong. by 542 votes: the same set is in fray this time too

A board flashes the details of a bridge being built to connect the two sides of Tehri district separated by the reservoir. The construction of the bridge had started in 2007 but a decade later, after involvement of several consulting-executing agencies, and spending ₹138 crore, the Dobra-Chanti suspension bridge remains at the heart of problems and the politics of Pratapnagar.
“In the past decade the construction work has been on and off several times. It started again, last year, but I don’t think it’ll be completed even this year [2017],” said Vijender Singh Bisht of Saur Uppu village.
While construction work progresses on the 440-metre-long bridge, drawing on expertise of agencies from South Korea and Ukraine, there is a boat ferrying villagers across the half-kilometre wide reservoir.
“The boat is available every two hours. If we miss the ride we have to wait for two hours to reach the other side… To use the boat after 5 p.m., the villagers call up the district authorities in New Tehri [town] for permission,” Sheeshpal Rana, also a resident of Saur Uppu, said.
Tehri’s Pratapnagar and Ghansali constituencies are most affected by the 42 sq. km. Tehri reservoir. Some parts of the reservoir that fall under Uttarkashi district’s Gangotri constituency have also been impacted.
Rajeshwar Painuly of the Tehri-based Dobra-Chanti Pul Banao Sangharsh Samiti has been actively advocating the cause of the Dobra-Chanti bridge for the past six years. Mr. Painuly, who was associated with the BJP, was expecting ticket. However, after the BJP denied him candidature, he decided to contest the polls as a candidate of the Indian Business Party.
“Had the BJP named Painuly ji as its candidate from Pratapnagar, it would have gone in the party’s favour, but now he might eat into the votes of the BJP and the Congress,” Mahipal Negi, a political observer from the district, said.
In Pratapnagar, the 2012 election was a close contest between the Congress’ sitting MLA Vikram Negi and the BJP candidate Vijay Panwar, who lost to Mr. Negi by only 542 votes. This time too, the two candidates have been fielded by the BJP and the Congress.
In Madan Negi — another village under the Pratapnagar constituency — Prem Dutt Juyal has been demanding rehabilitation for 1,336 reservoir-affected families living on sinking land, and in damaged houses.

Fear of landslips

Apart from Madan Negi, 80 villages in the vicinity of the Tehri reservoir have also been exposed to frequent landslips and land sinking due to constant erosion caused by the reservoir water.
The villages await rehabilitation as the court mulls over “who, among the district authorities and the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Limited (THDC), must pay for the rehabilitation of the dam-affected villagers,” Tehri District Magistrate Indudhar Baurai, who is also the Director of Rehabilitation, said.
“In the past five years the Congress MLA [Vikram Negi] did nothing for the reservoir-affected people [in Pratapnagar]. Therefore, This time I have told all the people here [in Madan Negi] to vote for the BJP candidate [Vijay Panwar],” Mr. Juyal said.
Mr. Panwar has been Pratapnagar MLA between 2007 and 2012.
Madan Negi comprises five villages that have around 5,000 voters. “I will get the maximum number of voters here [in Madan Negi] to vote for the BJP candidate,” Mr. Juyal said.

Solar power breaks a price barrier

 FEBRUARY 13, 2017

In another barrier-breaking development, the auctioned price of solar photovoltaic (SPV) power per kilowatt hour has dropped below Rs. 3 to Rs. 2.97 in Madhya Pradesh, providing a clear pointer to the future course of renewable energy. The levellised tariff — factoring in a small annual increase for a given period of time — for the 750 MW Rewa project over a 25-year period is Rs. 3.29, which is less than half the rate at which some State governments signed contracts in recent years. The progress of this clean source of energy must be deepened with policy incentives, for several reasons. Arguably, the most important is the need to connect millions of people without access to electricity. A rapid scaling-up of solar capacity is vital also to meet the national goal of installing 100 gigawatts by 2022, a target that is being internationally monitored as part of the country’s pledges under the Paris Agreement on climate change. It will also be transformational for the environment, since pollution from large new coal-based power plants can be avoided. There is everything to gain by accelerating the pace of growth that essentially began in 2010, with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission. Yet, performance has not matched intent and the target of installing 12 GW solar capacity in 2016-17 is far from attainable, since it fell short by almost 10 GW as of December.
A glaring lacuna in the national policy on renewables is the failure to tap the investment potential of the middle class. While grid-connected large-scale installations have received maximum attention, there is slow progress on rooftop solar. Clearly, adding capacity of the order of more than 10 GW annually over the next six years towards the 100 GW target will require active participation and investment by the buildings sector, both residential and commercial. This process can be kick-started using mass participation by citizens, with State electricity utilities being given mandatory time frames to introduce net-metering systems with a feed-in tariff that is designed to encourage the average consumer to invest in PV modules, taking grid electricity prices into account. The experience of Germany, where robust solar expansion has been taking place over the years, illustrates the benefits of policy guarantees for rooftop installations and feed-in tariffs lasting 20 years. SPV costs are expected to continue to fall, and tariffs paid both for large plants and smaller installations require periodic review. At some point, significant subsidies may no longer be necessary. That scenario, however, is for the future. Currently, India needs a lot more good quality power, which renewables provide. Solar power is an emissions-free driver of the economy, generating growth in both direct and indirect employment. A lot of sunlight remains to be tapped.

‘TB survivors shrouded in silence’


24-year-old doctor talks about his battle with Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

“My battle with TB was not just physical, but also mental and emotional. I was partially blind and deaf, and I developed thyroid disorders.
To top it all, there was depression and frustration,” said Saurabh Rane, a 24-year-old doctor who fought an extreme form of Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (DR-TB).
Talking about the recent digital release of ‘The long run: a marathon to defeat TB’, a short film that chronicles his struggle, Mr. Rane said: “When I looked around for inspiration or hope, I found none. TB survivors seemed shrouded in silence. That’s why I wanted to tell my story.”
Inspiring others
Explaining the need to make a film about his journey, he said that the aim was to inspire those affected by the disease and reducing the stigma attached to it.
Mr. Rane said that he was just 21 years old when he contracted the disease.
“Not only did I fight TB successfully, but I also ran a half marathon while on treatment. Later, I undertook one of India’s most challenging treks. It’s a story I want to tell,’ said the young doctor.
Short film released
The film also marks the launch of the Survivors Against TB (SATB) campaign, which is a community-led movement. The group includes Mr. Rane and other TB survivors who have defeated tuberculosis in its severest forms.
Based on their experience, these survivors advocate with key stakeholders on the changes necessary to make TB care more accessible and patient-centric.
“Saurabh’s film and other such patient narratives will inspire others to speak out and realise that they are not alone” said Chapal Mehra, convenor of the campaign.
Reaching out
Recently, the SATB also reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with suggestions on what needed to be done to address India’s TB crisis.
“As survivors we know the battle; we know what patients need. There is an urgent need to incorporate survivors’ perspective in TB policies in the country. Hopefully, the government will listen,” says the group.
‘Call to action’
The campaign has also released these suggestions as a ‘Call To Action’ on its website.
The petition includes critical action points, which the survivors have developed based on seven key areas — public awareness within communities, early and accurate diagnosis, addressing drug-resistant TB, providing nutrition and economic support, creating a robust health information system, engaging the private sector, and prioritising changes in TB treatment.


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