Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Your nameplate on the moon

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 30: Want to have your nameplate put on the moon? Just endorse the international lunar observatory mission and your name will be etched on a plaque to be placed in the south pole of the earth's only natural satellite.
The International Lunar Observatory Association, which is taking up the lunar observatory mission in 2009 to explore the universe from the moon, is seeking endorsement to its moon observatory programme. It promises to put the names of those endorsing its mission, on a plaque to be set up near the observatory site in the moon's south polar region.
The service is absolutely free and the association says the name plaque is as part of encouragement to people to endorse the first-ever lunar observatory to be set up on the moon. Since there's no or limited atmospheric interference on the moon, the lunar observatory will be able to "see" the universe and other planets in a better way. The earth's atmosphere blurs the images and this was precisely the reason behind setting up of the international space telescope.
All one has to do is to visit www.iloa.org, click the endorse link, fill it up and send it to the association. When the observatory is sent to the moon, the list of the endorsers will also be forwarded along with it.
The Association held its preliminary session in Hyderabad during the recent 58th international astronautical congress. A number of countries including India's Isro are providing support to the lunar observatory mission.
Dozens of Hyderabadis have already endorsed the mission thus paving the way for their names to be included in the "lunar" plaque. The International Lunar Observatory is a multi-national, multi-wavelength astrophysical observatory, power station and communications centre that is planned to be operational near the south pole of the lunar surface. The International Lunar Observatory Association supports the ILO and its follow-on missions through timely, efficient and responsible utilisation of human, material and financial resources of space faring nations, enterprises and individuals.
The ILO mission was conceived during the historic International Lunar Conference 2003 (5th meeting of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group. A distinguished panel of lunar scientists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, advocates and others gathered to discuss the next vital step in human exploration of the moon within the decade. What manifested was the Hawaii Moon Declaration, a one-page “Ad Astra per Luna” manifesto, written and signed by conference participants. Soon after the positive momentum, the ILO mission began to take shape.
An ILO Advisory Committee was established in 2005, consisting of about 50 supporters from the international science, commerce and space agency communities. ALO Association was formed last year. After the Hyderabad preliminary session, the next meeting is scheduled for November 2007 in Hawaii.
Space-faring nations like the USA, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, and Russia are participating in the mission. It also has the direct support within the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
Located about 122 kilometres from the Lunar South Pole, the adjacent mare plain just north of the 5-kilometre high “Malapert” Mountain is the intended landing region for the ILO. Near-constant sunlight (thought to be 89 per cent full, four per cent 4 partial) provides an energy-rich environment, and the lunar peak enjoys continuous line-of-sight to Earth and direct Earth-Moon communications.
The mountain dominates its surrounding area for an excellent vantage point and is near enough to expected water ice deposits -- which can be utilised for oxygen, drinking water and rocket fuel, around the lunar south pole.
Given these factors, Malapert Mountain is considered to be the most suitable location for the ILO to conduct astronomy and catalyse commercial lunar development and human lunar base build-out. 

Reduction of Infant Mortality Rate: Five States selected for the IMR reduction task

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Buoyed by the success achieved in a pilot project on reduction of infant mortality rate in Gachiroli district of Maharashtra by 67 per cent, the Central government has decided to implement similar strategy in five States including Andhra Pradesh.
Fast development in the medical field notwithstanding infant mortality rate continues to be higher in the country, worrying reproductive experts and health planners alike. Still 54 infants die for every 1000 live births in Andhra Pradesh while neighbouring States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have successfully reduced the infant mortality rate. The Centre wants the IMR to be further reduced in Andhra Pradesh at least by half in the next few years.
Reproductive experts attending the fourth Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights have chalked out a strategy to bring down the IMR, which includes increase in the number of assisted deliveries and monitoring pregnant women right from conception till the passage of the neonatal phase.
According to Abhay Bang, director of the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health, they could bring down the neonatal morbidity rate in Gadchiroli through a low-cost home based model of primary neonatal care by training village women.
"In most homes in the villages, there is generally the mother, grandmother and the traditional midwife who assists a woman during child birth. We decided to introduce a trained worker to this team to make the process safer," he observed.
India still lags behind in achieving the target of universal sexual and reproductive health services by 2015, as fixed by the Cairo Declaration.
United Nations Population Fund executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid pointed out that South Asia had the highest rate of maternal mortality outside Africa and almost half of the world's maternal deaths occur in the region.
The other States where the IMR reduction programme will be taken up are Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Andhra Pradesh is ill-equipped to tackle the bird flu

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 22: The State is ill-equipped to tackle the bird flu in case of an outbreak of the highly infectitious disease. There's no vaccine for any of the 100 and odd strains of bird flu including the more dangerous strain H5N1 which infects human beings too.
The good news, however, is that none of the strains has ever been found in the Stare or elsewhere in the country. Poultry farmers in the State are a worried lot in the wake of reports that a flock of infected migratory birds has landed in some of the water bodies in Nellore and Krishna districts.
The city-based Environment Protection Training and Research Institute has noticed a change in the migratory pattern of birds after Tsunami last December. Some of the birds have changed their regular habitats and shifted base to lakes in Hyderabad. Most of the poultry farms are in and around Hyderabad and any lapse on the part of breeders may result in the spread of the the infection.
"We have taken all precautions. But we cannot say for sure that the disease will not infect the birds. We will know only when it outbreaks. As of now, all the samples collected in the State are free of any infection," says B Rami Reddy, president of Poultry Breeders Association.
India is the third largest producer of poultry in the world and Andhra Pradesh ranks first in the country both in terms of poultry farms and chicken and egg production. The State produces around five crore eggs and six crore chicken every day. A small negligence on the part of poultry farmers, officials fear, will lead to an outbreak of the deadly bird flu.
Hyderabad, known as the city of research laboratories, strangely enough does not have an exclusive research centre to test virus. The country has only one such facility in Bhopal. In fact, there are only five high security animal diseases laboratories in the world. The other four are located in Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Andhra Pradesh being the number one in poultry, the state of abattoirs and farms varies from unhygienic to satisfactory standards, and from highly organised to informal.
Says poultry expert MN Rao, "though there is always the threat of an outbreak of virus in the State or anywhere, poultry farmers in Andhra Pradesh have improved the standards during the past four years. The industry suffered heavily a couple of years ago when people stopped taking chicken fearing bird flu. Since then farmers themselves have stepped up survielliance".
However, health officials warn that the State must further improve its infrastructure, disease surveillance and reporting system. The State does not have enough stocks of vaccines for human influenza in case the disease spreads from poultry to human beings.
"A vaccine for the bird flu is not possible at this stage. The method of transmission is through migratory birds to poultry and not from human to human contact. A vaccine is possible only when we know the strain of the virus. In case of spread to human beings, anti-viral drugs may be used. But we will know the efficacy only when they start working," observes veterinarian Dr P Nagasrinivasa Rao.
Though the migratory birds have started arriving in the country, the poultry in the State continues to be safe, asserts KG Anand, general manager of Venkateswara Hatcheries. "Our birds are always kept in cages. Unlike in China and other countries, the farms in the State are closed and there's no scope of migratory birds infecting the local poultry. However, we are taking all precautions to prevent any outbreak," he points out.
Experts from different parts of the country are meeting in Tirupati on November 6 and 7 to discuss the problem of bird flu and how to contain the disease from entering the State.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In AP, sombre touch to festival

October 2007
Meanwhile | Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Id-ul-Fitr or the feast of alms-giving is the biggest Islamic festival which every Muslim around the globe would look forward to every year. But this year Hyderabad, which has the second largest Muslim population in the country, is celebrating Id with a sombre touch.
Many Muslim families have decided to make the celebrations low-key as mark of respect to those who lost their lives in the three bomb blasts that hit Hyderabad.
Others have donated a part of the funds earmarked for the festivities to charitable organisations.
Even schoolchildren have joined their parents in forgoing the festivities in several parts of the State. Business figures from the famous Charminar market shows one-third of the community did not go for shopping this Id.
On Jummat-ul-Vida, the last Friday of Ramzan, religious leaders called upon the devout not to spend much on festivities but concentrate on charity and service. They also emphasised the need for mass prayers for peace and universal brotherhood of man.
The blasts in the historic Mecca Masjid, the subsequent police firing and the blasts at Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat have left fear in the minds of the community.
The blast at the dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, the greatest Sufi saint in the sub-continent, has only heightened this sense of fear.
A majority of Muslims in Hyderabad and other parts of the country are devotees of the Sufi saint, who is popularly revered as Gharib Nawaz (benefactor of the poor).
"Id is indeed an occasion to celebrate. But how could we celebrate when our brothers and sisters are in trouble. There was so much loss of life in Hyderabad in the last five months. I will go to the Idgah and offer special prayers there. I am dedicating this Id to those killed in the blasts," says S.A.K. Jeelana, a college-goer.
Says Syed Fazil Hussain Parvez, who edits the popular Urdu weekly Gawah, "that people have decided to make the Id a low-key affair is clear from the low turnout at shops in Charminar. The business fell by at least 40 per cent and not many from outside Hyderabad came here for shopping at the famous Charminar-Madina market. The spate of arrests and the police raid on madarasas have also contributed to the low turnout."
Moulvis who led congregation prayers in mosques departed from their usual sermons during Ramzan. Their speeches revolved around peace and the need for the community to extend support to law enforcing agencies to weed out communal and terrorist elements.
"This is not the time to rejoice at least for us Hyderabadis. Many Muslims have decided to restrict their Id prayers to the local mosque, instead of going to the Idgah. This is a good idea. The larger the congregation the greater the security risk," says senior cleric Hafiz M.N. Rahman.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mutations in X chromosomes, contributed by mother, will lead to mental retardation in children

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 9: City geneticists have found that mutations in X chromosomes, contributed by mother, will lead to mental retardation in children.
A joint study by L Hemabindu, PP Reddy and others from the department of environmental toxicology, Institute of Genetics and Hospital for Genetic Diseases, Osmania University, detected L1 CAM mutations in X-linked mental retardation. L1 CAM is a neural cell adhesion molecule (CAM) belonging to the superfamily of the immunoglobulins and is critical for proper central nervous system development in humans. Since mutations on X chromosome is now linked to mental retardation, it simply means that mothers pass on the defect to their children.
The research team screened as many as 15 cases with mental retardation analysing genomic DNA from the patients and control subjects. The team detected mutations in two out of 15 patients. "It is worthwhile to screen idiopathic mental retardation cases for L1 CAM mutations to reduce genetic morbidity in the population by offering genetic counselling and prenatal diagnosis," the study pointed out.
Mental retardation is caused by genetic and non-genetic factors. Among the genetic factors, chromosomal anomalies and metabolic disorders were found to be causative factors in 50 per cent of the cases with mental retardation. However in the remaining 50 per cent of cases, the cause is not established.
Studies conducted in the field of molecular genetics and developmental neurobiology revealed that some types of brain malformations and mental retardation are due to mutations in L1 gene. Cell adhesion molecule (L1CAM) plays a key role in the development of nervous system. The gene encoding L1 is located on the X chromosome. Patients suspected for mental retardation from different hospitals and clinics were referred to the Institute of Genetics and Hospital for Genetic Diseases for confirmation. After initial examination, unknown cases of mental retardation were included for the study. Fifteen children in the age group of 6 months to 15 years were selected. For comparison, an equal number of healthy and normal children in the same age group and socio-economic status were selected as controls.
The patients and the healthy subjects were clinically examined and information on their age, sex, physical features, pedigree and health status was recorded in a standard questionnaire.
Psychological assessment was performed using standard IQ. assessment tests.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Radiation hit a toxic high in Hyderabad

October 14, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 13: Hyderabad is fast turning into a "radiation city" with harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays hitting the city at "extreme" levels.
UV forecasts for Hyderabad show that the radiation falling down on the city from the sun for most part of the year is on the higher side, which is an indication that all is not well with the ozone layer above and the city's atmosphere.
Hyderabad is bracketed with concrete jungles like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai as these cities record "extreme" UV radiation for more than three days a week. However, Delhi appears to be slightly better as the UV radiation levels there are generally "high" to "very high" but rarely "extreme".
Ultraviolet rays falling on the earth are classified into various categories based on the intensity of the radiation and the harm they cause to human beings and animals. The World Meteorological Organisation, a WHO body, has standardised the UV radiation levels with its "UV Index" which is a simple measure of the UV radiation
level at the earth's surface. Hyderabad's UV Index shows a measure of 11, the highest point in the UV scale.
No wonder then that there has been a spurt in skin diseases in Hyderabad may be because of extreme levels of UV radiation. "Most of the cases relate to photo-ageing and skin cancer due to penetration of the rays into the skin. Even if one is in a car the rays can penetrate the glass and impact the skin. The most common skin allergy cases that come to us are related to UV radiation called polymorphic light
eruption," senior dermatologist Dr Anup Lahari pointed out.
The values of the UV Index range from zero to 11 and the higher the Index value, the greater the potential for damage to the human body and the less time it takes for harm to occur. On the higher side is the "extreme" and on the lower side is the "very low". In between UV Index is categorised as "low", "medium", "high" and "very high.
The WMO and the World Climate Research Programme as also the India Meteorological Department regularly issue UV forecasts for different cities around the world and in India respectively. The IMD monitors UV levels at its 45 radiation observatories spread across the country.
The UV Index up to October 18 is 11 i.e. "extreme" for Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, while it is 8 (very high) for Delhi, 7 (high) for Chandigarh and 10 (very high) for Kolkata. The Index last week was also "extreme" for most part of the week for Hyderabad and other cities except Delhi.
The main reason given for the high intensity of UV radiation in Hyderabad is rapid urbanisation and high levels of pollution.
"As UV radiation can neither be seen nor felt, the UV Index is an important tool to raise awareness of the problem and alert people on a daily basis to take prompt, appropriate and protective action. That Hyderabad has high UV Index is an indication that the ozone layer is not properly filtering the sunlight. If the ozone does its job properly, the harmful radiation are filtered out. The high UV Index shows that
the ozone layer has become thin," says Prof OSRU Bhanu Kumar, head of the department of environmental sciences, Andhra University.
Health experts and environmentalists warn that damage from the exposure to the UV rays is cumulative and over a period of time it will lead to serious diseases of the eye, including cataract and macular degeneration.
Consultant radiologist of Care Hospital Dr B Murali suggested that one should go in for massive tree plantation and keep off the sun to the extent possible to avoid UV radiation. "UV radiation exposures are largely preventable. The best protection is achieved by practising a combination of recommended safe behaviours. Limit exposures to sun rays when they are the strongest i.e. between 10 am and 4 pm. Seek shades such as trees or umbrella whenever possible. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor of at least 15. Sunglasses can provide 100 per cent protection," he said.
Children are at high risk as on an average they get three times more sun exposure and thus are subject to damaging cumulative effects of UV. It is estimated that 80 per cent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before 18 years of age.
"With the UV rays being equally extreme even in a "garden city" like Bangalore, there has been an increase in eye related problems there. Dr NM Sudha, senior ophthalmologist from Bangalore, pointed out that ultra violet light is as a causative factor in several eye problems such as cataract, retinal degeneration and surface problems such as pterigyum.