3 Months After Birth is Critical For Mom’s Health

Women who get good pre-natal care before they deliver, vastly increase their chances to have healthy babies. But what happens after they give birth? VOA’s Carol Pearson reports a survey of mothers in the U.S. shows they slack off on their own health needs which doesn’t help them with a new baby.

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Ebola Containment Efforts in DRC Threatened by Insecurity, Underfunding

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to urban areas and across international borders because of heightened insecurity and a serious shortage of money. DR Congo Ministry of Health reports 1,739 cases of Ebola, including 1,147 deaths, which indicates a 66 percent fatality rate. 

The Ebola epidemic in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces started 40 weeks ago on August 1.  What is particularly frightening about the latest situation report is that 20 percent of overall cases have occurred in just the last three weeks.

The International Red Cross Federation finds this sharp upsurge alarming.  It is urging the international community to redouble its efforts to contain this deadly virus before it escalates further.  

The IFRC’s Director of Health and Care, Emanuele Capobianco, says the Ebola response faces a double jeopardy of insecurity and critical underfunding.  He says the security situation is complex and will require a range of responses.  But he notes the funding situation could be fixed now.

“At the moment, the financial situation for many of the humanitarian organizations is quite dire,” he said. “There is a real need to step up the response.  Otherwise, activities will have to be scaled down and the impact on the future of the epidemic will be extremely serious.”  

People who get infected with the Ebola virus have a very high risk of dying.  Studies from the 2014 historic outbreak in West Africa show that between 60 and 80 percent of Ebola cases were linked to Ebola-infected bodies at traditional burials.

Capobianco says Red Cross efforts to provide communities with safe and dignified burials are meeting with increasing success.

“Up to now, there have been up to 5,000 safe and dignified burials conducted and they are conducted for, as I mentioned before, the people who died either in the community or the Ebola treatment centers of Ebola confirmed,” he said.  Also, for people who may be just suspected of Ebola.  And, that is why the number of 5,000 is so high.  That is a critical part of the work that we have done and which, at the moment is threatened by the lack of funding.”  

Capobianco says the Red Cross has received less than half of the $30 million it needs to carry out its Ebola-control activities across affected parts of DR Congo, as well as preparedness efforts in neighboring Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

He warns Red Cross operations will be forced to close within the next two weeks without additional urgent investment.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Oregon OKs Largest Expansion of Federal Free Lunch Program

Oregon is spending $40 million to dramatically expand the federal free breakfast and lunch program, ensuring that more than 60 percent of its 400,000 public school students will be included, the only statewide effort in the country

Oregon is spending $40 million to dramatically expand its federal free breakfast and lunch program, ensuring that more than 60 percent of its 400,000 public school students will be included, the largest statewide effort in the country.

The program is based on providing free meals to any child whose family lives at up to three times the poverty level, which is $75,000 for a family of four.

New tax package 

The meals expansion program is tucked away in a new tax package for schools, a sweeping $1 billion annual investment explicitly dedicated to boosting student performance. It will be paid for through a new half a percent tax on business. 

Chicago and New York City are among some major cities that offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, but this is the only statewide program according to Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon.

“Hungry kids don’t think about education nearly as much as having something in their stomach,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Democrat from Coos Bay who helped craft the legislation. 

Oregon will allow 761 schools to provide free lunch and breakfast to approximately 345,000 students. 

One in seven households is “food insecure,” according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy , meaning that families have trouble putting food on the table and often don’t know where they’ll get their next meal. 

At least 174,000 children have limited access to food, more than the population of Oregon’s second largest city, Eugene. 

Hunger-Free Kids Act

At least 62% of students attend a school with high federal poverty rates. These schools can get federal assistance to provide free meals to all their students no matter their income levels under the 2011 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a policy championed by former first lady Michelle Obama. 

But even though these schools may qualify for assistance, not all of them take advantage of it because of low federal reimbursement rates. The reimbursement rate is different for each school, depending on the school’s poverty level.

Schools with lower reimbursement rates often choose to provide free meals only to students living about two times above the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would require an income up to $50,000.  

Around a third of food insecure students in Oregon, however, live above that poverty threshold meaning they’re ineligible for free meals under the federal program, according to data from Feeding America . 

Tim Sweeney, a superintendent in Oregon’s impoverished South Coast, said that his district runs a deficit because it chooses to take on the cost of feeding all its students. Many students are completely dependent on schools for food, he said.

But even with federal assistance, it costs around $25,000 a year to provide free breakfast and lunches, money Sweeney said could have gone to textbooks.

“Poverty is a huge deal here and so many students rely on schools to provide them with food and a warm place for shelter,” he said. “Food service may not be a winning game, but we know it means the world to these kids.” 

Gov. Brown signs package

Gov. Kate Brown signed the school funding tax package, but it’s likely to be referred to the voters to decide in 2020, thanks to Oregon’s robust referendum process.  

 Republicans, who make up the minority of the Legislature, sought to block the package by refusing to show up to the Capitol to vote, shutting down all business for a week. They returned Monday at which point the measure was swiftly approved.

Although the tax package was partisan, Roblan says this is the one provision that was never up for debate.

“This is a big buy for our state,” he said. “But there was no hesitation. This is the right thing to do.”

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Alabama Passes Near Total Ban on Abortions

The U.S. state of Alabama has passed a law that criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, including pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Tough abortion laws were earlier adopted in the states of Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi. A growing number of other states hostile to abortion could follow suit. The trend is raising fears that conservatives will seek to make abortion illegal across the country, forcing women to opt for unsafe methods to end unwanted pregnancies.

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Using Garbage to Rebuild Tired Soil

Soil gets tired as repeated farming slowly robs it of nutrients. In the past, farmers would be forced to keep their fields empty for a season while the soil recharged, or plant crops like peanuts that put nutrients back into the soil. But UK researchers are adding garbage to their dirt as a way to keep it healthy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports that the project is important because so much of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

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Mobile App Promises to Detect Child’s Ear Infections Without Doctor Visit

A team at the University of Washington has invented a smartphone app that, when used with a paper funnel, is able to detect ear infections in children, helping parents decide whether a trip to the doctor is warranted.

The app, which was described in the journal Science Transnational Medicine on Wednesday, plays a sound akin to a bird chirp into a child’s ear canal via a simple funnel the parents put together.

It plays for 1.2 seconds and then uses the phone’s mic to listen in: If fluids or pus have accumulated behind the eardrum, in the middle ear, the sound pattern of the returned echo will indicate an infection.

“The way to think about it is almost like a wine glass,” said Shyam Gollakota, head of the lab that developed the project.

“And if you tap on the wine glass, you’re going to get a different sound depending on the level of liquid in the wine glass.”

It had a success rate of 85 percent when tested on around a hundred cases and, according to Gollakota, is more accurate than a visual inspection by a doctor.

If an infection is detected, parents will need to go to a doctor anyway for confirmation and to get a prescription. 

Gollakota likened its utility to that of a thermometer, which helps people decide whether a visit to a doctor is appropriate.

Other apps

The ear infection app is just one of several ideas being developed by the lab at the intersection of mobile technology and health.

The goal is to resolve some of the biggest health issues that people face today at lower costs.

Gollakota’s team has also built another application to detect sleep apnea, and another that warns the relatives or friends of a person taking opioids if they appear to be overdosing.

He hopes to obtain regulatory approval for the ear infection app by the end of the year and have it available in the market by early 2020.

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Japanese Space Startup Aims to Compete With US Rivals

A Japanese startup that launched a rocket into space earlier this month plans to provide low-cost rocket services and compete with American rivals such as SpaceX, its founder said Wednesday.

Interstellar Technology Inc. founder Takafumi Horie said a low-cost rocket business in Japan is well-positioned to accommodate scientific and commercial needs in Asia. While Japan’s government-led space programs have demonstrated top-level technology, he said the country has fallen behind commercially due to high costs.

“In Japan, space programs have been largely government-funded and they solely focused on developing rockets using the best and newest technologies, which means they are expensive,” Horie told reporters in Tokyo. “As a private company, we can focus on the minimum level of technology needed to go to space, which is our advantage. We can transport more goods and people to space by slashing costs.”

Horie said his company’s low-cost MOMO-3 rocket is the way to create a competitive space business in Japan.

During its May 4 flight, the unmanned MOMO-3 rocket reached 113.4 kilometers (70 miles) in altitude before falling into the Pacific Ocean. The cost to launch the MOMO-3 was about one-tenth of the launch cost of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the country’s space agency, according to Interstellar CEO Takahiro Inagawa.

Horie said his company plans to launch its first orbital rocket — the ZERO — within the next few years and then it would technologically be on par with competitors such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and New Zealand engineer Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab.

The two-stage ZERO would be twice as long and much heavier than the compact MOMO-3, which is about 10 meters (32 feet) long and 50 centimeters (1.5 feet) in diameter and weighs about 1 ton. It would be able to send satellites into orbit or carry payloads for scientific purposes.

Development of a low-cost commercial rocket is part of a growing international trend in the space business led by the U.S. and aggressively followed by China and others.

At home, Horie could face competition from space subsidiaries of major companies such as Canon and IHI, which have expertise from working with the government’s space agency.

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Alabama Legislature Approves Ban on Nearly All Abortions

Lawmakers in the southeastern U.S. state of Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, sparking a legal fight over a measure that could become the nation’s most stringent abortion law.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America vowed Wednesday to challenge the legislation in court if Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signs it into law. “We have no choice,” said president Leana Wen. “We are talking about the rights for generations to come.” 

The Republican-dominated Senate voted 25-6 to make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk.

Senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. 

Supporters said the bill is designed to spark litigation that could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion. 

“Roe v. Wade has ended the lives of millions of children,” said Alabama Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss. “This bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children.”

A spokeswoman for Ivey said she intends to withhold comment until she has had a chance to thoroughly review the final version of the bill. 

Action by other states

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s new conservative justices, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. And abortion opponents in several other states are seeking to challenge abortion access.

“This is a plan by the Republican Party, make no mistake, to overturn Roe v. Wade and turn back the clock on women’s reproductive civil and human rights,” U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand said in an interview Wednesday on CNN.

Another Democratic presidential candidate, former vice president Joe Biden, said the current law should not be declared unconstitutional.

“Roe v. Wade is settled law and should not be overturned,” Biden said. “The choice should remain between a woman and her doctor.”

A Pew Research Center poll conducted late last year found that 58 percent of those surveyed said abortion should be legal in almost all cases, while 37 percent said it should be unlawful.

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AI, Space Technology to Help With Early Diagnosis of Bowel Cancer

Scientists of University College London (UCL) are developing new technology to help doctors detect deadly bowel cancer and polyps in their earliest stages and ensure the best chances of a patient’s recovery. The system called Odin Vision uses a combination of artificial intelligence and space technology for diagnostic precision. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has this story.

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Explorer Dives to Deepest Depths, Takes Time to Take it in

Taking the hours-long journey to what is believed to be the deepest point mankind has visited in any ocean was a complicated one, and for Victor Vescovo, it meant being constantly alert as he monitored his state-of-the-art vessel.

But when he reached 10,928 meters into the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean, Vescovo took the advice of the man whose record he just broke, Oscar-winning director James Cameron, and took 15 uninterrupted minutes to take in the view and the enormity of the moment.

Cameron told him he’d be busy, of course, but noted that “few if any people have seen what you’ve seen” so “deeply appreciate how fortunate you are to see it,” Vescovo recalled in an interview.

​Deepest ocean depths

Last month’s groundbreaking mission was filmed as part of an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary series that will chronicle Vescovo’s trips to the furthest parts of the world’s waters — the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. He has done all except the Arctic plunge, which is set for the fall.

The entire journey took nearly 12 hours: four hours to descend, four hours spent at the bottom, and then about four hours to ascend again. Vescovo, a businessman and amateur pilot who has also traversed the highest mountain peaks, including Mount Everest, said the goal of the expedition was not to best Cameron’s mark in the ocean, but to go to areas that were unexplored.

“I was stunned to discover when I did my research that of the five oceans, four had never had a visitation to their bottoms,” he said. “I thought it was about time that someone actually did that.”

For his journey, Vescovo traveled in a vessel called the SDV Limiting Factor, a titanium craft that is billed as the “ultimate submersible” and the only one able to travel to such depths. It was outfitted with high definition cameras that documented everything, including creatures unknown to man.

New species and plastic

“There’ve been numerous new species thought found on this expedition. The scientific group is thrilled with the things that have been brought back for additional analysis. It’s really great,” he said.

He saw a very unusual jellyfish in the Indian Ocean but there was also an unsettling find — trash, particularly plastic, in the deepest part of the water.

The discovery of plastic in such far reaches proves the need for more vigilance to protect the oceans, said Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, which describes itself as the largest worldwide group in the world with the goal of saving the oceans.

“Vescovo’s discovery of plastic in the deepest part of the ocean is disturbing but not surprising because plastic is found throughout the water column in our oceans,” he said in a statement. “That’s why it can’t be easily ‘cleaned up.’ We need to focus on reducing the use and production of plastic in order to really protect our seas from plastic.”

Crucial ocean exploration

Patrick Lahey of Triton Submarines, which made the vessel that transported Vescovo and also followed Vescovo’s dives to the Challenger Deep, said the missions show why more exploration of the oceans are critical for science’s benefit.

“These are large swaths of the oceans that we’ve never seen that really we know virtually nothing about. I think it’s important for us as human beings to study these areas,” Lahey said.

“The ocean is the life force of our planet. I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn more about it and to try to use this tool that we’ve developed for that purpose.”

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Michigan Legislature to Vote to Ban Abortion Procedure

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature planned to vote Tuesday to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure, pushing ahead with legislation that would likely be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

 

The bills would prohibit physicians from performing a “dismemberment abortion,” the non-medical term for dilation and evacuation used by anti-abortion advocates, except to save a woman’s life. The procedure, in which the fetus is removed with a surgical instrument such as forceps, was used in 1,777, or 6.7%, of abortions in the state in 2017. It accounted for half of all second-trimester abortions, including 78% done after the 16th week of pregnancy.

 

The pending votes were scheduled at a time Republicans across the U.S. are advancing tough anti-abortion bills they hope can pass muster with the Supreme Court.

 

With Whitmer expected to veto the measures if they are sent to her desk, Right to Life is preparing to launch a citizens’ initiative that could be enacted by lawmakers without her signature. The group has successfully used the maneuver four times before to put anti-abortion bills into law.

 

“This is a horrific, barbaric procedure. It literally rips arms and legs off of living babies. This is not OK. This is not OK for any civilized person,” said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan.

 

Whitmer has pledged to veto anti-abortion legislation.

 

“You’ve got a powerful backstop in a veto from my office,” she said last month at a Planned Parenthood conference.

 

Abortion-rights activists criticized the bills as they moved through House and Senate committees.

 

“We must call these bills what they are — nothing more than an orchestrated, national strategy by anti-abortion politicians to restrict abortion,” Amanda West, government relations director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, told a House pane in April. The organization representing the state’s doctors, the Michigan State Medical Society, also opposes the legislation.

 

Dilation and evacuation, or D&E, has been barred by 12 states. Bans are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia but are on hold in eight other states because of legal challenges. North Dakota’s law, signed last month , only becomes effective if a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement. Indiana’s ban, which also was enacted in April, is set to take effect in July but is being challenged in court.

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Trump Seeks Extra $1.6 Billion in NASA Spending Under Goal of Returning to Moon

The Trump administration asked Congress on Monday to increase NASA spending next year by an extra $1.6 billion to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA’s timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The proposed increase would bring NASA’s total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to $22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development for a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by NASA.

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump tweeted late on Monday. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”

NASA had previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a “Gateway” station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

The newly accelerated goal – an endeavor likely to cost tens of billions of dollars – comes as NASA has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from U.S. soil for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The U.S. Apollo program, NASA’s forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth’s natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon from 1969 to 1972.

So far, only two other nations have conducted controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the former Soviet Union and China. But those were with unmanned robot vehicles. 

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