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Archive for March 13th, 2013

Smartphones detect parasitic worms

Posted by African Press International on March 13, 2013

Photo: American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene
Smarter than you think

NAIROBI,  – A smartphone, a strip of double-sided tape and a simple glass lens could have a significant impact on the diagnosis of intestinal parasites that affect millions in remote, rural parts of the world, where even the most basic medical testing is hard to come by.

A recent, proof-of-concept study in rural Tanzania compared the effectiveness of a lens attached to an iPhone with the effectiveness of a standard light microscope in searching for roundworm and hookworm eggs in 199 children’s stool samples. Although not as sensitive as the light microscope, the mobile phone microscope “revealed a sensitivity of 69.4 percent and a specificity of 61.5 percent for detecting any soil-transmitted helminth [parasitic worm] infection.”

“Mobile phone microscopy has been used in the laboratory setting, but we thought it would be a good idea to test it in a real-world setting,” Isaac Bogoch, the lead investigator of the study and a doctor at Toronto General Hospital, told IRIN. “We need to improve the image quality and get a better lens and better slides, but it is quite close to the gold standard.”

“The advantage of the mobile phone microscope is that it’s cheap: a smartphone – any phone with a decent camera and zoom would probably work as well as the iPhone – a glass lens that costs between US$8 and $10, and a basic flashlight. A lay health worker can do it, and the device is portable, which means it can be used as a point-of-care test,” he added. “The standard diagnostic process requires a microscope, a person trained to use one, electricity and a decent light source, which is often not widely available in many places affected by parasitic infection.”

According to the UN World Health Organization, close to one-quarter of the world’s population is infected with soil-transmitted worms: “Over 270 million preschool-age children and over 600 million school-age children live in areas where these parasites are intensively transmitted, and are in need of treatment and preventive interventions.”

Worms are transmitted by eggs in human faeces that contaminate the soil; transmission is exacerbated by poor sanitation. Children infected by worms can be physically, mentally or nutritionally impaired. A number of medications are available to control infection.

“We plan to test it in the clinical setting – the big picture is to get these diagnostic tests into the field, into the hands of people who need them most,” Bogoch said.

kr/rz source

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Zimbabwe: The referendum is taking place ahead of general elections slated for July

Posted by African Press International on March 13, 2013

Politicians push for Yes vote in

Photo: IRIN
The referendum is taking place ahead of general elections slated for July

HARARE,  – On 16 March Zimbabweans will vote in a referendum on whether to adopt or reject a draft constitution for which the three major political parties have publicly endorsed a Yes vote.

The writing of a new constitution was one of the requirements of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which formed a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe‘s ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), following the violently contested presidential elections of 2008.

After the referendum, Zimbabweans will vote in general elections slated for July, either under a new constitution or the current one.

“Sweeping powers”

A large cross-section of society – including women, war veterans and the youth – have given the draft constitution a thumbs up, but Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the civil society group National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said the fact that all three political parties support a Yes vote on the referendum should sound alarm bells.

“The three political parties are seduced by some of the constitutional provisions which safeguard the president from answering questions in parliament,” said Madhuku, whose organization is encouraging Zimbabweans to vote No on the new constitution. “The current draft does not change the features of the current constitution in terms of presidential powers; the office will still retain sweeping powers.”

The NCA has approached the Supreme Court to have the date of the referendum postponed, arguing that Zimbabweans have not had enough time to study the draft. The NCA opposed the drafting process from the beginning, saying it should not be led by political parties but by an independent constitutional commission.

Tecla Chisvo, a 55-year-old farmer in Chegutu, Mashonaland West, said she was unhappy with both the process of drafting the new constitution and its final form and would vote against it.

“During outreach and consultation meetings, we were told by political party representatives what to say in terms of what should be contained in the constitution. That obviously meant what we wanted included was not accommodated. Even now, it is political parties that are telling us to vote Yes,” said Chisvo.

Jabulani Sibanda, chairperson of the militant National Liberation War Veterans Association, which is closely allied with ZANU-PF, told IRIN that they would vote in favour of the draft.

“There are so many things that we are not happy about in this draft constitution, but like many constitutions or agreements, we have to negotiate with representatives of our former colonizers and the devils amongst ourselves. We will vote Yes in the referendum and allow it to pass because we will win the next elections by a huge majority. We can always make progressive amendments in parliament,” Sibanda said.

Many unaware

The Constitution Select Committee (Copac), a coalition of parlimentary representatives from the three parties, had initially printed only 90,000 copies of the draft constitution for a country with a registered voting population of more than 5 million.

Of that figure, 70,000 were in English and 20,000 in local languages. They also printed 200,000 abridged versions of the draft constitution in the different languages.

“People have not seen the draft, and because the entire process was politicized, people generally shunned the process and lost interest”

Noma Dube, a civil servant in Matabeleland South, told IRIN that rural communities were largely unaware of the impending referendum. “There has not been adequate publicity around it. People have not seen the draft, and because the entire process was politicized, people generally shunned the process and lost interest.”

The greatest outcry has come from people living with disabilities. Abraham Mateta, a visually impaired legal expert, told IRIN that Copac had only printed 200 Braille copies of the draft constitution for a population of 40,000 blind people.

“The current draft constitution is a sad reflection of Zimbabwean attitudes towards people with disability,” he told IRIN. “To start with, the inputs from people with disabilities during outreach meetings were ignored and welfarist and charity models adopted.”

He said this would relegate people with disabilities to chores such as shoe mending and making baskets.

Said Mateta, “While the draft is clear on what interventions the State should make with groups such as the youth, elderly and war veterans, on disability, it says interventions shall be made subject to availability of funds, which clearly implies that disability is expensive and that disabled people are second class citizens.”



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