How Liberia finally got rid of Ebola

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the Ebola outbreak in Libera is over, which means there haven’t been any new cases for the past 42 days. But the country remains on high alert, as new Ebola cases are still being reported in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Stamping out an epidemic of a deadly infectious disease is a great achievement for any country. Liberia’s triumph is more remarkable still given the country’s poor access to healthcare.

Read more on Quartz, published May 9, 2015.

Image by European Commission under CC-BY-ND.

Curious Bends – sugarcane cultivation, Ebola in India, the cost of sanitation and more

“Even earlier than Nehru, Professor C.V. Raman saw the spark in her and made her a Foundation Fellow of the Academy. Years later, in 1957, she was elected to INSA — the first woman scientist elected to any of the science academies in India. She was also awarded the Padma Shri in 1957. Having led a full life, she breathed her last on February 4, 1984. Think about it; every time you bite a sugarcane, or a lump of gud or vellam, you are enjoying the fruits of toil of Barber, Venkataraman and Janaki.” (5 min read)

2. How would India handle an Ebola outbreak?

“That’s why in Nigeria’s largest city Lagos, where the majority of the country’s 20 cases were discovered, authorities urged people not to urinate or defecate in drains, dump sites and open spaces. The move is perhaps one reason why Nigeria has successfully contained the epidemic, with no new cases since Sept. 8. In India, around 600 million people defecate in the open. A lack of toilets and in some parts a cultural preference for going outdoors would make it almost impossible for similar public health advice to have the same effect.” (8 min read)

3. Five reasons why India’s first mental health policy is impressive

“Desai believes it is commendable that the policy goes beyond treatment of mental illness to prevention and promotion of mental health, but hopes that the Action Plan keeps Indian cultural contexts in mind while implementing policies for prevention and promotion. “While talking about policies for treatment of mental ailments, there is reasonable uniformity in approach,” said Desai. “But when it comes to personality development and seeking happiness, the Action Plan must keep cultural aspects in mind.”” (4 min read)

4. What is the true cost of sanitation?

“This is just a snapshot of what it will take to achieve sanitation that delivers on the promise of public health and personal dignity that we as a society seek. Are we prepared to bear this true cost? Let’s just take the Rs.12,000 subsidy the government has promised those who will construct toilets. There are 111.10 million households that would need toilets. That totals up to Rs.1.34 trillion for the toilet construction alone. It becomes easier to choose when we look at the true cost of not providing safe sanitation to all. A study by the Water and Sanitation Programme and others has estimated this at 6.4% of GDP of India in 2006. Not included in this is the cost of wasting the fertilizer and soil regeneration value of the human waste of a billion people.” (6 min read)

5. Featured longread: A new statistical law that’s popping up everywhere for unknown reasons

“Systems of many interacting components — be they species, integers or subatomic particles — kept producing the same statistical curve, which had become known as the Tracy-Widom distribution. This puzzling curve seemed to be the complex cousin of the familiar bell curve, or Gaussian distribution, which represents the natural variation of independent random variables like the heights of students in a classroom or their test scores. Like the Gaussian, the Tracy-Widom distribution exhibits “universality,” a mysterious phenomenon in which diverse microscopic effects give rise to the same collective behavior. “The surprise is it’s as universal as it is,” said Tracy, a professor at the University of California, Davis.”” (12 min read)

Chart of the week

“When the price of black gold falls, businesses and individuals cheer but oil-exporting countries suffer. According to research from Deutsche Bank, seven of the 12 members of OPEC, an oil cartel, fail to balance their budgets when prices are below $100. Last month Venezuela, a particularly inefficient member of the cartel, saw its bonds downgraded. One non-OPEC member in particular is in trouble: Russia. Economic growth is already poor. Further drops in the oil price could be very painful. After all, oil and gas make up 70% of Russia’s exports and half of the federal budget.” The Economist has the full story.

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Image by Adam Cohn.

Curious Bends – flying cars, a teen innovator, fighting Ebola and more

1. The flying car may finally become a reality thanks to interest from humanitarian organisations

The last thing you’d expect an Amazonian tribe to inspire is a flying car, but that’s the story behind the Maverick, being developed for humanitarian aid workers. Backed by French investors (and its army) the Maverick’s creators promise a vehicle to negotiate most disaster-prone areas with 250-kg payloads and three crew. (8 min read)

2. A plane crash attracts world headlines but nobody cares about 380 people dying on Indian roads

This is a bizarre, take-it-in-your-stride tragedy that sits at the nexus of bigger yet similar issues: bad public infrastructure, lack of driving etiquette and dysfunctional policy. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to believe that the truck that rams into a scooter crossing the road isn’t to blame — and there are those who agree. It takes more than unfortunate, accidental events to kill more people per day than AIDS does. (8 min read)

3. Turning breath into words

Arsh Shah Dilbagi, a 16-year old from Panipat, India, has built a device that allows breath to be converted into words for the disabled. Dubbed an “augmentative and alternative communication” solution, it helps convert a person’s shorter and longer exhalations to the dots and dashes of Morse code and synthesise speech. While not yet widely tested, Arsh is a finalist in the 2014 Google Science Fair on the back of its strength, and expects to be able to integrate it with Google Glass one day. (2 min read)

4. An NGO reunites mentally ill homeless people with their families

Since March 2006, the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation has reunited more than 2,500 mentally ill homeless people with their families. This is a heart-warming service. But when you ask why it exists, you realize you’re exploring why mentally ill people end up lost on India’s streets. Why did they leave home? Were they sent away or did their caretakers not care enough? Complicating the problem further is the fact that in many parts of rural India, mental illnesses are not understood for what they really are — although there is at least one outstanding exception, and the sign of a way ahead. (4 min read)

5. Featured longread of the week: The hunt for Ebola medicines is being accelerated

“The biggest problem remains containment, especially in the months before new medicines arrive. Virologists, such as Dr Ball at Nottingham, worry that increasing human-to-human transmission is giving Ebola the opportunity to become more transmissible. Each time the virus replicates, new mutations appear. It has accumulated and hung on to some mutations, like ‘cherries on a one-armed bandit’, he says. Nobody knows what would happen if Ebola hit the jackpot with a strain that is even better-adapted to humans. But the outcome could be grim, for Africa and the rest of the world.” (8 min read)

Chart of the week

More than 840,000 people killed themselves every year around the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India is the single biggest contributor to this morbid statistic, which is too high a number for something that can be prevented. The reasons may be complex but the WHO is hoping an internationally driven project could propel significant change. Read the report hereand see a visual analysis by Vasudevan Mukunth here.

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Image by James Vaughan.