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U.N., Partners Call For Greater Efforts To Fight Number One Killer Of Children On World Pneumonia Day

On World Pneumonia Day (WPD), recognized on November 12, “[t]he United Nations and its partners … called for greater efforts to eradicate pneumonia, the number one killer of children under the age of five,” the U.N. News Centre reports. According to the WHO, “pneumonia, which is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five years every year — more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” the news service notes (11/12). In a statement recognizing WPD, USAID said, “Thankfully, we have in our possession the tools needed to change the tide on these statistics. Now we need new ways to deliver badly needed health services and new ways to stimulate demand in the most rural pockets of the world” (11/12). “The Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, a partnership of more than 140 government, international and philanthropic organizations, sponsors WPD,” IIP Digital adds (Porter, 11/9).

New SARS-Like Virus Detected In Total Of Six People From Saudi Arabia, Qatar, WHO Says

“A new virus from the same family as SARS which sparked a global alert in September has now killed two people in Saudi Arabia, and total cases there and in Qatar have reached six, the World Health Organization said” on Friday, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/23). “Of the six known cases … two have been fatal” and “[o]nly two were clearly connected,” as they were members of the same family, according to the New York Times (McNeil, 11/23). In 2003, nearly 8,500 people worldwide were infected by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and about 900 of those people died, the Associated Press/CBS News reports. “The WHO said it was continuing to work with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other international health partners to gain a better understanding of the [current] virus,” the news service notes (11/23).

Experimental Flu Vaccine Technique Could Reduce Time Needed To Develop New Shots For Humans

“An experimental vaccine based on a molecule related to DNA protects animals against influenza and may one day offer an ultra-rapid way to develop new shots for humans, German scientists reported on Sunday,” Reuters reports (Hirschler, 11/25). “In a first for any infectious disease, a vaccine against flu has been made out of messenger RNA (mRNA) — the genetic material that controls the production of proteins,” New Scientist writes, adding, “Unlike its predecessors, the new vaccine may work for life, and it may be possible to manufacture it quickly enough to stop a pandemic” (Mackenzie, 11/25).

New Study Maps Global Zoonotic Disease 'Hotspots'

“A global study mapping human diseases that come from animals like tuberculosis, AIDS, bird flu or Rift Valley fever has found that just 13 such diseases are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths a year,” Reuters reports (Kelland, 7/5). “The report, which was conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Institute of Zoology (U.K.) and the Hanoi School of Public Health in Vietnam, maps poverty, livestock-keeping and the diseases humans get from animals, and presents a ‘top 20’ list of geographical hotspots,” an ILRI press release states (7/5). The study “found that Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, as well as India have the highest zoonotic disease burdens, with widespread illness and death,” Reuters writes.

White House Science Adviser Responds To Inquiry Regarding Handling Of H5N1 Research Controversy

“White House science adviser John Holdren has replied [.pdf] to questions asked last month by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) about how the Obama Administration has handled the controversy surrounding two studies that showed how to make the H5N1 avian influenza virus transmissible between mammals,” ScienceInsider reports. On March 1, “Sensenbrenner — a former head of the House of Representatives committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, sent a ‘fact-finding letter’ [.pdf] to Holdren” asking a “number of questions about how the government reviews potential ‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC) that might be used for good or evil,” the news service writes.

2-Day Meeting Examining Issues Of Censorship Of Scientific Studies Leaves Questions Unanswered

A two-day Royal Society meeting held this week in London — which examined “whether scientific journals should occasionally publish censored versions of papers because the full ones might prove useful to terrorists” — “brought scientists no closer to resolving the question of whether there are any kinds of experiments whose results should be kept from the public,” the Washington Post reports. “The audience of about 200 scientists and ethicists considered numerous questions,” the newspaper writes, noting, “There was general agreement that some experiments are off limits, such as attempting to make the AIDS virus transmissible by air,” but “[t]here was less agreement about the experiments at hand, which changed the characteristics of H5N1 bird flu.”

Funders Should Follow Lead Of U.S. In Creating Policies For Scientific Research Oversight

“[T]he controversy over the research into the genetic modification of the H5N1 flu virus, finally approved for publication, should offer a reminder of the importance of debate” over dual-use technology, a Nature editorial states. “[D]ual-use basic research is a special case because its implications, for good and bad, are often viewed with the greatest clarity by only a small minority of people,” and often only “[t]he scientists involved (and they are increasingly specialists in very small fields) … can fully understand the risks posed by a line of research,” according to the editorial. “There are disadvantages to leaving it up to outsiders to initiate debate about risks, benefits and ethics,” the editorials states, noting three disadvantages, including the risk of misconceptions and a lack of knowledge about how to handle some research.

Voluntary Moratorium On H5N1 Avian Flu Research Likely To End Soon

Following the conclusion of a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week — meant “to gather feedback from flu researchers, others in the science community, and the public on its draft framework for funding H5N1 gain-of-function studies and to continue an international dialogue on issues related to benefits and risks of the research” — “experts anticipated that a voluntary moratorium on work with lab-modified strains that have increased transmissibility might end soon,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 12/18). “That’s because officials at the National Institutes of Health say they will be moving swiftly to finalize a new process for deciding whether or not to fund proposed experiments that could potentially create more dangerous forms of the bird flu virus H5N1,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes.

Meeting Participants Discuss HHS Framework For Funding H5N1 Avian Influenza Research

CIDRAP News reports on a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health during which “researchers, biosecurity experts, and others” discussed the “crafting [of] a framework for funding H5N1 avian influenza gain-of-function studies.” The meeting “is the latest chapter in an intense scientific controversy that was triggered by the publication of two recent studies involving lab-engineered H5N1 strains that showed signs of being transmissible in mammals,” according to the news service. “The global scientific community is closely watching the framework discussions, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the world’s biggest funders of H5N1 research, including the two studies that sparked the controversy,” CIDRAP writes, adding, “Studies on H5N1 are considered a key pandemic preparedness step, and research findings have been used to help governments guide the development of vaccine and antiviral countermeasures.” According to the news service, “The HHS will post a summary and video of the meeting at a later date for those who weren’t able to attend, and it is encouraging people to submit written comments by Jan 10, 2013” (Schnirring, 12/17).

Small Ceramic Indoor Cookstoves Do Not Reduce Pneumonia Incidence Among Children, Study Shows

“Small ceramic indoor stoves, such as those sold by women in AIDS self-help groups in Africa, do save fuel and cut down on eye-irritating smoke, a new study has found — but they do not save children from pneumonia,” the New York Times reports. “The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, compared 168 households in rural Kenya that used either ‘upesi jiko’ [ceramic] stoves or traditional three-stone indoor fires,” the newspaper writes, noting, “Biweekly visits by researchers found that children in both the stove and open-fire homes got pneumonia equally often” (McNeil, 12/17). Though the ceramic stoves have some benefits, such as reduced smoke in the home and lower risk of burns, Rob Quick, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the research team, said, “[O]ur group is studying six novel cookstove technologies designed to cleaner burning, and we should have results in the next few months to see if one or more of these cookstove designs offer potential for reducing the risk of pneumonia,” according to VOA News (Lewis, 12/17).