Polity & Governance
- Panel formed to study Haj policy, subsidy issue
Environment & Ecology
- Central Pollution Control Board assessing oil spill
- Neurocalyx calycinus plant possesses medicinal values
Bilateral & International Relations
- UN seeks India’s nominee for anti-terror panel
Science & Technology
- Toxins in litchi fruit may kill children
- Single vaccine for dual protection against measles and rubella
- Single-dose Zika vaccine works in animals: Study
Key Facts for Prelims
- World’s smallest pacemaker
Polity & Governance
Panel formed to study Haj policy, subsidy issue
The Union government has formed a six-member committee to study the ways to improve India’s Haj policy and look into the issue of subsidy to the pilgrimage in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order on gradually reducing and abolishing it by 2022.
- The convenor of committee is Afzal Amanullah, former Consul-Consul General of India in Jeddah.
Mandate of the committee:
The committee will:
- Examine implications of various directions of the Supreme Court with regard to the existing Haj policy, and suitable amendments in it.
- Review the effectiveness of Haj Committee of India’s management of pilgrims’ accommodation and air travel.
- Figure out whether the pilgrims can travel to Saudi Arabia paying less in the absence of the subsidy.
- Assess the aspects of transparency, consumer satisfaction and disclosure requirements for private tour operators to protect interest of the pilgrims to make the policy of greater assistance to the pilgrims.
Haj subsidy issue:
The Union Government gives Haj subsidy to Muslim Hajj pilgrims in the form of airfare subsidy as well as assistance for domestic travel to reach specially designed haj departure airport terminals.
In 2012, the Supreme Court had directed the Union Government to gradually reduce and abolish Haj subsidy by 2022.
It had ordered government to invest the subsidy amount (approximately Rs 650 crore a year then) on educational and social development of the community.[Ref: The Hindu]
Environment & Ecology
Central Pollution Control Board assessing oil spill
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is analysing samples from the oil spill resulting from a collision between two ships off the coast of Tamil Nadu recently.
- Clean-up operations are being coordinated by the Coast Guard and involve several disparate organisations.
- Oil spill took place recently off the coast of Tamil Nadu due to a collision between two ships.
- The Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services has estimated that about 20 tonnes of oil may have leaked when the vessels collided.
- It is estimated that about 43 kms of the Tamil Nadu coastline may have been affected.
Responding to the oil spill:
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
- It was constituted in September, 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
- Further, CPCB was entrusted with the powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
- It serves as a field formation and also provides technical services to the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Principal Functions of the CPCB:
- To promote cleanliness of streams and wells in different areas of the States by prevention, control and abatement of water pollution, and
- To improve the quality of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution in the country.
- To co-ordinate the activities of the State Pollution Control Boards by providing technical assistance and guidance and also resolves disputes among them.
Neurocalyx calycinus plant possesses medicinal values
Scientists have confirmed the multiple therapeutic properties of Neurocalyx calycinus, a medicinal plant endemic to the southern parts of Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.
- The therapeutic properties of the plant were discovered based on traditional knowledge of Cholanaickan tribe, (one of the particularly vulnerable groups in Kerala) used it to treat inflammations and wounds.
- The researchers have filed for a patent on a novel herbal drug formulation possessing wound-healing, burn-healing, anti-cancer, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, immuno- enhancing, platelet-augmentation and anti-oxidant effects.
- The pre-clinical trials confirmed the therapeutic effects of N.calycinus against burn wounds and pain, besides its immuno-enhancing, platelet augmentation, and anti-oxidant potential.
- The anti-inflammatory activity of the leaves was found comparable to the drug diclofenac sodium.
- The presence of high Vitamin E content and potent cytoprotective activity in cell lines in the plant species have also enhanced the prospects of developing an anti-cancer drug.
Bilateral & International Relations
UN seeks India’s nominee for anti-terror panel
India has been asked to send the name of its nominee for inclusion in a global team to assist a United Nations committee which decides on banning terror outfits and their leaders.
- Following the request from the global body, both the Home and Finance ministries have been asked to recommend names of suitable individuals who can be part of the key team.
Eligibility for the post:
- The nominations have been sought from qualified individuals to serve on the ‘Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team’ in support of the important ‘1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee’.
- Those interested should be experts on ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaeda and affiliated individuals and entities, their evolution, linkages and changing nature of the threat.
- They should have “willingness to travel extensively, including in difficult environments”.
- The position requires a high level of personal commitment to the monitoring team’s mandate and to the United Nations.
- The final selection of the team is made by the UN secretariat based on assessment of the individual qualifications of the candidate.
- The monitoring team works in tandem with the UN Secretariat to standardise the format of all United Nations sanctions lists and also assists the Committee in regularly reviewing names on it.
Significance of this move for India:
- The presence of the country’s nominee on the panel may facilitate the government’s efforts to get Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and mastermind of last year’s Pathankot air base attack.
India’s effort to get JeM chief listed in the UN’s sanctions list of organisations and individuals linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS has been repeatedly blocked by China.
Azhar’s JeM, which is said to have links with Taliban and Al-Qaeda, has been blacklisted by the UNSC.[Ref: The Hindu]
Science & Technology
Toxins in litchi fruit may kill children
Scientists from US and India have found that consumption of litchi fruit on an empty stomach can result in very low blood glucose level and acute encephalopathy leading to seizures and coma, and causes death in Children in many cases.
- Litchi fruit contains the toxins hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG).
- Its consumption and skipping evening meals causes very low blood glucose level (less than normal 70 mg/dL) and acute encephalopathy in children.
- These toxins may block enzymes involved in normal glucose metabolism and result in an inability to synthesis glucose leading to acutely low level of blood sugar.
- The build-up of other metabolic by-products can also have an adverse effect (encephalopathy) on the child.
- Unripened litchi contains Hypoglycin A, naturally-occurring amino acid that causes severe vomiting (Jamaican vomiting sickness).
- MCPG is a poisonous compound found in litchi seeds that cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, vomiting, altered mental status with lethargy, unconsciousness, coma and death.
- Dextrose therapy i.e. giving children sugar to normalize their rapidly plummeting blood glucose levels.
- Minimising litchi consumption,
- Eating evening meal throughout the outbreak period,
- Implementing rapid glucose correction for suspected illness.
- Outbreaks of high fever followed by seizures and death in young children were reported in poor socio-economic backgrounds in rural Muzaffarpur in Bihar and other litchi-growing regions in India due to consumption of unripe lychees on an empty stomach.
- In 2014, fever and convulsions had killed 122 and hospitalised 390 children within three weeks in Muzaffarpur.
- All the sick children had eaten litchis without eating evening meal and had developed high fever, seizures and convulsions followed by coma before daybreak.
Single vaccine for dual protection against measles and rubella
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently launched Measles Rubella (MR) vaccination campaign in the country.
About Measles Rubella (MR) vaccination campaign:
- The campaign against these two diseases will start from five States/UTs (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Goa and Lakshadweep) covering nearly 3.6 crore target children.
- Measles vaccine is currently provided under Universal Immunization Programme (UIP). However, rubella vaccine will be a new addition. After the completion of the campaign, MR vaccine will be introduced in routine immunization and will replace measles vaccine, given at 9-12 months and 16-24 months of age of child.
- The MR campaign targets around 41 crore children across the country, the largest ever in any campaign.
- All children aged between 9 months and less than 15 years will be given a single shot of Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccination irrespective of their previous measles/rubella vaccination status or measles/rubella disease status.
- MR vaccine will be provided free- of- cost across the states from session sites at schools as well as health facilities and outreach session sites.
About Measles-rubella (MR):
- The disease commonly known as German Measles (or three-day measles) and is symptomatically similar to measles.
- It can have devastating consequences if a pregnant mother is infected with it and the foetus may be born with incurable congenital anomalies.
- Symptoms of the infection can include cataracts and deafness. It can also affect the heart and the brain.
- The congenital rubella infection is believed to affect approximately 25,000 children born in India every year.
Single-dose Zika vaccine works in animals: Study
According to recent study, an innovative vaccine made from genetic material protected lab animals from the Zika virus in experiments.
- The new vaccine is based on a modified version of genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA).
- It is designed to pass under the radar of the immune system and enter directly into human cells.
- Once there, RNA vaccine is incorporated into the cell’s protein-making machinery, it mimics the action of a live virus vaccine building up an immune response.
- It can be delivered into the blood stream by fat-based nanoparticles.
- It can be injected just below the skin and is thus easy to administer.
- RNA-based vaccines are non-replicating, i.e. they cannot integrate into the host’s genetic blueprint. It overcomes safety concern that comes with live-virus vaccines.
What is Live attenuated vaccines?
- Live attenuated vaccines are created by weakening infectious organisms that can still replicate and induce protective immune responses without causing disease in the host.
- Vaccination with the live but attenuated organism generates an immune response that protects the vaccinated person against severe disease or even infection.
Advantages of Live attenuated vaccines:
- Live attenuated vaccines are great at teaching the immune system how to fight off a particular virus because they are the closest to a natural infection.
- They only require one to two doses for life-long immunity. (Fewer boosters!)
- These vaccines are relatively easy to create for certain viruses.
Disadvantages of Live attenuated vaccines:
- It is possible that weakened viruses have the ability to gain control of their natural environment again and cause disease.
- These vaccines can not be administered to people with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV, or other immune system depressing disease.
- Live, attenuated vaccines usually must be refrigerated and protected from light. It may be hard to ship these vaccines overseas and used in places that lack refrigeration.
- This technique doesn’t work as well with bacteria, therefore there are very few live bacterial vaccines.
About Zika virus:
- Zika virus had erupted on a large scale in mid-2015 in which more than 1.5 million people were infected, mostly in Brazil and other countries in South America.
- The virus is transmitted mainly by mosquitos. It causes mild, flu-like symptoms in most people, pregnant women run the risk of giving birth to babies with severe brain damage.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a global health emergency in February 2016, and declared it over in November 2016.
For more on Zika virus, click here to read IASToppers Article on Zika virus[Ref: The Hindu]
Key Facts for Prelims
World’s smallest pacemaker
- Scientists for the first time have successfully implanted world’s smallest pacemaker dubbed as Micra Transcatheter Pacing System (TPS) in a patient in United States.
- TPS provides the most advanced pacing technology.
- The pacemaker about size of large vitamin capsule is for patients with bradycardia, a condition characterised by a slow heart rate, usually fewer than 60 beats per minute.
- It was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
- It is one-tenth the size of a traditional pacemaker and is the only leadless (wireless) pacemaker approved for use in the US.