Friday, April 16, 2010

Geographic patterns can help predict how disease spreads

WASHINGTON - Disease statistics buried within patient records or detailed in newspaper clippings can be sorted and organised to depict geographic patterns, allowing the discovery of trends that were previously overlooked, says a new study.“The use of interactive maps and graphs, combined with word search interfaces, can lead to greater insight into complex events like the spread of Swine flu,” said Frank Hardisty, research associate and geographer at Penn State University’s GeoVISTA Centre.The GeoViz Toolkit is a user-friendly application that combines text mining with geographical mapping. It allows users to publicly search available data to identify and visualise data patterns for their own interests or concerns.The GeoViz application allows users to easily manipulate the software to change time and location, as well as how the data is viewed. The user can thus visualize the pattern of how the disease spreads and determine how quickly it progresses from one area to the next.The flexible software package allows someone with no programming experience to navigate the application, while also providing different components and analytical tools for experienced analysts.“Potential applications range from research in public health — infectious disease dynamics, cancer etiology, surveillance and control — through analysis of socioeconomic and demographic data, to exploration of patterns of incidents related to terrorism or crime,” said Hardisty.Many sources for disease and crime statistics — newspaper articles for example — are in a semi-structured format that do not clearly present the data in a table or graph, but rather bury it within the text of the document.To obtain high-quality, relevant information from these documents, researchers use “text analytics” or “text mining” allowing them to retrieve only applicable information, like the date and description of a disease-related death, from the flood of information usually included in a newspaper clipping.“An example would be searching a database of H1N1 flu reports for ‘child’ or ‘children’ and seeing if there is spatial clustering in the relative frequency of those reports,” Hardisty told attendees at the 2010 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Bird flu: Threat persists in five countries

Rome, April 16 (IANS/AKI) The deadly H5N1 avian flu virus has been eradicated in almost all the 63 countries it infected at the peak of the world outbreak in 2006, but persists in five countries and poses a continuing threat to global animal and human health.The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s chief veterinary officer, Juan Lubroth said despite the considerable success achieved against H5N1 bird flu virus, it remained in Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China.“The progressive control of H5N1 in such countries remains an international priority,” Lubroth said.“Though public attention shifted to the H1N1 influenza pandemic for most of 2009, H5N1 continues to be a serious menace.”He was speaking ahead of an international conference on animal and pandemic influenza to be held in Vietnam Monday.“We should not forget that it has killed 292 humans, killed or forced the culling of more than 260 million birds, caused an estimated 20 billion dollars of economic damage across the globe and devastated livelihoods at the family-farm level,” he said in a statement.“As long as it is present in even one country, there is still a public health risk to be taken seriously.”The H5N1 strain of avian influenza remains established in places where tens of millions of domestic ducks are found and there is significant industrial broiler production.The H5N1 virus was first shown to have passed from birds to humans in 1997, during an outbreak of avian influenza among poultry in Hong Kong.More than 90 percent of birds who get H5N1 die, and mortality among humans is also high.–IANS/AKI

Israeli troops kill Palestinian gunman in clash along Gaza-Israel frontier

Israeli troops kill Palestinian gunman in GazaGAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant Friday along the border fence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.The military said troops spotted the gunman early Friday as he planted a bomb along the fence, a tactic used often by Gaza militants.Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza Health Ministry confirmed that a militant was killed by Israeli troops, and AP Television News footage showed medics searching the dry grass near the fence for the man’s body before loading it onto a red stretcher.None of Gaza’s militant factions immediately claimed the militant as its member.Palestinian rocket attacks and violence along the Gaza-Israel border have dropped since Israel’s devastating offensive in the Palestinian territory ended in early 2009. But some attacks have continued. They are usually claimed by small militant factions and not by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who have been trying to rein in violence to avoid provoking an Israeli response.Also Friday, Palestinian residents and the Israeli military said Jewish settlers vandalized property overnight in a Palestinian village in the West Bank.The incident took place in the village of Jen Safout, where 34-year-old Abdullah Anash said three settlers entered the village and burned his car and that of a neighbor.APTN footage showed two burned cars and a wall spray-painted with the words “price tag” in Hebrew — a reference to a radical settler tactic of harming Palestinian property to protest Israeli government policy.The Israeli military condemned the incident Friday and said police would investigate.About 300,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.While the Islamic militants of Hamas control Gaza, the West Bank is home to a Western-backed Palestinian government that wields limited power in the Israeli-controlled territory.

Antony asks military to prepare against cyber attacks

NEW DELHI - Days after reports of Chinese hackers stealing confidential information from Indian security establishments, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Friday asked armed forces chiefs to prepare a crisis management action plan to counter cyber terrorism.“Of late, extraordinary and unprecedented cyber crimes have taken place across the globe, exposing gaping holes in cyber security systems,” Antony said while addressing the Unified Commanders’ Conference here.“Although defence services at all levels have taken steps to counter cyber threat through stringent implementation of cyber security policy, there is still a requirement to ensure that all loop holes in this regard are suitably plugged.”Antony asked the armed forces to coordinate closely with various national agencies to defend against cyber attacks.“A few recent cases are reminders of our own vulnerabilities. Close interaction with national agencies like Computer and Emergency Response Team (CERT), National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), home ministry and ministry of communication & IT to prepare crisis management action plan for countering cyber attacks and cyber terrorism is essential,” he added.He said the future of optimal military power lies in joint operations that needs to start from the planning stage itself.Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju, Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman and IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, Army Chief General V.K. Singh, Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and Chief of Integrated Staff Committee Air Marshal S.C. Mukul were present on the occasion.A defence spokesperson said: “Antony assured the chiefs that there will never be a paucity of funds for the modernisation of the armed forces.“However, he asked them to control the expenditure in the forces by adopting various mechanisms such as increased use of technology, integration of the three services, adopting joint training, procedures and uniform inventories,” the official said.

South Asia emerging as ''focal point'' for all terrorist organisations : Antony

New Delhi, Apr 16 (ANI): Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday said the South Asian region is emerging as the ''focal point'' for all terrorist organisations.The situation is very critical and sensitive," he claimed, while speaking on the sidelines of a Unified Commanders'' Conference here.Antony said the Central Government would take a final call on the use of armed forces against the Maoists only after considering all aspects."Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has decided that the Home Ministry would be the nodal point on the Naxal problem," said Antony."The armed forces have to be ever ready to meet the challenges," he added.Stating that Naxalites want to overthrow the established authority of the Government through armed liberation struggle, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had on Thursday said the country needs a strong head, a stronger heart and enormous staying power to counter the Maoist menace.Making a detailed statement in the Rajya Sabha on the Dantewada massacre, in which at least 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and a policeman were killed by the Maoists, Chidambaram reiterated the Centre''s readiness to assist State Governments in tackling the problem at hand."To counter the menace of Naxalism we need ''a strong head, a stronger heart and enormous staying power,'' I believe that the Government has all three qualities," Chidambaram said. "The Central Government stands ready and willing to assist the State Governments and to coordinate inter-State operations," he added.Brushing aside reports that 62nd CRPF battalion was ill trained, Chidambaram emphatically said all personnel of the battalion were well trained to handle anti Maoists operation.Chidambaram strongly defended Government''s right to deploy security forces in conflict zones to bring back normalcy and kick start development works."The State has a legitimate right to deploy its security forces to resist, apprehend and, if necessary, neutralize militants who are determined to strike at the very roots of our nation," he said.Chidambaram said the Government has adopted two strategies to counter Maoists menace-police action and development work."Anti-Naxal operations are being conducted in accordance with the policy deliberated and agreed upon at several meetings with Chief Ministers of the affected States. The two pillars of the policy are calibrated police action and development," he said."Central para military forces have been provided to the affected States, including Chhattisgarh, to help the State Governments carry out counter-insurgency operations, regain control of areas dominated by the Naxalites, restore the civil administration, and re-start development work," Chidambaram added.He said it''s the primary responsibility of the State Governments to conduct anti Naxal operations.Chidambaram acknowledged that forces are experiencing problem at some places to carry out operation due to more civilian presence.Chidambaram informed the House that the Home Ministry has constituted a committee headed by retired Border Security Force (BSF) chief E.N. Ram Mohan to investigate the matter and urged members to wait till committee submits its report before reaching any final conclusions. (ANI)

Uranium hunt bid in Meghalaya national park raises storm


A bid to de-notify a part of a sacred national park with a perceived Ramayana connection to facilitate uranium exploration has incensed tribal groups in Meghalaya.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to de-notify 8 sq km inside the 400 sq km Balpakram National Park (BNP) in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills. The area falls on the ecologically fragile Rongcheng Plateau.

The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) under MoEF had in a meeting on 12 December 2008 discussed DAE’s proposal for exploratory uranium mining in BNP.

DAE justified the need for targeting BNP citing India’s national resolve to generate at least 20,000MW of nuclear power by 2020. The Rongcheng plateau, a recent DAE survey said, is one of the “most potential” sites for “high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits” that requires confirmation through exploratory drilling.

According to the Garo Hills Anti-Mining Forum (GHNAMF) – a conglomerate of 11 social and green organizations – locals were kept in the dark about the “clandestine bid” until it moved RTI last year.

“We are not going to allow any mining activities inside BNP,” said GHNAMF general secretary Ginseng Sangma. The biodiversity hotspot tag on BNP was not the only reason, he added.

“Balpakram is sacred for the Garo tribal people. We believe the spirit of our ancestors reside in these forests sustaining the tiger, hoolock gibbon and slow loris besides elephants,” said fellow activist Vaishali A Sangma.

BNP is holy for Hindus too. They believe Balpakram was the mythological mound from where Hanuman plucked sanjeevani, the life-giving herb, for the wounded Lakshman felled by Meghnad in Ramayana.

But isn’t mining activity in and around a national park rejected outright? In the case of uranium, considered a critical mineral, the MoEF can allow its mining in the “larger national interest”.

DAE officials said things “haven’t progressed enough” to invite anger from local organizations. But NMWL member Bibhab Talukdar said a team is scheduled to visit BNP on April 22 to seek the views of the people on DAE's proposal and submit a report to the standing committee.

Notably, another uranium mining proposal in Domiasiat area of West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya has been hanging fire since 1992. Several anti-nuke groups have stalled the project citing radiation effect on human health and environmental degradation.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited wants to set up a Rs 1046 crore opencast uranium mining and processing unit in Domiasiat. The area bordering Bangladesh has an estimated deposit of 9.22 million tones of uranium ore. EOM