Currents Affairs & GK – Jul 18, 2017

General Studies-I
Geography of the World
Indonesia renames part of South China Sea

Indonesia has named waters in its exclusive economic zone that overlap with China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, putting it in dispute with many southeast Asian nations, and has carried out extensive land reclamation and construction on reefs and atolls to bolster its claims.

Philippines also has claims to the South China Sea. Though Philippines won a resounding victory over China last year in an arbitration case, China continues to defy the decision.

General Studies-II
Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate
Higher outlay for health needed: WHO

According to a publication in the medical journal The Lancet, the world’s low- and middle-income countries must invest an additional $371 billion per year or $58 per person on health by 2030, in order for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The analysis, called SDG Health Price Tag, estimates the costs of achieving the health targets in the SDGs in 67 low- and middle-income countries that account for 75% of the world’s population. It showed that the achievement of universal health coverage and SDG targets could prevent 97 million premature deaths globally between now and 2030.

Universal health coverage is ultimately a political choice. It is the responsibility of every country and national government to pursue it. Meeting the SDGs called for higher investments in health, so that health spending as a proportion of gross domestic product in these 67 countries increased from the present average of 5.6% to 7.5%. India currently spends 1.09% of the GDP on health, which is among the lowest in the world.

The SDG Health Price Tag models two scenarios: an ‘ambitious’ scenario in which investments are sufficient for countries to attain the health targets in the SDGs by 2030, and a ‘progress’ scenario, in which countries get two-thirds or more of the way to the targets. In both, systemic investments such as employing more health workers; building and operating new clinics, hospitals and laboratories; and buying medical equipment account for about 75% of the total funds. The remaining costs are for medicines, vaccines, syringes and others.

Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education, Human Resources
Innovation in Higher Education

Innovation and upgradation of infrastructure in higher education institutions is an on-going endeavour and the Central Government is making a constant effort in this direction.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Scheme “General Development Assistance” provides financial assistance to eligible Central Universities, Deemed Universities, State Universities and colleges. The main objective of the grant, inter-alia, is to set up new infrastructure and strengthen/upgrade existing infrastructural facilities in the institutions.

Further, in order to encourage innovation and infrastructure development, the UGC has launched various schemes and initiatives such as Universities with Potential for Excellence (UPE), Centre with Potential for Excellence in Particular Area (CPEPA), Special Assistance Programme (SAP), Research Projects, Basic Science Research and Inter-University Centres.

The Central Government has launched several new initiatives viz. National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), Impacting Research Innovation & Technology (IMPRINT), Uchchatar Avishkar Yojna (UAY), Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) & Global Research Interactive Network (GRIN) in the field of education to encourage innovation and research in the country.

The initiative of SWAYAM has been launched which intends to provide massive open online courses (MOOCs) for the students across the country with the objective of expanding the reach of quality education to the students using the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools.

Under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), financial support is provided to improve infrastructure availability in the State Higher Educational Institutions and also to promote research and innovation.

Development of MSMEs

The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) has been implementing various schemes and programmes for development and promotion of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) across the country. The major schemes / programmes include Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP), Credit Guarantee Scheme, Credit Linked Capital Subsidy Scheme (CLCSS), National Manufacturing Competitiveness Programme (NMCP), Micro & Small Enterprises – Cluster Development Programme (MSECDP), Performance & Credit Rating Scheme, Marketing Assistance scheme, International Cooperation Scheme, Assistant to Training Institutions etc. All plan schemes implemented by Ministry of MSME are Central Sector Schemes.

General Studies-III
Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Conservation
Eco-bridges for the movement of tigers

In a first of its kind, Telangana State will have eco-friendly bridges over a canal cutting across the tiger corridor linking the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra with the forests in Telangana’s Kumram Bheem Asifabad district. The intervention requires the laying of fertile soil to grow grass and plants over the structure, so that fragmentation of the reserve forest is camouflaged.

The ‘eco-bridges’ will be constructed at key spots along the 72 km-long, and at some places over a kilometre wide, right flank canal of the Pranahita barrage in the Bejjur and Dahegaon mandals.

The concept emerged after visits by experts from the Wildlife Board of India and the Wildlife Institute of India. They were concerned about the large-scale destruction of pristine forest along the corridor, which would result in cutting off tiger movement between TATR and Bejjur.

Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
Malaria drug shields foetus from Zika

Commonly used malaria drug hydroxychloroquine can effectively block the Zika virus from crossing the placenta and getting into the foetus and damaging its brain, say researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, U.S. The drug already has approval for use in pregnant women.

The placenta acts as a barrier to protect the developing foetus from disease-causing organisms. It prevents pathogens from reaching the foetus through a form of a garbage recycling system that removes some components of cells, termed autophagy. While infections often ramp up this recycling system to get rid of any pathogens, the effects of autophagy on Zika infection and its impact on transmission of the virus past the placenta were earlier not known. The Zika virus actually manipulates the garbage recycling system to its own advantage. The Zika infection ramps up autophagy. When a drug that inhibits or suppresses this ramping up is used, the virus can be blocked from infecting the foetus.

The Zika virus activates the genes related to autophagy thereby heightening the destructive recycling system activity. But treating the cells with drugs that inhibit autophagy resulted in significant decrease in Zika virus replication about two days after infection. On the other hand, when drugs that promote the cell recycling process were administered, the virus multiplied and caused increased viral infection.

The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which inhibits the cell recycling response, has been approved for use in pregnant women but only for a short duration of time. But with Zika virus infection even during the third trimester causing foetal damage, the treatment has to be for a long time in the case of Zika virus. However, the risk of long-term treatment with the drug [Hydroxychloroquine] is still not known.

Indigenization of technology and developing new technology
“Sohum”- An innovative Newborn hearing screening Device

The indigenously developed newborn hearing screening device – SOHUM was formally launched by the Minister of State for Science and Technology & Earth Sciences. The newborn hearing screening device developed by School of International Biodesign (SIB) startup M/s Sohum Innovation Labs India Pvt. Ltd.

This innovative medical device has been developed under Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India supported (SIB). SIB is a flagship Program of the DBT aimed to develop innovative and affordable medical devices as per unmet clinical needs of India and to train the next generation of medical technology innovators in India, it is a valuable contribution to the Make in India campaign of the Government. This Program is implemented jointly at AIIMS and IIT Delhi in collaboration with International partners. Biotech Consortium India Limited manages techno-legal activities of the Program.

Sohum is a low cost and unique device which uses brainstem auditory evoked response, the gold standard in auditory testing to check for hearing response in a newborn. As of now, this technology is prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to many. Start-up Sohum has made the technology appropriate for the resource constrained settings and aims to cater to nearly 26 million babies born every year in India.

One of the most common birth disorders – congenital hearing loss – is a result of both genetic and non-genetic factors. These factors are mostly associated with resource-poor economies such as India where, unlike advanced healthcare systems, hearing impairment goes undiagnosed. Thus, when it is discovered at 4+ years, it’s too late to reverse the damage and this leads to a host of problems such as impaired communication skills and even possible mental illness; all of which have a deep impact on the child, emotionally and economically life-long.

Globally, 8,00,000 hearing impaired babies are born annually of which, nearly 1,00,000 are in India. And all this preventable damage needs is early screening, which can facilitate timely treatment and rehabilitation. Sohum team has come up with a screening device to facilitate the routine screening of newborn babies – with the potential to help children at a key stage of their development.

The portable Sohum Hearing Screening measures auditory brain waves via three electrodes placed on the baby’s head. When stimulated, they detect electrical responses generated by the brain’s auditory system. If there is no response, the child cannot hear. The battery-operated device is non-invasive, which means babies do not need to be sedated, which is the current, and risky, testing in process at present. Another key advantages over other testing systems is the patented, in-built algorithm that filters out ambient noise from the test signal. This is important because health clinics can be incredibly crowded and noisy. The device has been installed in five clinical centers who are currently running the hearing screening program. The aim is to screen two percent of hospital-born babies in the first year, before scaling up. The project has ambitious plans – to help every baby born in India be screened.


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