Science & Health

US Scientists Hope New Medicine Testing Improves Safety

Whether it’s brake fluid in Nigerian teething syrup, melamine in Chinese baby formula, or talcum powder in Kenyan antibiotics, contaminated food and medicine is a deadly problem. Now a group of U.S. scientists in Indiana have found an inexpensive way to test medicines before they cause harm. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Supermarket Uses Lasers to Brand Fruits and Vegetables

A Swedish supermarket chain is offering shoppers some fruits and vegetables that are branded with their country of origin and code number, instead of being wrapped in plastic with that information. VOA’s Faith Lapidus reports.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Let Your Phone Pay for Your Car’s Fuel

Autonomous automobiles aren’t taking over American highways yet, but automation is becoming a bigger part of the driving experience.

A mobile phone app called Shell allows drivers to pay for a fill-up of gasoline from their in-car touchscreens. No debit or credit cards are involved, so the process will work for drivers who forgot their wallets.

The downside? The app will take care of the payment, but somebody — in most states, the driver — still has to get out and manually insert the fuel pump nozzle into the car’s gas tank.

Here’s how it works, assuming the user already has downloaded the Shell app and connected the mobile phone to the car’s network. The car’s touchscreen will guide the user to the nearest service station (a Shell station, of course, considering the app’s name).

After pulling up to the gas pump, the user enters a PIN code and the gas pump’s number. Payment takes place through ApplePay or PayPal, and a receipt is displayed onscreen and sent by email.

Then comes the hard part: Get out of the car, unlatch the fuel pump hose and insert it in the gas tank.

A couple more caveats about the Shell app:

The app works only on iPhones, not on other brands — although developers say they are working on a version for Android Pay.

The app is available only to owners of certain brands and models of cars — the Jaguar F-PACE, XE and XF, plus Land Rovers — and it works only in Britain. Those two car manufacturers and the Shell company, which collaborated on the app, say it will be rolling out in other global markets later this year.

Science & Health

Study: Teen Suicide Attempts Fall After Same-sex Marriage Made Legal

Suicide attempts among teens, particularly those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual, declined in states that legalized same-sex marriage, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health say their study showed that in states that legalized same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court followed suit saw declines in attempted suicide.

Specifically, the researchers analyzed data from 1999 to 2015 and found a 7 percent reduction in suicide attempts of high school-aged youngsters in 32 states that had already legalized same-sex marriage. Among gays, lesbians and bisexuals, the decrease was 14 percent, researchers say.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens, but occurs at a higher rate among gay, lesbian and bisexual kids. For example, 29 percent of LGBT teens in the study reported a suicide attempt, compared to just 6 percent among heterosexual teens.

Researchers say the study does not prove a connection between same-sex marriage and suicide as much of the data is self reported; but, they do theorize that perhaps laws that are for gay adults may send a message to teens to feel “more hopeful for the future,” said lead author Julia Raifman, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For their study, researchers looked at data from more than 700,000 public high school students who took part in government survey about risky behavior from 1999 to 2015, which is the year same-sex marriage was declared legal by the Supreme Court. Of those, more than 213,000 identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Surveys did not ask about students who said they were transgender or queer.

To hone in more on the connection between suicide and gays, lesbians and bisexuals, future researchers will need to account for economic status and religion, among other things, according to the study.

“There is a need for further research to understand the association between sexual minority rights, stigma and sexual minority health,” according to the study.

Arts & Entertainment

Hollywood Actor Jamie Foxx Target of Racial Slur in Croatia

Croatian police have filed disorderly conduct charges against two people who allegedly used a racial slur to insult Hollywood actor Jamie Foxx in a restaurant.

Police said they acted after receiving reports Sunday of “particularly arrogant and rude” insults made against restaurant guests, including “one of the guests on racial grounds.”

The police statement did not name Foxx as the target, but the actor briefly posted comments about the incident on his Instagram profile before deleting them.

Foxx mentioned an offensive racial term among the examples of the vulgar language used.

Police said they are investigating whether to pursue other charges against the men.

Croatia, like other European countries, has seen a rise in far-right sentiments.

Foxx was in Dubrovnik, a resort on the Adriatic Sea, filming Robin Hood: Origins, in which he plays Little John. The Lionsgate retelling of English folklore stars Taron Egerton as the titular thief. Otto Bathurst is directing the action film, also starring Tim Minchin, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan and Ben Mendelsohn.

A day after the alleged racial slur, Foxx said on his Instagram profile he has his “mind blown” by the beauty of Dubrovnik.

“I’m out here in Croatia, it’s crazy,” he said.

Arts & Entertainment

School District Teams With Sandy Hook Mom to Teach Empathy

Nelba Marquez-Greene believes the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which killed her 6-year-old daughter, could have been avoided if more had been done years earlier to address the social isolation and mental health problems of the shooter, Adam Lanza.

To help other vulnerable youths, Marquez-Greene, a family therapist, is working with a Connecticut school system on a program to help students connect with one another.

“I want people to remember that Adam, the person who did this, was also once 6 and in a first-grade classroom, and that if we had reached out earlier then maybe this could have changed,” Marquez-Greene said.

Marquez-Greene’s Ana Grace Project foundation, named for her slain daughter, is working with four elementary schools in New Britain, a city just west of Hartford, to teach empathy, combat bullying and help socially isolated children. Her Love Wins campaign, created with a local teacher, builds on the existing curriculum and also brings therapists and interns into the schools to help identify children who need extra help with social skills.

She is one of several people touched by the December 2012 shooting inside Sandy Hook who have become involved in the broader movement to incorporate social and emotional learning in American schools.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was among the 20 children killed, was involved in pushing for a 2015 law that allows federal funds to be used by schools for such things as recognizing the early signs of mental illness and crisis-intervention training. She has a foundation that has developed its own social-emotional learning curriculum and is being used on a pilot basis in four schools: Rippowam Middle School in Stamford; Ka’elepulu Elementary School in Kailua, Hawaii; Washington Elementary School in Fayetteville, Arkansas and Mission Achievement and Success Charter School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I believe this is an urgent matter,” Lewis said. “I believe it would have saved my son’s life, as well as the lives of other victims across the United States and reduce bullying.”

In the years before the 20-year-old Lanza carried out the massacre, he spent long stretches of time isolated in his mother’s home and had psychiatric ailments that went without treatment, according to investigators, who never pinpointed a motive for the shooting.

Marquez-Greene connected with the New Britain school district after she received a letter of condolence from Craig Muzzy, a teacher at Chamberlain Elementary School in New Britain.

Marquez-Greene and Muzzy developed the program for city schools. Muzzy already had been taking pointers from the Ana Grace Project’s website, making a reading-comprehension assignment, for example, about a student who moves into the area from a different country, and leading discussions about how to make people feel welcome.

On Valentine’s Day, Muzzy’s students took part in “Friendship Day” activities, which included making bracelets and cards to exchange. Marquez-Greene attended and helped introduce a new student, Jaden Garcia, to Muzzy’s class. She showed students how to get to know him better by asking about his favorite food (pizza), his pets (he has a cat) and his favorite sports (soccer).

Araceli Buchko, 10, made a bracelet for a friend she had made by using similar conversation starters.

“I wanted to try it out and see if they would like me,” she said. “I tried one person and it was good. We found out we had a lot in common, and she became my best friend.”

The charity has set up four Love Wins family resource centers in New Britain, including one at Chamberlain, geared toward developing the social skills of preschoolers.

In addition, it hosts a day of training for all New Britain teachers on issues such as how to deal with a child who may acting out in class because they are dealing with a divorce or a parent in prison.

The New Britain school district spends $48,000 per year to implement the Love Wins campaign in the four elementary schools. That money comes from a federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The Ana Grace Project and a private nonprofit agency provide another $40,000 per year.

School officials say they believe the Love Wins campaign is helping. They say there are fewer reports of bullying, and fewer office referrals for fights.

“But you really know it’s working when you see the children interacting with one another, when they spontaneously go over to a classmate and say, ‘How are you feeling? You look sad today,'” said Jane Perez, the Chamberlain principal. “You see it in how they work with each other now and collaborate with each other.”

Science & Health

Yemen Launches Polio Vaccination Drive Amid Fears Disease Could Reappear

Yemen has launched a major polio vaccination campaign amid fears the disease could reappear in the war-ravaged nation where the health system is on the verge of collapse and aid agencies are warning of famine.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is supporting the drive, said some 40,000 health workers aimed to immunize more than 5 million children under the age of five across the country.

“The threat of [polio] virus importation is serious and this campaign aims to curb any possible return of the virus to Yemen,” WHO’s representative in Yemen, Nevio Zagaria, said in a statement.

Polio, which spreads quickly among children and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours, remains endemic in only three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Yemen was declared polio-free in 2009, but experts say conflict-affected countries are particularly at risk of outbreaks because of disruption to their health systems.

WHO’s spokesman on polio eradication, Sona Bari, said both Syria and Iraq saw polio outbreaks a few years ago.

“This is why the [Yemen] campaign at this time is extremely important,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Geneva.

“We have been very lucky that polio hasn’t shown up in Yemen, but it is a virus that travels very easily and is very good at finding unprotected children.”

The immunization drive, which began on Monday, had been scheduled for last September, but insecurity has hampered access.

The vaccination teams will also target high-risk groups including families uprooted from their homes by fighting and refugees who have fled to Yemen from conflicts in Africa.

Around 2 million people are displaced in Yemen where nearly two years of civil war has pitted the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Western-backed Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, which is also helping with the vaccinations, warned on Tuesday of looming famine in Yemen where nearly half a million children have severe acute malnutrition.

Bari said there was a risk that polio vaccines would not be effective in malnourished children suffering from diarrhea because they would be flushed out.

She said WHO was also worried about the risks of polio emerging in countries in the Lake Chad basin, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and South Sudan.

Economy & business

Mexico Says New Tariffs in NAFTA Talks Would be Disastrous

Any attempt to introduce quotas or tariffs to the North American Free Trade Agreement would be disastrous for the three-nation treaty, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo on Tuesday told a Toronto conference on the future of North America.

U.S. President Donald Trump — who says free trade treaties have cost countless thousands of American jobs — wants NAFTA to be renegotiated with a focus on cutting his country’s large trade deficit with Mexico.

One idea floating in Washington is that of a border tariff, which could hit Mexican exports.

“Nothing in the new NAFTA should be a step backward. We will definitely not include any type of trade management measures, like quotas, or open the Pandora’s box of tariffs,” Guajardo said.

“That will be disastrous in any process moving forward,” he said.

New tariffs would result in special interests in all three nations asking for protection, Guajardo predicted.

Trump has revealed little about his intentions for NAFTA, which came into force in 1994, except that he wants to tweak the U.S. trading relationship with Canada while pushing for larger changes with Mexico.

Canadian officials have suggested the United States would first negotiate with Canada and then focus on Mexico, an approach that trade experts say is almost unworkable and one that Mexico dislikes.

Guajardo said the bulk of the NAFTA talks would have to be carried out on a trilateral basis to give investors confidence that the same set of investment rules applied to all three nations. For the talks to succeed, governments in all three nations would have to prove they had benefited, he added.

“If I don’t go back home with a trade agreement that can be clearly understood as a beneficial outcome for Mexico, there is no way the Mexican Senate will approve it,” he said.

The Mexican government expects the talks to start this summer, said Guajardo, who stressed several times how well Canada and Mexico had worked together in the past on trade.

Guajardo and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray were to hold talks with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland later on Tuesday.

Freeland said earlier this month that Canada opposed the idea of the United States imposing new border tariffs and would respond to any such move.