Science & Health

Researcher: Efficacy of New Rotavirus Vaccine Promising

A new vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills about 600 children a day, has been shown to have almost 67 percent efficacy in preventing the illness.

“This efficacy of about 70 percent is higher than any other vaccine in similar settings,” said Dr. Emmanuel Baron, director of Epicentre, the research arm of Doctors Without Borders, which conducted the trial.

A clinical trial of 3,500 infants in the African country of Niger showed the efficacy of the new vaccine, known as BRV-PV, to be 66.7 percent. Thirty-one cases of rotavirus were reported among children who got the vaccine, compared with 87 cases among those who received a placebo.

Details of the study and the vaccine’s effectiveness were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We saw actually three things,” Baron said. “The first is that this vaccine is efficient. The second is that this vaccine is safe. And we also saw a good acceptability by the care providers and the families.”

An estimated 450,000 young children and babies die each year of diarrheal diseases. One of them is rotavirus, which causes a severe infection of the gastrointestinal tract. 

Experts say rotavirus is responsible for about 37 percent of deaths among children younger than 5 who succumb to diarrheal diseases each year, or about 215,000 deaths annually.

There are two existing vaccines, but Baron said they are not widely used, as they are relatively expensive and must be refrigerated. Refrigeration is an obstacle in many African countries where rotavirus is most pronounced because electricity there is unreliable.

Even when children are immunized with the older vaccines, Baron says, hundreds die each day around the world.

The new vaccine does not need refrigeration for up to six months, because it is mixed or reconstituted with liquid before it is given to children in a three-dose schedule, at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age. 

Initially, the BRV-PV is expected to cost $6 dollars for the three shots, a price that is expected to drop as the vaccine gains traction.

Baron said clinicians in countries where rotavirus is a serious health threat are waiting for the green light from the World Health Organization to begin immunizing children with the new vaccine.

Arts & Entertainment

Top 5 Songs for Week Ending March 25

We’re unlocking the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending March 25, 2017.

The hit list continues to be in a generous mood, bestowing upon us another new song. It happens in fifth place where Ri-Ri is a chart-buster all around.

Number 5: Rihanna “Love On The Brain”

Rihanna jumps a slot this week, as “Love On The Brain” becomes her 22nd Top Five hit. Beyond that, it’s her 30th Top 10 single, and her 40th Top 20 hit.

All these achievements put Rihanna among the highest-powered chart artists of all time. In fact, only four acts own more Top Five hits than Rihanna. The Beatles lead the way with 29; Madonna has 28; Mariah Carey has 26; and Janet Jackson has 24.

Number 4: Zayn & Taylor Swift “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”

Zayn and Taylor Swift step back a slot to number four with their Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack hit “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.”

Zayn just did an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine, in which he talks about developing an eating disorder and struggling with anxiety. Both stemmed from that he said was an overly-controlled atmosphere while he was a member of One Direction – and he says he overcame both conditions after leaving the group in 2015.

Number 3: Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like ”

Bruno Mars rises a slot to third place with “That’s What I Like” – this is his eighth single to reach the Top Three.

Mars’ real name is Peter Hernandez – he says his father bestowed the nickname “Bruno” upon him because he was a chunky little boy who reminded his dad of the pro wrestler Bruno Sammartino. He says he picked the “Mars” name himself, to add a little pizzazz.

Number 2: Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert “Bad And Boujee”

Migos and Lil Uzi Vert stay strong in second place with their former champ “Bad And Boujee,” and these Georgia rappers have been making noise in Texas.

Migos went to Austin for the huge South By Southwest (SXSW) event and packed the house: fans began lining up more than three hours before the show, and the line eventually wrapped around three city blocks.

Number 1: Ed Sheeran “Shape Of You”

Fans also continue flocking to Ed Sheeran, who rules the Hot 100 for a seventh total week with “Shape Of You.” Sheeran’s hitting the road here in North America, and he just announced his support act.

He took to Twitter on March 20 to reveal that James Blunt will be the supporting act when he kicks off his North American tour on June 29.

In case your memory needs refreshing, Blunt topped charts the world over in 2005 with “You’re Beautiful” – including here in the United States.

What happens next week? Let’s meet in seven days and find out.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Inspirational London Underground Sign a Hoax

A message of resilience posted online in the wake of the London terrorist attack Wednesday was read in Parliament, it was mentioned on the BBC, and it went viral online.

Unfortunately, the hand written message, which appeared in a photo of a whiteboard commonly seen in the London Underground, was a hoax.

The message read: “All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us, we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. Thank you.”

One member of Parliament read the message to Prime Minister Theresa May, who then called the sign a “wonderful tribute” that “encapsulated everything everybody in this house has said today.”

An announcer on the BBC’s Radio 4 recited the sign’s message on the air, while other journalists and politicians shared the image online, The Washington Post reported.

Turns out the sign, which looked quite authentic, was created using one of the many sign generators available online.

Whiteboards are common in the London Underground, usually giving service information and occasionally displaying a joke or something meant to be inspirational.

Science & Health

US Bumblebee Lands on Endangered Species List

On Tuesday, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bee in the continental United States to be placed on the U.S. endangered species list. Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports, scientists hope the designation will help safeguard one of the small insects that play a big role in American agriculture and the environment.

Science & Health

Protecting Rights of TB Patients Critical in Ending Global Epidemic

In advance of World TB day (March 24), the World Health Organization is warning the battle to wipe out the global tuberculosis epidemic will not be won unless stigma, discrimination and marginalization of TB patients is brought to an end. VOA was in Geneva at the launch of new WHO ethics guidance for the treatment of people with tuberculosis.

Progress is being made toward achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of ending the global TB epidemic by 2030.  The World Health Organization reports 49 million lives have been saved since 2000.

But, much remains to be done. 

Data from 2015 show more than 10.4 million people fell ill and 1.8 million died of tuberculosis, with most cases and fatalities occurring in developing countries.

The World Health Organization says stigma and discrimination against TB patients hamper efforts to wipe out this deadly disease. 

WHO Global TB Program medical officer Ernesto Jaramillo says vulnerable people, such as migrants, prisoners, ethnic minorities, marginalized women and children are most likely to suffer abuse, neglect and rejection.

He says this prevents them from seeking treatment for tuberculosis.

“Having new tools for diagnosis, and treatment of TB is not sufficient if there are not clear standards to ensure that vulnerable people can have access in a matter of priority to these tools in a way that the end TB strategy can really serve the interest not only of individuals, but also the interests of public health in general ,” said Jaramillo.

WHO Global TB program director Mario Raviglione tells VOA no country, rich or poor, is immune from getting tuberculosis.  He warns marginalizing patients with TB is dangerous.

“You cannot eliminate a disease like TB thinking that you build walls or you isolate your country,” said Raviglione. “TB is an airborne disease.  It travels by air.  So, you have a Boeing 747 that leaves Malawi tonight and it comes to Switzerland tomorrow morning and there you go.  So, it has to be faced from a global perspective.”

New WHO ethical guidance includes actions to overcome barriers of stigma, discrimination and marginalization of people with tuberculosis.  The agency says protecting the human rights of all those affected will save many lives and will make it possible to end this global scourge. 

Economy & business

Report: New US Home Sales Rise

New data show U.S. home sales advanced in February while job layoffs rose slightly last week.

Thursday’s Commerce Department report showed home sales rose 6.1 percent to hit a seven-month high in February. If newly-constructed homes sold at last month’s pace for a full year, 592,000 would change hands. That is nearly 13 percent better than the same time last year.

Analysts at Wells Fargo Securities said unusually mild weather in February sped up the buying process, so the next few months may see slower sales.

The number of Americans signing up for unemployment assistance rose by 15,000 last week, according to the Labor Department. While the number of layoffs was higher, at 258,000 it is still low enough to show a healthy job market.

Economy & business

Yellen: Growing Up Poor Hurts Adults’ Financial Success

The head of the U.S. central bank says new research strengthens the case for investing in early childhood education.

In a Washington speech Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said evidence shows “growing up poor makes it harder to succeed as an adult.”

A survey by Fed experts shows childhood poverty makes it less likely that people will be employed as adults, and hurts their chances of having stable jobs and adequate incomes.

Yellen says research also underscores the value of investing in workforce habits and skills like mathematics, literacy, teamwork, communication, and the ability to cope with conflict.  

She says giving kids a strong foundation will help build a stronger U.S. economy. She urged politicians to carefully consider the impact of proposed policies on the future of children and the nation.  


Science & Health

Some of the Youngest Opioid Victims are Curious Toddlers

Curious toddlers find the drugs in a mother’s purse or accidentally dropped on the floor. Sometimes a parent fails to secure the child-resistant cap on a bottle of painkillers.


No matter how it happens, if a 35-pound toddler grabs just one opioid pill, chews it and releases the full concentration of a time-released adult drug into their small bodies, death can come swiftly.


These are some of the youngest victims of the nation’s opioid epidemic — children under age 5 who die after swallowing opioids. The number of children’s deaths is still small relative to the overall toll from opioids, but toddler fatalities have climbed steadily over the last 10 years.


In 2000, 14 children in the U.S. under age 5 died after ingesting opioids. By 2015, that number climbed to 51, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, alone, four children died last year of accidental overdoses. Another 2-year-old perished in January.


Each family who loses a toddler to opioids confronts a death that probably could have been prevented. Here are a few of their stories:


An energetic birthday girl, a methadone mystery


Cataleya Tamekia-Damiah Wimberly couldn’t sit still. She spent most of her first birthday party in Milwaukee dancing and diving into the cake. But her first birthday party was also her last. Nearly three weeks later, she was found dead of a cause her mother never suspected — a methadone overdose.


Helen Jackson, 24, was styling her older daughter’s hair when she got a call from Cataleya’s father, who shared custody of the little girl. He sobbed on the phone as he explained how he found their daughter unresponsive the morning of Feb. 16, 2016.


“I screamed so hard and so loud,” Jackson said. “The screams that came out of me took all my strength, all my wind. It was just terrible.”


Police were puzzled. They looked into whether the toddler was smothered while co-sleeping with her father and his girlfriend. They also investigated carbon monoxide poisoning because of a gas smell. Toxicology tests eventually revealed the methadone in her system.


Jackson said her daughter, while in the care of her father, was at a relative’s house when she swallowed the methadone that took her life.


Police are still investigating how Cataleya got the methadone. The case could be referred to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office for consideration of criminal charges, said Sgt. Timothy Gauerke.


Since Cataleya’s death, friends and family have commented on what they perceive as Jackson’s strength in dealing with her loss. In reality, she said, she feels fragile and weak.


“I don’t know when I’m going to fall apart,” she said. “I don’t know when I’m going to explode. It’s all still in there.”

Mother’s prescription proves fatal for daughter


At just 2 years old, Londyn Raine Robinson Sack was protective of her baby brother, Liam.


“She thought she was his mother,” said Londyn’s grandmother, Shauna Etheredge. “She liked to be the boss of her little brother.”


Londyn’s own mother was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a child in connection with the Oct. 19, 2014, death of her daughter, who ingested an opioid known as Suboxone that was packaged in the form of a dissolving strip.


Prosecutors in New Britain, Connecticut, said the drug was obtained illegally by her mother and was dispensed in a box, not a child-resistant container.


Rebekah Robinson entered a plea in which she did not accept or deny responsibility for the charges but agreed to accept punishment. In June 2016, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years of probation.


Robinson apparently knew Londyn had ingested the opioid but did not call for medical help, according to prosecutors. It was an older sibling who called 911 to say her little sister was not breathing.


The Connecticut Department of Children and Families was cited in a 2015 report for failing to adequately identify risks to Londyn and Robinson’s three other children, given her history of mental health, substance abuse and child-welfare complaints.


Besides her protective nature, Londyn loved making people laugh, Etheredge said.


“She would put underwear on her head and act goofy and silly,” her grandmother said. “She loved to explore.”


Etheredge, of Indian Trail, North Carolina, said one of her lasting memories of her grandchild was a visit to the local park.


“The last time I saw her, she was running around and trying to catch up with the birds,” she said.

Precocious “lil’ Reg” dies, uncle stands accused

Curious and energetic, Reginald Kendall Harris Jr. would hold conversations beyond those of a typical toddler.


“If he was talking to his mom, you would think he was five or six years old,” said his great-uncle Calvin Harris, of Portland, Oregon. “If you would talk to him, you would engage in a full conversation. It was hilarious for his age,” Harris said.


The boy died on Oct. 10, 2016, after swallowing methadone. Portland police soon issued a warning, saying the case was a reminder to keep all prescription drugs away from children.


Reginald’s uncle, Willie Lee Harris Jr., is behind bars, accused of leaving methadone in a place accessible to his nephew. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter.


Harris’ mother, Pamela Harris, of Vancouver, Washington, said her grandson got hold of the drug while riding in her son’s car.


“Lil’ Reg was so touchy and curious,” she recalled. The methadone was in a cup.


The boy whose family affectionately called him “Lil’ Reg” would “say some crazy stuff sometimes, somethings you wouldn’t expect a 2-year-old to say,” great-grandmother Lucy Lee Harris recalled. “He would answer the door: ‘What up, dawg?'”


Instead of the way he died, Pamela Harris chooses to remember how her grandson lived, such as his joy when the family made plans to visit his favorite hangout, a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant with a kid-friendly menu and games.


Harris said his death was almost too much to bear after losing her home in Hurricane Katrina and receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.


“Now I’ve got a grandson that’s not here and a son that’s being charged,” Harris said. “I couldn’t breathe. It was like I was being smothered.”