Science & Health

In Chile, Dogs Help Kids with Autism on Their Dentist Visits

Diego Rosales was so terrified during his dental appointments when he was 4 that he kept biting his dentist.

Today, the 9-year-old is far calmer, soothed by the presence of Zucca, a black Labrador that helps autistic children like him face one of their worst fears.

A visit to the dentist can be daunting for any child, but it’s especially so for many with autism. They can be upset by the lights in their faces or frightened by the noises of the instruments. Some have to be sedated.

Therapy dogs have been used in many countries to calm autistic children and aid people with numerous other conditions. Raul Varela began the practice in Chile after noticing that his autistic child’s social interactions improved after spending time with the family’s black Labrador.

Varela quit his job and got certified by Spain-based Bocalan as a therapy dog trainer for children with autism.

He started a nonprofit organization called Junto a Ti (“Next to You”) that specializes in visits to the dentist for autistic children. It uses six dogs, all female, because the organizers say they are more docile. And the dogs get specialized training.

“Zucca had already been trained to be around children with autism, but taking her to the dentist was different,” Varela said. “She needed to be able to resist the screaming, the noise from the drill and to stay still in the lap of the children, even when they pull their hair or their ears.”

So far, the dogs have aided about 50 children visiting a single university-run dental clinic on the southern edge of Chile’s capital. The clinic pays the equivalent of $67 for a session with a dog, though its charge for a child’s visit varies, depending on the family’s economic level.

On a recent day, Diego sat in the dentist’s chair with Zucca on his lap. There was no biting and no screaming this time. Instead, Diego continued to pet Zucca long after the dentist had plucked out one of his teeth, and he smiled when he got to take the tooth home inside a tiny box for the tooth fairy.

Science & Health

Researchers Predict Increase in Drug-resistant TB

Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is an increasing threat, according to investigators with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a study that focused on Russia, India, South Africa and the Philippines — four countries with a so-called “high burden” of multidrug-resistant TB — researchers estimated that within the next 25 years, the proportion of TB cases that don’t respond to one or more antibiotics will increase significantly in those areas.

Russia leads the pack, researchers reported. Their mathematical model predicts that one-third of TB cases in Russia will be multidrug or extensively-drug resistant by 2040. 

India is next, with more than 12.4 percent of the cases expected to be resistant to treatment, followed by almost 9 percent in the Philippines and 5.7 percent of cases in South Africa.

These four nations accounted for more than 230,000 new cases of difficult-to-treat tuberculosis in 2015 — nearly 40 percent of drug-resistant cases worldwide, according to the CDC investigators. 

The latest findings were published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Peter Cegielski, team leader for Prevention, Care and Treatment of Tuberculosis at the CDC’s Global Tuberculosis Branch, said infected individuals can develop drug-resistant strains by not taking their medications properly. This is known as acquired TB. However, Cegielski said the primary driver now is person-to-person transmission, with drug-resistant bacteria spreading through the air.

“The TB germs, if you cough or sneeze, the TB germs can remain suspended in the air for hours, so anybody else in the vicinity can inhale one and become infected,” he said.

Cegielski said airborne transmission of TB is not regularly targeted as part of prevention efforts, but it should be. He said tuberculosis was brought under control in the West in large part by infected people covering their nose and mouth when they sneezed or coughed.

In addition to encouraging people to follow that example, Cegielski said public health officials need to step up containment efforts to keep drug-resistant cases of TB from getting out of control.

“So that means expanding the diagnostic capabilities of laboratories in low- and middle-income countries; expanding access to rapid diagnosis and effective treatment to make sure that everybody who has TB is treated properly in the first place,” he said.

Worldwide, there are 10.4 million new cases of TB each year, resulting in nearly 2 million deaths. The bacteria, says Cegielski, kills more people than any other germ on the planet.

Cegielski warns that drug-resistant TB is going to become increasingly more common, resulting in many more deaths, unless more money is spent on prevention and treatment efforts.

Economy & business

US Commerce’s Ross: 3 Percent GDP Growth Not Achievable This Year

The U.S. economy won’t achieve the Trump administration’s 3 percent growth goal this year and not until all of its tax, regulatory, trade and energy policies are fully in place, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday.

Ross also said trade enforcement actions would be a major tool to cut U.S. trade deficits, adding that he has problems with World Trade Organization rules which allow widely divergent tariffs and are slow to punish violators.

The 3 percent growth target “is certainly not achievable this year,” Ross told Reuters in an interview. “The Congress has been slow-walking everything. We don’t even have half the people in place.”

But Ross said the growth target ultimately could be achieved in the year after all of President Donald Trump’s business-friendly policies are implemented. He noted that delays were possible if the push for tax cuts was slowed down in Congress.

“I think between the change in regulatory attitudes which will make it easier to make big projects, and the new taxes, which will make the rates of return much better, the reduced regulatory environment, I think over time you will see increases in capex – and that in turn has a big multiplier effect through the economy,” Ross said.

Arts & Entertainment

Latin Singer Prince Royce Gears Up for Summer Tour

Latin pop star Prince Royce will tour 21 U.S. cities this summer to showcase his new music, which he says has a bit of a new twist.

Known for his Dominican bachata hits, Royce released his fifth studio album, “FIVE,” in February, collaborating with musicians Chris Brown, Zendaya and Shakira. Bachata is a style of romantic music originating in the Dominican Republic.

“I think it’s important to always try new things,” Royce, 27, told Reuters on Tuesday. “On this album, we got Chris Brown singing bachata, he did a little bit of Spanish, Zendaya also singing in Spanish,” he said.

Royce said it was “a pleasure to work with” Shakira, adding that he shares a lot in common with the “Hips Don’t Lie” singer.

“She’s very involved with every detail,” said Royce. “I identify with her a lot because that’s the way I am. I like to listen to a song 1,000 times.”

Since launching his career in 2009, Royce, who was born in the New York City borough of The Bronx, has garnered 15 No. 1 hits on Latin radio charts, 21 Latin Billboard Awards and 9 Latin Grammy nominations.

Although he is proud of his accomplishments, Royce said he chooses to live in the present.

“I think it’s always good to focus on today,” Royce said. “I think that’s what always keeps that hunger, keeps that motivation.”

He will kick off his summer tour on June 29 in Laredo, Texas and end it on July 30 in Miami.

Economy & business

In Drought-hit Kenya, Selling Water Keeps City’s Young People in Business and Off Drugs

Now onto his third job since finishing high school a decade ago, Festus Chege is hoping his latest venture as a water vendor in Githurai, a growing suburb to the south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, will pay off.

Like many young people from poor families, the 30-year-old passed his high-school exams but lacked the funds to pursue his studies, confining him to work in the city’s fast-expanding informal sector.

Kenya’s current drought, which is affecting some 3 million people across the East African country, has led to a drop in water volumes in reservoirs serving Nairobi residents.

The city authorities have been forced to ration water services, giving priority to critical facilities like hospitals, as well as manufacturers. Taps in poor households are now empty of piped water most of the time, and they have little choice but to buy their water from vendors like Chege.

“The water business is good,” said Chege, who has been selling water for the past four months. “People call me to supply them with water as early as 4 a.m.”

Chege, who uses a rickshaw to transport the water, sells 20-liter drums of water for 50 shillings ($0.49) each. In a day, he can supply as many as 40 drums, earning him 2,000 shillings — more than double a government clerk’s wage.

It’s five times more than what he was making last year hawking secondhand clothes.

“There were days when I would find myself idle because of a lack of customers,” said Chege. That’s when he would join his friends to smoke bhang, a form of cannabis — a common pastime among young slum-dwellers who take the drug in secret dens.

Now, Chege says he no longer has time to mess around with drugs because he is busy from dawn to dusk selling water.

In January this year, he joined a youth group called Ni Sisi Sasa (“It is our time”), which helps jobless young people in the neighborhood improve their lives. One activity it offers is water vending.

The group has a water depot in Githurai, which purchases its supply from the Kiambu County Council water unit.

Group members like Chege buy water from the depot at low rates and resell it to local residents at a profit.

“By the end of the year, I want to make enough money so that I can enroll in a teacher training college,” said Chege. He plans to continue supporting the group even if he realizes his ambition of becoming a teacher.

Growing population

According to the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), the capital’s residents need 740,000 cubic meters of water daily to meet demand.

Currently only 462,000 cubic meters of water are being supplied due to declining water levels in the Ndakaini reservoir, said Philip Gichuki, NCWSC’s managing director.

The reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the city’s water, has a capacity of 70 million cubic meters, but due to poor rains this season, it is only around 40 percent full.

For instance, the Aberdares water tower in central Kenya — the source of rivers feeding the reservoir — has received just 250 mm of rain since December, way below the 1,000 mm it would normally receive in the rainy season, said Gichuki.

“The shortage has forced us to ration water,” said Nairobi County’s executive for water, Peter Kimori. “Estates have been forced to look for alternative sources due to the rationing.”

The county government plans to sink 140 boreholes in Nairobi’s fringe estates to ward off future water shortages.

But experts like Gichuki say more will be needed to meet demand in the capital due to its growing population, as rural migrants flock to areas like Githurai where many find work as manual laborers.

According to the World Bank, there are over 4 million people — around a tenth of Kenya’s population — living in Nairobi and its suburbs. In 1963, when Kenya attained independence, the city was home to only a third of a million people.

Creaking infrastructure

Gichuki said the solution was to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure.

“[It] has not been developed since post-independence days,” said Gichuki. “This is leading to the increasing water pressure and shortage in Nairobi.”

Fred Kihara, water fund manager at The Nature Conservancy, an international NGO, said the worsening water problem in Nairobi is linked to climate change, as rainfall volumes in central Kenya have declined.

On top of this, the government is not doing enough to conserve water towers like the Aberdares, he added, by preventing forests being cut down for farming, for instance.

“Clearing of trees reduces the soil’s ability to retain water which seeps into rivers feeding reservoirs like Ndakaini dam,” said Kihara, explaining that without trees, the water evaporates faster.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Central Organization of Trade Unions says 4 million jobs are needed for the country to cut poverty to zero by 2020.

Youth unemployment has shrunk to 15 percent from 25 percent in 2006, as the economy’s informal sector has expanded.

“I am able to do this [water] business because the government has removed harsh regulation on the informal sector,” said Chege. “There is less harassment from tax officials.” But he called for better access to government support such as the youth enterprise development fund, which is hard to tap for young people without political connections.

Silicon Valley & Technology

AeroVironment Unveils Palm-sized Surveillance Drone for US Military

Drone-maker AeroVironment Inc. unveiled a small four-rotor surveillance helicopter on Tuesday that can be carried in a small pouch and launched from the palm of a hand.

The smaller size and simplicity of operation means it can used by ordinary soldiers, offering squads and other small military units the kind of surveillance capacity previously reserved for larger military units, where drones are operated by specialists.

AeroVironment said it delivered 20 of the 5-ounce (140-gram) Snipe unmanned aircraft to its first U.S. government client in April. The company declined to identify the government agency that purchased the drones, but Aviation Week reported last year that AeroVironment was developing prototypes for the U.S. Army.

Designed to worn as part of uniform

AeroVironment said the drone benefited from advances in technology achieved in the development of its Nano Hummingbird drone for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been responsible for many technological and scientific breakthroughs used by the military.

Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment’s vice president in charge of unmanned aircraft systems, said in a statement the Snipe copter drone is “designed to be worn by its operator so it can be deployed in less than a minute.”

Battery life is 15 minutes

The aircraft, which is intended for intelligence and reconnaissance missions, can relay high-resolution images and record video both day and night. It can fly at speeds of 20 mph (35 kph), has a range of more than a kilometer (half-mile), and can fly for about 15 minutes on batteries, the statement said.

AeroVironment’s hand-launched Raven unmanned aircraft, which weighs 4.2 pounds (2 kg) and has a wingspan of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters), is one of the most widely used military surveillance drones, with more than 19,000 built.

Shares of AeroVironment dropped 0.2 percent to $29.13 within its 52-week range of $22.16 to $32.44.

Arts & Entertainment

Stirring Portraits of Communist Albania’s Women Recall Different Reality

Three women stare down from the gallery wall — colorful, defiant and imbued with a spirit of working for the many not the few.

They are a brigadier, a factory worker and a youth volunteer with a hoe. They are paintings of socialist realism. They are also all Albanian women from the time of Enver Hoxha, who created one of the world’s most closed societies until his death in 1985.

Visitors to Greece’s capital have a relatively rare opportunity to see Hoxha-era art on display outside its regular home in Tirana’s National Gallery of Art.

The portraits are part of documenta 14, the Kassel, Germany-based exhibition of Western European modern art that this year is being hosted both in Kassel and Athens.

Hundreds of documenta 14 displays are to be found in museums across the Greek city until July, with the three women portraits among the offerings at EMST, the National Museum of Contemporary Art located in the old but renovated Fix brewery building.

The paintings — by Spiro Kristo (1976), Zef Shoshi (1969) and Hasan Nallbani (1968) — draw you in and can inspire.

But they were also political, more than acceptable to Hoxha, who saw threats from the West, Russia, the then-Yugolavia and just about everywhere.

In a sense, they are modernist icons for the only society in the world that was officially atheist.

As Edi Muka, an Albanian art critic and curator, notes of Shoshi’s factory worker, “representations of motherhood as constitutive of women’s central role in religious art are carefully removed.”

Hoxha-era paranoia was to be found everywhere from spikes in vineyards to deter potential enemy paratroopers to more than 700,000 concrete bunkers across the country, housing soldiers on guard for potential attack.

So it was not all easy for painters. Not far from the three women, documenta 14 has hung a 1971 painting “Planting of Trees” by Edi Hila.

It depicts blissfully happy young people planting trees for their country.

Too blissfully happy, perhaps. Almost “expressive dancing,” in the words of the painter.

“My work stepped out of the contours of socialist realism,” Hila told Reuters in Tirana. “Generally in those works the positive, the hero, is in the center. … The compositional structure was different so this hurt their taste.”

Hila, deemed to be in need of re-education, ended up being sentenced to work as a loader on a chicken farm. His drawings from that time — showing a different kind of realism — are also on display in Athens.

Economy & business

US Treasury Upgrades Website to Better Track Federal Spending Data

The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday launched an upgrade of a website to allow for the first time the tracking of all federal government spending categories, which totaled $3.85 trillion last year.

The new website culminates a three-year initiative to improve the existing to provide a broader view of government spending than the grant and procurement data previously available on the site.

The project brings together some 400 different data sets from more than 100 federal agencies, extracting spending information from thousands of divergent computer systems across the government.

It also is designed to be machine readable, with open source code allowing private companies to analyze and develop commercial applications for the data, said a senior Treasury official working on the project.

The beta site is launching with year-to-date data for fiscal 2017, with historical data to be added later. The data will be updated quarterly, the official said.

The spending site upgrade was mandated by the Data Accountancy and Transparency Act of 2014, a bipartisan law aimed at shedding new light on federal spending by making data readily available.

“The new site provides taxpayers with the ability to track nearly $4 trillion in government spending from Washington, D.C., directly into their communities and cities,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“Greater access to data will drive better decision-making and strengthen accountability and transparency — qualities central to the Administration’s focus on a more innovative and effective government,” Mnuchin said.

The new version of the site makes clear with a prominent block chart what budget wonks already know — that more than half of all federal spending is consumed by three categories: Social Security (23.9 percent), Medicare (14.9 percent) and National Defense (14.9 percent).

The beta site is expected to run alongside the original for several months in order to collect feedback from users to help plug “holes” in the data and make the site more user-friendly, the Treasury official said.

The site also will be expanded to show sources of contributions to federal tax revenues by state.