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Traveling Kenyan Music Producer Gives Hope to Rural Artists

A Kenyan music producer is taking his work to remote villages to record up-and-coming artists on location to offer something new and different for Kenya’s competitive music industry.Producer Presta George imagined how difficult it must be for village artists to get their songs on the radio, let alone become famous.And that’s where George found his calling – in the southwest town of Awendo.But the town of 16,000 people is not where he does most of his recordings.”I though it wise to bring these studios to the local people, so that at least they can compete, or they can sell their products,” George said.Every weekend George packs all the equipment he needs to record complete albums on location and in remote areas and hits the road.The country roads are inaccessible by car so, he travels by motorcycle – balancing instruments, a laptop, and recording equipment. From soloists to church choirs, this traveling producer’s goal is to find music that otherwise wouldn’t get distributed.In the remote village of Ko’molo Rume, George records the choir of the Obama Seventh-Day Adventist Church, named after the U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya.Choir leader Hockey Otieno says George helped them record four albums, which would not have been possible otherwise in their village of less than 1,000 people.  “This opportunity where we can get a studio where we are will make us air out the good talents that we have, which could not be heard at all,” Otieno said. Making his clients’ dreams a reality can come at a cost for George as many village artists cannot afford to pay for production.But George says it is worth the risk to discover up-and-coming talent that would otherwise get missed by Nairobi’s big production houses.Jackson Rakama, known by his stage name “Jegede,” is a Nairobi recording artist and music producer.”If you want to be successful in the music business, you have to move to Nairobi…unfortunately. So, the idea of moving studio is a very brilliant idea,” Rakama said. “You take the studio to the people so that they can get that quality. We should do more of that so that we can empower the local artists so that they can get access to the, you know, quality audios.”Kenya’s music industry insiders say success comes down to technology and the popularity of artists.George says he’s confident his travelling studio can get ahead of the competition.

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Science & Health
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Race to Produce COVID Vaccine May Cause Measles Jabs Shortage

World Health Organization experts fear the race to produce large quantities of COVID-19 vaccine could cut into the supply of global measles vaccines.
 
Critical topics relating to immunization globally were discussed during a regular meeting last week by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts, known as SAGE. Recommendations were made regarding the status of Ebola vaccines, as well as an oral polio vaccine, and COVID-19 vaccines undergoing evaluation.During this review, SAGE Chair Alejandro Cravioto said the experts raised concerns regarding the situation of vaccinations against measles and rubella.“We are deeply worried that this had been stalled because of the COVID situation and we fear that if this is not properly looked at by each one of the countries that has not been able to vaccinate the children so far, we will be having problems with outbreaks of, especially measles. That is something that worries everybody and that we saw happening in 2019 in the very clearest way,” Cravioto said.Measles surged worldwide in 2019, reaching the highest number since 1996. Nearly 900,000 measles cases were reported, claiming more than 207,000 child lives, most in developing countries.Director of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Kate O’Brien said she does not expect shortages of measles vaccine right now. However, she warned that could change because of the intense pressure to increase the manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccine.“As that ramps up, we have to continue watching this really carefully. We are starting to see the supply chains start to shrink to some degree so that the amount of vaccine in the supply chain is narrowing. But we do not see in those analyses that that would lead to shortages anywhere at this point. But a very important area to continue watching carefully,” O’Brien said.On another matter, two Chinese manufacturers of Sinopharm and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine products, for the first time presented SAGE with interim data for review.The experts are evaluating the efficacy and safety of those vaccines.They say the WHO also will analyze the information for Emergency Use Listing. If the WHO approves the vaccines, SAGE says it would likely recommend their use as part of the growing arsenal of vaccine products already in worldwide use. 

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Microsoft Wins $22 Billion Deal Making Headsets for US Army

Microsoft won a nearly $22 billion contract to supply U.S. Army combat troops with its augmented reality headsets.  
 
Microsoft and the Army separately announced the deal Wednesday.
 
The technology is based on Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, which were originally intended for the video game and entertainment industries.
 
Pentagon officials have described the futuristic technology — which the Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System — as a way of boosting soldiers’ awareness of their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.
 
Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens displays let people see virtual imagery superimposed over the physical world in front of them — anything from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating over a broken gadget. Users can control what they see using hand gestures or voice commands.
 
The Army’s website says soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett in Virginia. It said the system could help troops gain an advantage “on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable.”
 
The Army first began testing Microsoft’s system with a $480 million contract in 2018 and said the headsets could be used for both training and in actual battle. The new contract will enable Microsoft to mass produce units for more than 120,000 soldiers in the Army’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force. Microsoft said the contract will amount to up to $21.88 billion over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for another five years.  
 
Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with “real-time analytics” on remote battlefields. He also described how it could help in planning a hostage rescue operation by creating a “digital twin” of the building.
 
A group of Microsoft workers in 2019 petitioned the company to cancel its initial Army deal, arguing it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.
 
Microsoft is among several tech companies that have sought to wow the gaming world with glitzy new virtual reality goggles over the past decade, though the efforts have largely fizzled. Microsoft pivoted away from consumer applications for its second-generation HoloLens 2, introduced in 2019, which is the basis for the Army’s new gadgets.
 
Although Microsoft recently demonstrated a way to use the goggles to play the hit game Pokemon Go, it mostly pitches the devices as work tools to help surgeons, factory crews and others.  
 
The headset deal is part of Microsoft’s broader work as a defense contractor. The Pentagon in September reaffirmed Microsoft as winner of a cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion, although the work has been delayed by a legal battle over rival Amazon’s claim that the bidding process was flawed.
 

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CDC: COVID-19 Third Largest Cause of US Deaths in 2020

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States during 2020, and it boosted the overall U.S. death toll by nearly 16% from the previous year.During the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters the pandemic trailed only heart disease and cancer last year, accounting for about 378,000 fatalities, or 11% of all deaths in the country last year.Walensky said COVID-19 deaths were highest among Hispanic people, and deaths among ethnic and racial minority groups were more than double the death rate of non-Hispanic white people.Elsewhere Wednesday, European Medicines Agency (EMA) Executive Director Emer Cooke said the organization has found no scientific evidence to support restrictions on using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.She told a virtual news conference from the drug regulator’s headquarters in Denmark that they stand by the statement they made nearly two weeks ago that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh any risks.The comments come a day after Germany announced it was limiting the vaccine to people 60 years of age and older due to concerns that it may be causing blood clots.Federal and state health authorities cited nearly three dozen cases of blood clots known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in its decision Tuesday, including nine deaths.  The country’s medical regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, said all but two of the cases involved women between the ages of 20 and 63.Canada, France and Spain have made similar decisions regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine.  

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Russia Registers Vaccine to Protect Animals from COVID-19

Russia says it registered the world’s first vaccine for animals against the COVID-19 virus on Wednesday — with government officials hailing an inoculation labeled ‘Carnivac-Cov’ as a victory in the global race to protect both animals and humans from further mutations of the coronavirus.“The clinical trials of Carnivac-Cov, which started last October, involved dogs, cats, Arctic foxes, minks, foxes and other animals,” said  Konstantin Savenkov, Deputy Head of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s agricultural watchdog agency, in a statement announcing the vaccine.“The results allow us to conclude that the vaccine is harmless and provides high immunity, in such as the animals who were tested developed antibodies to the coronavirus in 100% of cases,” added Savenkov.Savenkov added that the shot currently provided immunity of up to 6 months — and could be in production in the coming weeks.The Russian announcement came just a day after the World Health Organization issued a report exploring the origins of COVID-19 in China.  The WHO study offered no firm conclusions but suggested the most likely source lay in animals — specifically, a bat.The U.S. has expressed reservations about what some US officials believe are the Chinese government’s efforts to skew the report’s findings.Studies have repeatedly documented select cases of COVID-19 infecting both domesticated and captive animals around the globe — including common household pets such as cats and dogs, as well as farmed mink and several animals in zoos.Mutation fearsScientists have raised concerns that the virus could subsequently mutate to other host animals — and eventually circulate back to humans.Last November, Denmark ordered the mass extermination of 15 million mink after a mutated variation of COVID-19 was discovered on more than 200 farms in the region.Danish officials noted the measure was grim necessity after a dozen people were found have been infected by a mutated COVID-19 strain.Rosselkhoznadzor’s Savenkov said the new Russian vaccine was intended primarily to protect household pets and farmed captive animals important to the global economy — as well as the humans in contact with them.“People and animals we live together on one planet and both are in contact with a great number of infections,” said Tatiana Galkina, a lead researcher behind Carnivac-Cov in a promotional video released to Youtube.“Of course in the future, we’re not insured against new viral infections. Therefore science should keep advancing and be a step ahead,” added Galkina, while petting a purring cat.Another video released to social media shows officials administering the vaccine to a plump white mink at a Russian fur farm.В России зарегистрировали первую в мире вакцину для животных от коронавируса
Препарат получил название «Карнивак-Ков». Клинические испытания препарата провели на кошках, собаках, песцах, норках, и лисах. В Россельхознадзоре даже показали, как прививают на примере норок pic.twitter.com/igQQZ38tIZ
— ФедералПресс (@FederalPress) March 31, 2021While the inoculation will face further peer review, Carnivac-Cov appears the latest example of Russia’s flexing its scientific muscle in the global race against the coronavirus pandemic.Last August, President Vladimir Putin claimed his nation was first to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 for humans with its Sputnik V inoculation. The announcement faced heavy skepticism for claiming a Russian victory before standard third phase trials had even begun.Subsequent international reviews later showed the Russian vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 90%.
 

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South Africans Construct Award-Winning Zero Carbon Home

A team of South Africans has won a Cape Town competition to create a zero-carbon home, just ahead of Earth Day on April 22. Experts say the house design, which incorporates solar power, passive cooling, rainwater harvesting, and a food garden, could help reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. Vinicius Assis reports from Cape Town, South Africa.Camera: Vinícius Assis 

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Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
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Why Diverse Children’s Books Matter to America’s Future

The United States is becoming an increasingly diverse country. With whites expected to account for less than 50-percent of the population by 2045, there’s a push to make books for children as diverse as the nation itself. As VOA’s Dora Mekouar reports, experts say the success level of future American adults could be at stake.Camera:  Griffin Harrington
Producer: Marcus Harton

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Forest Losses Increased Again in 2020

The world lost a Netherlands-sized area of mature tropical forests in 2020, the second year in a row of worsening losses, according to the latest figures from the research and advocacy organization the World Resources Institute (WRI). The losses are helping drive climate change and also being driven by it, as hot, dry conditions contribute to forest losses in several parts of the world. Some bright spots emerged. The rate of forest loss decreased in Indonesia and Malaysia for the fourth consecutive year.  But overall, the 4.2 million hectare loss of primary, undisturbed forest was a 12% increase over 2019.  “Those dense forests can be hundreds of years old and store significant amounts of carbon,” said Rod Taylor, head of WRI’s forest program. “Losing them has irreversible impacts on biodiversity and climate change.” While experts had raised concerns that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could contribute to forest losses by reducing environmental enforcement and driving more people to subsistence farming, Taylor said there were no obvious trends in the data.  The impacts may come later, however. “Unless we offer alternatives, it’s likely that governments will try to restart their economies on the backs of forests,” said WRI Distinguished Senior Fellow Frances Seymour.  Forest declines The tropics lost a total of 12.2 million hectares of primary and secondary regrown forest in 2020, WRI’s data said. The losses released the equivalent of the annual emissions from 570 million cars, more than twice the number on the road in the United States. Brazil saw the largest decline. The 1.7 million hectares lost was a 25% increase from the previous year and more than three times the next-highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Bolivia was third. As in Brazil, much of the loss was due to fires set to clear land for agriculture, but which burned out of control due to hot, dry conditions.  In a rare bit of good news, Indonesia slowed its rate of loss by 17% in 2020, dropping out of third place and into fourth for the first time in the 20 years that WRI has been keeping records.Wooden houses are pictured as smoke from forest fires envelops trees near Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan province, Indonesia, March 21, 2021.Wetter weather and lower prices for palm oil, the commodity driving deforestation, likely played a role. But following devastating fires in 2015, the government also put measures in place that are contributing, experts say. Those include fire monitoring and prevention, restrictions on new palm oil plantations and agrarian reforms aimed at alleviating poverty.  Palm oil prices have rebounded, which may put pressure on the industry to expand again, said Sustainable Commodities and Business Manager Andika Putraditama in WRI’s Indonesia office. “The next two to three years would be the real test if Indonesia can maintain its performance in reducing deforestation,” he said. Climate change, cause and effect While deforestation is a leading contributor to climate change, “the most ominous signal from the 2020 data is the number and variety of instances where forests themselves have fallen victim to climate change,” Seymour said. Hot, dry weather in 2019 and 2020 drove bark beetle damage in Germany and the Czech Republic, tripling forest losses compared to 2018. Extreme heat and drought drove Australia’s devastating fires in 2019 and 2020. Tree cover loss increased nine-fold between 2018 and 2020. Climate change is likely to make these conditions more common.  An abnormally hot spring and summer in Russia led to fires in Siberia’s forests, and in peatlands that are normally frozen.   “Nature has been whispering this risk to us for a long time. But now she is shouting,” Seymour said. “We’re getting into a vicious cycle,” she added. “Climate change and forest degradation combine to make the forests that remain warmer, drier and more vulnerable to fire and pest infestations, which in turn releases more carbon when those forests burn and decay.”  The longer it takes to stop deforestation and cut greenhouse gas emissions, Seymour said, “the more likely it is that our natural carbon sinks will go up in smoke.” 

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