Science & Health

April 2022 Tied for Earth’s 5th Warmest Ever, NOAA Reports

Scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Friday that April 2022 tied April 2010 as the fifth warmest April on record. 

In a release, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said the average global temps in April were 0.85 of a degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 13.7 C. 

NOAA said the global temperature for the year through April 2022 was 0.87 of a degree C above average, making it the fifth warmest such year through April on record. 

They report Asia recorded its warmest April ever this year, with temperatures running 2.62 degrees above average. The agency says unusually high temperatures in India and Pakistan during the month contributed to the region’s record heat. 

The agency’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook reports there is a virtual certainty — greater than 99% — that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. 

NOAA reports that the 10 warmest Aprils globally have all occurred since 2010, with 2014-2022 all ranking among the 10 warmest Aprils on record. 


Science & Health

Moon Goes Blood Red This Weekend: ‘Eclipse for the Americas’

A total lunar eclipse will grace the night skies this weekend, providing longer than usual thrills for stargazers across North and South America. 

The celestial action unfolds Sunday night into early Monday morning, with the moon bathed in the reflected red and orange hues of Earth’s sunsets and sunrises for about one-and-a-half hours, one of the longest totalities of the decade. It will be the first so-called blood moon in a year. 

Observers in the eastern half of North America and all of Central and South America will have prime seats for the whole show, weather permitting. Partial stages of the eclipse will be visible across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Left out: Alaska, Asia and Australia.  

“This is really an eclipse for the Americas,” said NASA’s Noah Petro, a planetary geologist who specializes in the moon. “It’s going to be a treat.” 

All you need, he noted, are “patience and eyeballs.” 

A total eclipse occurs when Earth passes directly between the moon and the sun and casts a shadow on our constant, cosmic companion. The moon will be 362,000 kilometers (225,000 miles) away at the peak of the eclipse — around midnight on the U.S. East Coast. 

“This is this gradual, slow, wonderful event that as long as it’s clear where you are, you get to see it,” Petro said. 

If not, NASA will provide a livestream of the eclipse from various locations; so will the Slooh network of observatories. 

There’ll be another lengthy total lunar eclipse in November, with Africa and Europe lucking out again, but not the Americas. Then the next one isn’t until 2025. 

Launched last fall, NASA’s asteroid-seeking Lucy spacecraft will photograph this weekend’s event from 103 million kilometers (64 million miles) away, as ground controllers continue their effort to fix a loose solar panel. 

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, a geologist, plans to set her alarm clock early aboard the International Space Station. 

“Hopefully, we can be up in time and be at the right place at the right time to catch a good glimpse,” she told The Associated Press earlier this week. 


Science & Health

Malawi Moves to Administer Cholera Vaccines as Cases Rise

Plans are underway in Malawi to start administering the cholera vaccine in some southern districts, as the number of cholera cases has been rising since an outbreak began in January.

According to a daily update released Thursday by the Ministry of Health, Malawi has registered more than 200 cases, with seven deaths and 26 hospital admissions. 

The update says the outbreak that started in Nsanje district in January has spread to four other areas in southern Malawi: Neno, Chikwawa, Machinga and Blantyre. 

Records show that as of Thursday, Nsanje had 97 registered cases, Blantyre had 53, Neno had 38, Chikwawa had 12 and Machinga had two. 

Wongani Mbale, deputy spokesperson for the district health office in Blantyre, blames the outbreak on poor sanitation. 

“According to what we have gathered, it seems that a lot of people are using unprotected wells, which are a source of infections,” Mbale said. “The water is contaminated. So as a district, we think that the cause is the use of contaminated water.” 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults and, if untreated, can kill within hours. 

To contain the outbreak, Malawi’s government has announced plans to start administering the cholera vaccine this month in all affected districts. 

Health Ministry spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe told a local newspaper that the government has 2.9 million doses of vaccine to be administered orally starting May 23. 

Mbale of the Blantyre health office said his office has started taking measures to combat the vaccine hesitancy that hindered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Starting from next Monday, we are having some briefings to health workers to train HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) on how they can implement this activity,” he said. “After that, we will have orientation and sensitization meetings with the community so that they can receive the vaccine without any doubt, as you know that the majority are fearing the vaccine, saying that maybe it’s for COVID.” 

George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, a health rights organization, said cholera aside, there is a need for the government to address sanitation problems in many rural areas in Malawi.   

“In Neno, for example, water has been a challenge. There was a time when [people in] Neno suffered typhoid because of water. And we also understand that the places that have been affected are relying on the Lisungwi River. In this case, there is a need for clean water to be made available even in hard-to-reach rural areas,” Jobe said. 

The government said it is distributing chlorine in affected areas for water treatment, as well as sending out cholera control information to people through various channels of communication. 


Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

The Next New Thing: Companies Are Building the ‘Metaverse’ but What Is It?

The “metaverse” has been touted as the next digital shift, 3-dimensional online spaces where people will shop, work, play games, and go to concerts. VOA’s Michelle Quinn is looking at what the Metaverse is or might be. VOA footage and video editing by Matt Dibble.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

US, China Vie for Africa Mobile Phone Sector

Africa, in recent years, has become the new frontier where China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economic superpowers, are competing for influence in a key industry: telecommunications.

This week, Ethiopia celebrated the launch of a 5G network powered by China’s telecom giant Huawei in Addis Ababa.

Just before that, on a visit to the continent last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited U.S. mobile company Africell’s offices in Angola, where the firm has amassed some 2 million users since it was launched just over a month ago.  

“Today in Luanda, I visited @AfricellAo, an innovative, state-of-the-art U.S. company expanding 5G access in Angola with trusted technology components,” she wrote in a tweet.

Asked in a subsequent press briefing whether the tweet wasn’t a dig at Huawei – which already has a huge digital foothold in Africa but which was sanctioned in the U.S. in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump – Sherman was unequivocal.  

“It’s not about throwing shade (being critical) on Huawei. We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty,” she said. “They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there.”  

Washington has long expressed concern that Beijing is trying to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage, while Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.  

“So, we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world,” Sherman added.  

The deputy secretary’s comments raised ire in Beijing, where they were met with a stiff rebuke from Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.  

“Chinese companies including Huawei have conducted mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries in Africa and the world beyond, contributed to the improvement and development of the countries’ communications infrastructure, provided advanced, quality, safe and affordable services for the local people and won great support,” he said on Chinese state media.  

“There is not a single case of cyber security accident, surveillance or wiretapping in the course of the cooperation,” he added, going on to allege that the U.S. has long been responsible for such spying activities itself.  

Zhao noted that it is up to African governments to decide with whom to cooperate.

In Angola, the company already has a significant presence, with mobile operator Unitel linked to Huawei, which is also building two technological training centers, worth $60 million, in the country in order to develop the digital economy.  

And with Huawei widely available in South Africa, only one of the five people VOA spoke to at a local shopping center was even aware of the controversy over the brand.  

Cheris Fourie, a sales consultant at a cellphone shop in Cape Town’s Blue Root Mall, said Huawei handsets aren’t that popular anymore, not because of concerns over any nefarious activities by the company, but rather because Google services are no longer on the devices. Google is no longer available because of a U.S. Huawei ban.  

David Devillieras, who was sitting at a cafe at the mall using his Samsung phone, told VOA he’d never heard of the possibility Huawei was involved in surveillance. He added that he wouldn’t buy a Huawei phone having heard that.  

“I wouldn’t go there at all, not for one second. I wouldn’t buy a Chinese phone,” he said.

One shopper, Steve Elliot-Jones, said he “wouldn’t trust anything that comes out of China,” but thought other countries could also be using mobile networks to spy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if technology companies including the states or anywhere else for that matter… I wouldn’t say anyone’s actually innocent. I think they’re all probably all up to selling information and making money on the side and denying it if it comes out.”

Science & Health

Bracing For Her Future: Baby Giraffe Fitted With Orthotic

Over the past three decades Ara Mirzaian has fitted braces for everyone from Paralympians to children with scoliosis. But Msituni was a patient like none other — a newborn giraffe.

The calf was born Feb. 1 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, north of San Diego, with a front leg bending the wrong way. Safari park staff feared she could die if they didn’t immediately correct the condition, which could prevent her from nursing and walking around the habitat.

But they had no experience with fitting a baby giraffe in a brace. That proved especially challenging given she was a 178-centimeter-tall newborn and growing taller every day. So, they reached out to experts in orthotics at the Hanger Clinic, where Mirzaian landed his very first animal patient.

“It was pretty surreal when I first heard about it,” Mirzaian told The Associated Press this week during a tour to meet Msituni, who was strutting alongside the other giraffes with no troubles. “Of course, all I did was go online and study giraffes for like 24/7 until we got out here.”

Zoos increasingly are turning to medical professionals who treat people to find solutions for ailing animals. The collaboration has been especially helpful in the field of prosthetics and orthotics. Earlier this year, ZooTampa in Florida teamed up with similar experts to successfully replace the beak of a cancer-stricken great hornbill bird with a 3D-printed prosthetic.

The Hanger team in California had fit orthotics for a cyclist and kayaker who both went on to win medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil and customized a brace for a marathoner with multiple sclerosis who raced in seven continents.

And in 2006, a Hanger team in Florida created a prosthetic for a bottlenose dolphin that had lost its tail after becoming tangled in ropes from a crab trap. Their story inspired the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale.

But this was a definite learning curve for all, including Matt Kinney, a senior veterinarian for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in charge of Msituni’s case.

“We commonly put on casts and bandages and stuff. But something that extensive, like this brace that she was provided, that’s something we really had to turn to our human (medicine) colleagues for,” Kinney said.

Msituni suffered from hyperextended carpi — wrist joint bones in giraffes’ front limbs, which are more like arms. As she overcompensated, the second front limb started to hyperextend as well. Her back leg joints also were weak but were able to be corrected with specialized hoof extenders.

And given that she weighed more than 55 kilograms at birth, the abnormality was already taking its toll on her joints and bones.

While the custom braces were being built, Kinney first bought post-surgery knee braces at Target that he cut up and re-sewed, but they kept slipping off. Then Msituni wore medical grade braces for humans that were modified for her long legs. But eventually Msituni broke one.

For the custom braces to work, they would need to have a range of motion but be durable, so Hanger worked with a company that makes horse braces.

Using cast moldings of the giraffe’s legs, it took eight days to make the carbon graphite braces that featured the animal’s distinct pattern of crooked spots to match her hide.

“We put on the giraffe pattern just to make it fun,” Mirzaian said. “We do this with kids all the time. They get to pick superheroes, or their favorite team and we imprint it on their bracing. So why not do it with a giraffe?”

In the end, Msituni only needed one brace. The other leg corrected itself with the medical grade brace.

When they put her under to fit the custom brace, Mirzaian was so moved by the animal’s beauty, he gave her a hug.

“It was just amazing seeing such a big, beautiful creature just lying there in front of me,” he said.

After 10 days in the custom brace, the problem was corrected.

All told, she was in braces for 39 days from the day she was born. She stayed in the animal hospital the entire time. After that, she was slowly introduced to her mom and others in the herd. Her mom never took her back, but another female giraffe has adopted her, so to speak, and she now runs along like the other giraffes.

Mirzaian hopes to hang up a picture of the baby giraffe in her patterned brace so the kids he treats will be inspired to wear theirs.

“It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,” he said. “It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.”

Science & Health

Meatpackers Convinced Trump Officials to Keep Plants Running During COVID Crisis, Report Says

Top U.S. meatpacking companies drafted the executive order issued by President Donald Trump in 2020 to keep meat plants running and convinced his administration to encourage workers to stay on the job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released Thursday by a U.S. House panel.

The report by the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis details the meat industry’s influence on Trump’s White House as it tried to keep production rolling even as employees fell ill.

More than 59,000 meatpacking workers at plants owned by the nation’s top five meatpackers contracted COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic and at least 269 died, according to the first report by the panel, released in October.

“The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” committee chair Representative James Clyburn said.

The North American Meat Institute, the leading meat industry trade group, said the report “distorts the truth” and “uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”

The report, based on thousands of documents and interviews with workers, union officials and experts, found that in April 2020, meatpacking companies led by Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods drafted an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to keep meat plants open.

The DPA, which was enacted in 1950, gives the president emergency powers to control the domestic economy.

The companies sent the draft to Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and corresponded extensively with the White House, USDA, and other administration officials before the order was finalized and signed on April 28, the report found.

Industry executives argued at the time that domestic meat supply was threatened by worker absenteeism.

Those concerns were “baseless,” the House report said. USDA data showed meatpackers had 622 million pounds of frozen pork in March 2020 and that top meatpackers’ pork exports grew as much as 370% in the first year of the pandemic.

Jim Monroe, Smithfield vice president of corporate affairs, said the company is proud of its pandemic response.

“Did we make every effort to share with government officials our perspective on the pandemic and how it was impacting the food production system? Absolutely,” he said.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesperson, said the company’s top priority is worker health and safety and that it has collaborated with federal, state and local officials in its pandemic response in the interest of protecting workers.

In April 2020, meat industry executives also lobbied the USDA to encourage workers to report to plants as absenteeism rose, resulting in a public statement to that effect from former Vice President Mike Pence, the report found.

The industry worked closely with political appointee Mindy Brashears, the USDA undersecretary of food safety, and corresponded with her via her personal email and cell phone, a potential violation of the Federal Records Act, the report found.

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, also told the House committee that he added softening language, like “if feasible,” to CDC guidance for managing COVID-19 spread in meat plants because he was “persuaded by industry concerns” about the potential impact of the guidance.