Science & Health

Battling Cholera, Lebanon Gets First Vaccines, Sharp Words, From France

Lebanon received a first batch of vaccines Monday to combat a worsening cholera outbreak – together with sharply worded criticism of its crumbling public health infrastructure from France, which facilitated the donation of the doses.

By Sunday, cases of cholera – a disease typically spread through contaminated water, food or sewage – stood at 1,447, with 17 deaths, since the first were recorded in the country a month ago, Lebanon’s health ministry said.

Lebanon had been cholera-free since 1993, but its public services are suffering under a brutal economic crisis now in its fourth year, while infighting among the country’s faction-riven elite has paralyzed its political institutions.

The outbreak has reached Beirut, but authorities say most cases remain concentrated where it started in the northern town of Bebnine, where health authorities have set up an emergency field hospital.

The vaccines would play “an essential role” in limiting the disease’s spread, Health Minister Firass Abiad told reporters in the capital as he announced the first batch.

Standing next to Abiad, French ambassador Anne Grillo said the delivery comprised more than 13,000 doses. They had been donated by the philanthropic arm of French health care company Sanofi and the French government had facilitated their arrival to Lebanon.

“The origins of this epidemic, in which public health is at stake, must also be treated,” Grillo told reporters. The outbreak was “a new and worrying illustration of the critical decline in public provision of access to water and sanitary services in Lebanon.”

In the Bebnine field hospital, two young boys sat next to each other on one hospital bed, while a mother waited anxiously to confirm if her son, lying limp on another bed and being treated by a doctor and a nurse, had also caught the disease.

Nearby, Syrian children in a makeshift refugee camp played in dirty water chocked with rubbish and medical waste and fed by an outflow from an open pipe.

The World Health Organization has linked cholera’s comeback in Lebanon to an outbreak in neighboring Syria, to where it had spread from Afghanistan via Iran and Iraq.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

LogOn: Experts Worry Digital Footprints Will Incriminate US Patients Seeking Abortions

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of protections for abortion rights has intensified scrutiny of the personal data that technology firms collect. For women who live in states where most abortions are now illegal, their smartphones and devices could be used against them. Tina Trinh reports. Camera: Saqib Ul Islam, Greg Flakus

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Agromovil App Connects Small Farmers With Buyers

Small farmers produce about one-third of the world’s food. Yet they lack global visibility and face many obstacles getting their crops to larger markets.  A new app is helping to change that for some farmers in Africa. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera, production: Adam Greenbaum

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Migos Rapper Takeoff Dead After Houston Shooting, Rep Says

Migos rapper Takeoff is dead after a shooting early Tuesday outside a bowling alley in Houston, a representative confirmed. He was 28. 

Takeoff — whose name was Kirsnick Khari Ball — was part of Migos along with Quavo and Offset. A representative for Migos, who was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed to The Associated Press that Takeoff had died. 

Police responded shortly after 2:30 a.m. to reports of a shooting at 810 Billiards & Bowling, where dozens of people had gathered on a balcony outside of the bowling alley, which is on the third floor, police said. Officers discovered one man dead when they arrived. 

Security guards who were in the area heard the shooting but did not see who did it, a police spokesperson said. Two other people were injured and taken to hospitals in private vehicles. 

No arrests have been announced. 

The Grammy-nominated rap trio from Georgia have had four Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including their multi-week No. 1 “Bad and Boujee” featuring Lil Uzi Vert. They put out a trilogy of albums called “Culture,” “Culture II” and “Culture III,” with the first two albums hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. 

They earned an ASCAP Vanguard Award in 2018, for their streaming success with multiplatinum songs like “Motorsport (featuring Cardi B and Nicki Minaj),” “Stir Fry,” and “Walk It Talk It.” 

They also played a fictional version of themselves on an episode of the hit TV show “Atlanta.” 

Offset, who is married to Cardi B, released a solo album in 2019, while Takeoff and Quavo released a joint album “Only Built for Infinity Links” last month. 


Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Observers: China’s Chip Talent Hurdle Worsens After Layoffs at US Firm Marvell

Santa Clara, California-based chip producer Marvell Technology has confirmed that it is eliminating research and development staffs in China – the third U.S. chipmaker that has done so this year as the U.S.-China tech rivalry intensifies.

Observers say this will hobble China’s chip ambitions and worsen its talent shortfall in the field of designing and manufacturing cutting-edge computer chips.

“China is definitely going to be at a loss when it comes to American companies like Marvell essentially redesigning their workforce, because China still hasn’t reached a point where it’s able to pump out the same level of chip talent as America or the UK or Israel,” Abishur Prakash, a co-founder at Center for Innovating the Future (CIF) in Canada told VOA over the phone.

China becoming off-limits

These tech giants are aware the era when companies could set up supply chains and move talent around the globe freely is coming to an end and “China is becoming off-limits for Western companies,” added Prakash, the author of five books including the latest one, titled “The World is Vertical: How Technology Is Remaking Globalization.”

Marvell’s decision came weeks after the Biden administration, in early October, imposed additional curbs on China-bound exports of advanced chips, as well as the technology and equipment to produce 14-nanometer chips or better. 

The new rules also prohibited “U.S. persons” including U.S. citizens and green card holders from working at Chinese chip firms, in an apparent move to stem the flow of U.S.-trained tech talent to China. 

“In China, we will focus our R&D [research and development] investments on local customers and the China market,” Stacey Keegan, vice president of Corporate Marketing at Marvell told Reuters in a statement last Thursday. “As a part of this realignment, several of our business units and functions are announcing changes to their global location strategy that will result in the elimination of roles in China,” he added without specifying how many staff it is cutting.

U.S. memory chip giant Micron announced in January it would close its 100-member DRAM design operations in Shanghai, while Texas Instruments in May moved its microcontroller unit R&D team in Shanghai to India.

And more companies may follow suit to downsize their China operations, CIF’s Prakash said.

‘Unplugging from China’

“The worst is yet to come because China is going to be forced to adapt to the new design of globalization that’s emerging. And American companies are essentially at the precipice of a new phase, where instead of plugging into China, they’re unplugging from China,” he added.

Prakash argued that global chipmakers face multiple conundrums. First, they’re forced to take the U.S. side in political disputes because they use American tools and systems. Secondly, they have to deal with multiple regions in the world, including the EU, India and even Saudi Arabia, which want to become global chip hubs. 

That leads to their third problem: how to insulate themselves from U.S.-China geopolitical tensions while ensuring profitability in China?

“The way to do that is to build a dual-track strategy, one for within China and one for outside of China. But it’s not just going to be dual-track. There’s going to be far more tracks because multiple countries are there, not just China,” Prakash said.

China lacks leverage

The tech analyst said the possibility can’t be ruled out that Beijing may make a drastic move and ban American companies that comply with U.S. sanctions on selling to China. 

But Frank Lee, a senior partner of Blue Ocean Capital in Beijing, says such a move would be a “bad idea, which will only serve the U.S.’s purposes,” that is, a U.S.-China tech de-coupling.

He said China has been hit badly by the U.S. sanctions that first cut off chip supplies to China and now limit China’s access to top-tier chip talent.  

Lee formerly served as an executive at China’s Lenovo Group, the world’s largest maker of personal computers.

In the short run, he says, China, whose chip sector is still lagging behind its U.S. rival by at least 20 years, will face an uphill battle in fighting a chip war with the U.S.  

“The biggest problem is that China doesn’t have too much leverage to retaliate against the U.S. when it comes to chips,” Lee told VOA.

Lee said that China may one day leapfrog the U.S., though, because some Chinese firms enjoy advantages in the development of future devices, powered by 5G or 6G mobile chips.

Citing a Beijing Daily report, Lee said a Chinese firm, Zhongke Xintong Microelectronics, is slated to mass-produce next-generation, super-fast photonics chips in 2023. That would potentially free the company and some of its peers from reliance on extreme ultraviolet machines currently needed to make advanced chips. The EUV machines are made by a Dutch firm, ASML, which is honoring the U.S. sanctions.

Without such a breakthrough, China can neither produce advanced chips nor incubate local talents because it takes years for engineers to master the equipment and the production of advanced chips, said Lin Tsungnan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

“Amid heightened U.S.-China tech rivalry, when its access to top-tier talent is limited, China will have a shortage. China can certainly train its local talent, but that’s only possible for mid- to low-end chip talent,” Lin told VOA over the phone.

This article originated in VOA’s Mandarin Service.

Science & Health

Australia Bans More Single-Use Plastics

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Australia’s most populous state is banning a range of single-use plastic, including straws, cutlery and bowls.

Polystyrene foam food containers are also banned under the new rules in New South Wales, along with some face, body and hair products that contain plastic micro beads.   

Businesses that breach the regulations could face fines of tens of thousands of dollars.  

Minister for Environment and Heritage James Griffin said in a statement in September that the ban was just the start of a “massive shift away from single-use plastic.”  

He has predicted the ban would stop 2.7 billion items of plastic ending up as litter over the next 20 years. 

The laws in New South Wales are part of a nationwide push to curb waste. State authorities in Queensland and Victoria will bring in similar bans next year.  

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the laws but insist much more needs to be done. Australia currently recycles 16% of its plastic packaging, below the national target of 70%.   

Shane Cucow of the Australian Marine Conservation Society told VOA that recycling needs to be improved, because “Every wrap, pack and snack at a supermarket these days is covered in plastic.”

He added that, “We can get rid of some of those single-use plastics that are highly littered and regularly ending up in our oceans like cups and straws and take-away containers and plastic bags, and that is really important, but at the same time there is just so much plastic packaging on everything that is not able to be recycled properly and so it has got nowhere to go except being buried in landfill or washing out into our oceans.”

In June, New South Wales also banned lightweight plastic bags.

Science & Health

Antibody Treatment Tested as New Tool Against Malaria

Research in Africa found a one-time dose of an experimental drug protected adults against malaria for at least six months, the latest approach in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease. 

Malaria killed more than 620,000 people in 2020 and sickened 241 million, mainly children under 5 in Africa. The World Health Organization is rolling out the first authorized malaria vaccine for children, but it is about 30% effective and requires four doses. 

The new study tested a very different approach — giving people a big dose of lab-made malaria-fighting antibodies instead of depending on the immune system to make enough of those same infection-blockers after vaccination.

“The available vaccine doesn’t protect enough people,” said Dr. Kassoum Kayentao of the University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies in Bamako, Mali, who helped lead the study in the villages of Kalifabougou and Torodo. 

In those villages during malaria season, other research has shown, people are bitten by infected mosquitoes on average twice a day. 

The experimental antibody, developed by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was given by IV — difficult to deliver on a large scale. But the encouraging findings bode well for an easier-to-administer shot version from the same scientists that’s in early testing in infants, children and adults.

The U.S. government research was published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a medical meeting in Seattle. 

The antibody works by breaking the life cycle of the parasite, which is spread through mosquito bites. It targets immature parasites before they enter the liver where they can mature and multiply. It was developed from an antibody taken from a volunteer who received a malaria vaccine. 

The research involved 330 adults in Mali who got either one of two different antibody doses or a dummy infusion. All were tested for malaria infection every two weeks for 24 weeks. Anyone who got sick was treated. 

Infections were detected by blood test in 20 people who got the higher dose, 39 people who got the lower dose and 86 who got the placebo. 

The higher dose was 88% effective, compared to the placebo. The lower dose was 75% effective. 

Protection might last during the several months of a malaria season. The idea is to someday use it alongside other malaria prevention methods such as malaria pills, mosquito nets and vaccines. Cost is uncertain, but one estimate suggests lab-made antibodies could be given for as little as $5 per child per malaria season. 

Lab-made antibodies are used to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases and COVID-19, said Dr. Johanna Daily of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the study. 

“The good news is now we have another, immune-based therapy to try to control malaria,” Daily said. 

Science & Health

China’s 3rd and Final Space Station Component Docks

China’s third and final module docked with its permanent space station Tuesday to further a decadeslong effort to maintain a constant crewed presence in orbit, as its competition with the United States grows increasingly fierce.

The Mengtian module arrived at the Tiangong station early Tuesday morning, state broadcaster CCTV said, citing the China Manned Space Agency.

Mengtian was blasted into space on Monday afternoon from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan. It was expected to take about 13 hours to complete the flight and docking mission.

A large crowd of amateur photographers, space enthusiasts and others watched the lift-off from an adjoining beach.

Many waved Chinese flags and wore T-shirts emblazoned with the characters for China, reflecting the deep national pride invested in the space program and the technological progress it represents.

“The space program is a symbol of a major country and a boost to the modernization of China’s national defense,” said Ni Lexiong, a professor at Shanghai University of political science and law, underscoring the program’s close military links.

“It is also a boost to the confidence of the Chinese people, igniting patriotism and positive energy,” Ni said.

Mengtian, or “Celestial Dream,” joins Wentian as the second laboratory module for the station, collectively known as Tiangong, or “Celestial Palace.” Both are connected to the Tianhe core module where the crew lives and works.

Like its predecessors, Mengtian was launched aboard a Long March-5B carrier rocket, a member of China’s most powerful family of launch vehicles.

Tiangong is currently populated by a crew of three astronauts — two males and one female, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe and Liu Yang arrived in early June for a six-month stay on board, during which they will complete the station’s assembly, conduct space walks and carry out additional experiments.

Following Mengtian’s arrival, an additional uncrewed Tianzhou cargo craft is due to dock with the station next month, with another crewed mission scheduled for December, at which time crews may overlap, as Tiangong has sufficient room to accommodate six astronauts.

Mengtian weighs in at about 23 tons, is 17.9 meters long and has a diameter of 4.2 meters. It will provide space for science experiments in zero gravity, an airlock for exposure to the vacuum of space and a small robotic arm to support extravehicular payloads.

The already orbiting 23-ton Wentian, or “Quest for the Heavens” laboratory is designed for science and biology experiments and is heavier than any other single-module spacecraft currently in space.

Next year, China plans to launch the Xuntian space telescope, which, while not a part of Tiangong, will orbit in sequence with the station and can dock occasionally with it for maintenance.

No other future additions to the space station have been publicly announced.

In all, the station will have about 110 cubic meters of pressurized interior space, including the 32 cubic meters added by Mengtian.

China’s crewed space program is officially three decades old this year, with the Mengtian launch being its 25th mission. But it truly got underway in 2003, when China became only the third country after the U.S. and Russia to put a human into space using its own resources.

The program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and has proceeded methodically and almost entirely without outside support. The U.S. excluded China from the International Space Station because of its program’s military ties.

Despite that, China is collaborating with the European Space Agency on experiments aboard Mengtian and is cooperating with France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Pakistan and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on a range of projects from aerospace medicine to microgravity physics, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Prior to launching the Tianhe module, China’s Manned Space Program launched a pair of single-module stations that it crewed briefly as test platforms.

The permanent Chinese station will weigh about 66 tons — a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 465 tons.

With a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, Tiangong could one day find itself the only space station still running, if the International Space Station adheres to its 30-year operating plan.

China has also chalked up successes with uncrewed missions, and its lunar exploration program generated media buzz last year when its Yutu 2 rover sent back pictures of what was described by some as a “mystery hut” but was most likely only a rock. The rover is the first to be placed on the little-explored far side of the moon.

China’s Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s in December 2000, and another Chinese rover is searching for evidence of life on Mars. Officials are also considering a crewed mission to the moon.

The program has also drawn controversy. In October 2021, China’s Foreign Ministry brushed off a report that China had tested a hypersonic missile two months earlier, saying it had merely tested whether a new spacecraft could be reused.

China is also reportedly developing a highly secret space plane.

China’s space program has proceeded cautiously and largely gone off without a hitch.

Complaints, however, have been leveled against China for allowing rocket stages to fall to Earth uncontrolled twice before. NASA accused Beijing last year of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris” after parts of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean.

China’s increasing space capabilities was also featured in the latest Pentagon defense strategy released Thursday.

“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic and informational warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare,” the strategy said.

The U.S. and China are at odds on a range of issues, especially the self-governing island of Taiwan that Beijing threatens to annex with force. China responded to a September visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by firing missiles over the island, holding wargames and staging a simulated blockade.