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Covid pandemic reversed progress of last 10 years in global life expectancy: WHO



Geneva, May 24 (IANS) The recent deadly Covid-19 pandemic reversed the last 10 years’ steady gain seen in life expectancy at birth and healthy life expectancy at birth (HALE) worldwide, according to a new report by World Health Organization (WHO) released on Friday.

The report, World Health Statistics 2024, showed that between 2019 and 2021, global life expectancy declined by 1.8 years to 71.4 years (back to the level of 2012).

Similarly, within just two years global healthy life expectancy dipped by 1.5 years to 61.9 years in 2021 (back to the level of 2012).

“In just two years, the Covid-19 pandemic erased a decade of gains in life expectancy,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Stressing the importance of the Pandemic Agreement, he said it will “not only strengthen global health security, but protect long-term investments in health and promote equity within and between countries”.

In 2020, Covid infection ranked as the third highest cause of mortality globally, while it emerged as the second leading cause of death in 2021.

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“Nearly 13 million lives were lost during this period,” the report said.

Further, the report showed that noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as ischaemic heart disease and stroke, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and diabetes accounted for 78 per cent of non-Covid deaths during the pandemic.

The pandemic also increased obesity in young and old (over one billion), underweight (more than half a billion) and malnutrition in children.

“About 148 million children under five years old were affected by stunting (too short for age), 45 million suffering from wasting (too thin for height), and 37 million overweight,” the report said.

The report called for “accelerating progress” to meet the health Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

by 2030.



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'Clinical trials underway on gene editing as potential therapy for sickle cell disease'




New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) As traditional treatments such as blood transfusion, hydroxyurea, and other medicines have primarily focused on managing symptoms and preventing complications, experts on World Sickle Cell Day on Wednesday said that recent advancements in sickle cell anaemia and innovations in medical technology have led to the development of several promising new therapies.

According to Dr Meet Kumar, Clinical Director, Haematology & Bone Marrow Transplant, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Gurugram, clinical trials carried out gene editing as a potential treatment method for sickle cell disease.

As per preliminary findings, normal haemoglobin production may be enabled, which could significantly reduce sickle cell disease symptoms and effects.

As per experts, in sickle cell disease, the blood can get too thick and clot, causing various brain problems like silent strokes, regular strokes (both where blood flow is blocked and where there is bleeding), and other issues. This happens because the thick blood can block the blood vessels in the brain.

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“Silent cerebral infarcts occur in about 40 per cent of children by 18 years. Headaches occur in about 36 per cent of children with sickle cell anaemia. Ischemic stroke occurs in about 10 per cent of children, and hemorrhagic stroke occurs in children at a rate of about 3-10 per cent,” Dr Praveen Gupta, Principal Director & Chief of Neurology, Fortis Hospital, told IANS.

Sickle cell disease may affect the brain in various ways, including cognitive dysfunctions like working memory, verbal learning, visual motor function, inadequacy in general intellectual functioning, problems with language and attention, as well as headaches, seizures, and others, the experts noted.

Dr Gaurav Kharya, Founder and Director, Cellogen Therapeutics, said that gene therapy represents one of the most promising advancements in the treatment of sickle cell disease. This approach involves modifying the patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells to correct the genetic defect responsible for the disease. He further mentioned that the modified stem cells are “then reintroduced into the patient’s body”.

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“Early clinical trials have shown promising results, with some patients achieving significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life,” Kharya added.



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Lifting heavy weights at retirement age preserves leg strength: Research




London, June 19 (IANS/DPA) Lifting heavy weights around the time of retirement could preserve leg strength into older age, a new research has suggested.

People naturally lose muscle function as they get older, and experts see faltering leg strength as a strong predictor of death in elderly people.

Previous short-term studies have shown that resistance training, which can involve weights, body weight or resistance bands, can help prevent this happening.

New research has explored the long-term effects of a one-year supervised resistance training programme using heavy weights.

For the study, 451 people of retirement age were randomly split to undergo one year of heavy resistance training, one year of moderate-intensity training or one year of no extra exercise on top of their usual activity.

People in the weights group lifted heavy weights three times a week, while those doing moderate-intensity training did circuits including bodyweight exercises and resistance bands, also three times a week.

Each exercise in the heavyweights group involved three sets of six to 12 repetitions at between 70 per cent and 85 per cent of the maximum weight the person could lift for one repetition.

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Bone and muscle strength and levels of body fat were measured at the start of the research and then again after one, two and four years.

At the four-year mark, full results were available for 369 people.

They showed that those in the heavyweight group had maintained their leg strength over time, while those doing no exercise or at moderate intensity had lost strength.

Writing in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, the researchers concluded: “In well-functioning older adults at retirement age, one year of heavy resistance training may induce long-lasting beneficial effects by preserving muscle function.”

The researchers found, however, there was no difference among the three groups in leg extensor power, which is the ability to kick a pedal as hard and as fast as possible; handgrip strength (a measure of overall strength), and lean leg mass (weight minus body fat) decreases in all of these.

When looking at visceral fat stored internally around organs, levels remained the same in the heavyweight resistance training and moderate-intensity exercise groups but increased in the no-exercise group.

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The authors, including from the University of Copenhagen, said people in the study were generally more active (clocking up an average of nearly 10,000 steps a day) than the population as a whole.

But they concluded: “This study provides evidence that resistance training with heavy loads at retirement age can have long-term effects over several years.

“The results, therefore, provide means for practitioners and policy-makers to encourage older individuals to engage in heavy resistance training.”

People at the end of the study were aged 71 on average, and 61 per cent were women.



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Dementia caused by fluid accumulation in brain treatable




Hyderabad, June 19 (IANS) Dementia caused by fluid accumulation in the brain can be treated with minor surgical procedures, said a doctor who successfully treated such a case at a private hospital here.

Dementia commonly appears as people age. Symptoms include repeatedly calling children despite having already done so, forgetting what was eaten for lunch by evening, and not recognising familiar people.

Many children perceive these behaviours as stubbornness and get frustrated with their elders.

However, it’s crucial to recognise that this could be dementia.

Identifying it and seeking treatment can potentially lead to full recovery.

Certain types of dementia come with unique problems such as loss of bladder control, walking much faster than usual, and remembering names of distant people but not those close to them.

Children must be very vigilant in such cases, understanding that these are medical issues and consulting the right doctors for treatment.

Doctors at Kamineni Hospital in LB Nagar here successfully treated a 73-year-old man with such symptoms through minor surgery.

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According to consultant neurosurgeon Dr. Ramesh, the patient had been experiencing difficulties for the past six months.

The patient had no control over urination and walking became slow. Additionally, he couldn’t remember what he had for lunch by evening.

These various problems were causing significant concern for his family members.

Upon examination, it was found that fluid had accumulated in his brain.

Typically, if such fluid accumulates in young people, it can lead to a coma because they can’t bear the pressure.

However, as people age, their brain gradually shrinks, creating some space where this fluid can accumulate.

This accumulation puts pressure on the brain, leading to dementia. This type of dementia can be treated with minor surgical procedures.

“In Shankarrao’s case, we removed the fluid from his spine over three consecutive days, which gradually reduced the fluid in his brain. Then, a stunt was placed in his brain, allowing the fluid to drain into the abdomen, where it is expelled through normal bodily processes.

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“From the moment the fluid was removed, Shankarrao’s condition significantly improved,” said Dr Ramesh.

“He is now living a normal life again, recognising everyone. His walking has also returned to normal, and he has no problems. For the next five years, he is not expected to face any issues. Regular check-ups with doctors and necessary medication will suffice,” explained Dr. Ramesh.

However, he noted that this treatment is not effective for all types of dementia, but only for dementia caused by fluid accumulation in the brain.



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Second Australian state reports confirmed case of bird flu




Sydney, June 19 (IANS) Testing results confirmed on Wednesday that the highly contagious bird flu, also known as avian influenza, was detected at a poultry farm in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW).

The confirmation came only days after a sixth farm in Victoria recently tested positive for the H7N3 strain, Xinhua news agency reported.

Tara Moriarty, NSW Minister for Agriculture, said in a statement that the state government enacted its emergency biosecurity incident plan to address the detection of the high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI).

According to the statement, the HPAI detected is the H7N8 type, which is not the same strain as the current Victorian outbreak. It is believed at the current stage to be a separate spill-over event potentially from wild birds.

As the high pathogenic diseases can spread quickly and lead to a high mortality rate amongst poultry birds, the farm is now under an immediate lockdown, and the NSW government also commenced its emergency animal disease response.

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“NSW consumers should not be concerned about eggs and poultry products from the supermarkets,” said Moriarty.

“This detection does not pose a risk to consumer health, and the products are safe to consume if they are handled and cooked as per standard food handling practices,” the minister added.

Due to the spread of bird flu, Australia’s major supermarket chain Coles has put a cap on the purchase of eggs since last week.

Signs were seen on Wednesday in one of the Coles stores in Sydney saying that due to a shortage of supply eggs, the supermarket has introduced a temporary limit of two items per customer or transaction.



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How Yoga made Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma fearless in space




Bengaluru, June 19 (IANS) NV Raghuram, yoga teacher of Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma and the founder of Yoga Bharati, on Wednesday revealed that yoga made Sharma “fearless and more adaptable than any other astronaut” in his team.

He was sharing some of Sharma’s encounters in space at a conference on ‘Yoga for Space’ here.

The Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy (CCRYN), in collaboration with Svyasa, organised the conference at S-Vyasa University, Bengaluru, to mark the 10th edition of International Day of Yoga (IDY) 2024.

The conference’s focus was on the convergence of experts from various fields to enhance society, including astronauts.

According to Ministry of AYUSH, these initiatives aim to raise awareness in society and promote vigorous yoga practice, recognising that a healthy individual fosters a healthy society, as proclaimed by the theme of ‘IDY 2024’.

Dr Raghavendra Rao, Director of the Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy, Delhi, shed light on the inclusivity and diversity inherent in the IDY journey, showcasing yoga practices in extreme conditions on land, in the ocean, and throughout a day spanning from Japan to California, culminating in the exploration of yoga in space with this conference.

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Dr BR Ramakrishnan, Pro-Chancellor of S-Vyasa University, spoke about the amalgamation of ancient wisdom with space science, stressing the convergence of the best from the East and the West.

This year’s IDY celebrations will be held in Srinagar, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again at the helm.

In the last 10 years, IDY has set four Guinness Book of World Records.

As a special initiative, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will organise ‘Yoga for Space’ to mark the ‘IDY 2024’. All scientists and officials of ISRO will perform yoga together as per guidelines.



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