Friday 23 September 2011

Malaria - a glimmer of hope?

Some hopeful signs from a new anti-malaria vaccine.    Preliminary trials had begun in Burkina Faso to test its safety, but it soon became clear that children who had been given the injection were getting a high degree of protection.

The results are described as ‘most encouraging’, and a bigger trial is about to start in Mali.  About 100 different vaccines have been tried against the disease, and this one, developed by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, is only the second to have shown promise.

The Burkina Faso study involved only 45 children, but the incidence of malaria was three or four time lower among those who were given the vaccine.    Eight hundred children will be enrolled in the new trial in Mali.

Malaria still kills around 1 million people a year, 90 per cent of them in Africa, and most of these are young children.  (See also my blogs of 11 April, 30 May, 24 Sept and 21 Oct, 2009.)

Thursday 22 September 2011

Animal survivors - tales of dogs, pigs and clones

Here’s a strong contender for this year’s most bizarre disaster story.     Chinese scientists have cloned a wonder pig that survived the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which killed more than 90,000 people.

 Zhu Jiangqiang, or "Strong-Willed Pig", survived in his sty under the rubble for 36 days on a diet of charcoal and rainwater.    Scientists in the city of Shenzhen have cloned six piglets from his DNA.    They are all said to look like him, with a distinctive birthmark between the eyes.   It’s planned to send them off to a museum and a genetic institute.

During the Japanese tsunami in March, as the owners of a pet dachshund prepared to seek safety in the hills inland, the terrified dog raced off towards the sea.    They were heart-broken and assumed that was the last they would see of him.

But a week later, he was found safe a mile inland.   How did he survive?    No one knows.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

More floods in China

Floods are said to be the most common natural disaster to afflict mankind, and China has suffered many, including perhaps the deadliest natural disaster in history.  (See my blog of June 20.)

Now a week of heavy rain has brought the deaths of at least 57 people and driven a million from their homes.    The flooding in Sichuan is the worst since records began in 1847, and the provinces of Henan and Shaanxi have also been hit.

More than 120,000 houses have been destroyed, along with many crops.   Many of those who died were in a brick factory and the dormitory for its workers that were buried by a landslide in the city of Xi’an.

Last year’s floods were the worst in China for a decade, and cost 4,000 lives, while so far this year more than 350 people have been killed in 12 provinces.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

London's deadliest post-war fire

New light has been cast on the deadliest fire in London since World War Two, and one of the worst mass killings in British history.   In the early hours of August 16, 1980, fire ripped through two illegal clubs in Denmark Street - ‘Tin Pan Alley’ – just off Charing Cross Road.

The second floor housed a gambling den, while the first floor was a club where salsa music – virtually unknown in London in those days – attracted lots of South American expatriates.    A disgruntled customer who had been refused admission, poured petrol into the building and set fire to it.   The disc jockey was one of those killed, as he tried to save his record collection.

There were no proper fire escapes, and with much of the building made of wood, it went up in no time.    A total of 37 people were killed, and in May 1981, a 42 year old man was gaoled for life for causing the fire.

Matt Rendell has come up with some fascinating new details about the disaster in his new history of salsa in Britain.   For the full story, see Salsa for People Who Probably Shouldn’t just published by Mainstream.  

Monday 19 September 2011

Pakistan flooded again

Just as they did around this time last year, devastating floods, caused by heavy monsoon rain, have once again struck the unhappy country of Pakistan.    So far this year nearly 250 people have been killed and more than 600,000 homes have been destroyed.    Last year, up to 2,000 people lost their lives.

The United Nations has launched an appeal for more than £230 million to help the estimated six million who have been affected this year.    Once again, the Pakistan government has been criticised for what has been seen an ineffectual response.

More than two million people are said to be suffering from flood-related illnesses, while at least 7,000 have been bitten by snakes.    Local people claim that if proper drainage systems had been in place, many lives could have been saved.

(See also my blogs of July 20, Aug 11, 17 and 23, 2010, and 27 Jan, 2011.)

Thursday 1 September 2011

Black Death WAS plague - official

When I was at school, there was no doubt about it.   We were taught that the Black Death – perhaps the most lethal disease ever to afflict humanity – was bubonic plague.    Then some scientists came up with revisionist theories that it might have been an ebola-type virus, or anthrax, or some combination of infections.

Well now a group of Canadian researchers from McMaster University in Toronto believe they have proved the epidemic really was bubonic plague.   They analysed bones from the 14th century, and were able to extract the plague bacterium, though in a different form from the one we know today.

They hope also to throw light on why the disease carried off so many.    From its first appearance in Central Asia in the 1330’s, it spread right across Europe and Asia, killing perhaps a third of the population.   In some places it was even more deadly.    Siena in Italy was said to have lost half of its people.  Nearby San Gimignano, with its famous towers, even more.

The Black Death was a dreadful blow to the prestige of the Church which had failed to warn the faithful that God was about to inflict this dreadful punishment on them.   It also produced a labour shortage, and as wages for the working class rose, the kings of England and France quickly imposed a wage freeze.