Tag: public health

How Do You Do, Fellow Kids? Making Anti-vaping Messaging Work

Vaping with an e-cigarette
Photo by Toan Nguyen on Unsplash

Effective anti-vaping advertisements geared to teens have the greatest impact when they emphasise the adverse consequences and harms of vaping e-cigarettes, use negative imagery, and avoid memes, hashtags and other ‘teen-centric’ communication styles, according to a first-of-its-kind study by researchers in the journal Tobacco Control.

The researchers also found that certain messaging content currently being used, especially sweets and flavour-related imagery, increases the appeal of vaping and should be avoided when designing prevention messages.

“E-cigarettes and vaping have become a major public health concern, with nicotine addiction and other harmful outcomes looming large for youth,” said Seth M. Noar, PhD, the paper’s corresponding author and UNC Lineberger professor. “The percentage of teens vaping increased from about 5% in 2011 to over 25% in 2019,” Prof Noar said. “That is an alarming trend, making an understanding of effective vaping prevention messages especially urgent.”

Since the introduction of e-cigarettes, numerous US health departments have created their own anti-vaping messaging geared to teens, as have national health organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The online study asked 1501 teens to rate seven randomly selected vaping prevention ads from a pool of more than 200 ads. Vaping prevention ads that clearly communicated the health harms of vaping, or compared vaping to cigarette smoking, were comparatively more effective. Neutral or less personally relevant content, such as referencing the environmental impact of vaping or the targeting of youth by the tobacco industry, was less impactful.

“Although we anticipated that vaping prevention ads with neutral or pleasant imagery would not be as effective, we were alarmed to find that flavour-related messages actually heightened the attractiveness of vaping,” said Marcella H. Boynton, PhD, first author

“In retrospect, it stands to reason that by reminding teens about pleasurable aspects of e-cigarettes, even within the context of a prevention ad, we run the risk of doing harm. Notably, we found that flavour-related prevention ad content was associated with vaping appeal among both users and non-users of e-cigarettes, which is a good reminder of how much candy and fruit flavours in e-cigarettes have driven the youth vaping epidemic.”

The researchers hope to next investigate the effects of other types of anti-vaping ads on a wide range of audiences. They also are developing a series of messages and a companion website to test the ability of a text message-driven intervention to reduce youth vaping. In that regard, Prof Noar noted that “We have been developing our own evidence-based messages based on the latest science about the harms of vaping. Our messaging approach has been greatly influenced by the insights generated by this study.”

The study used UNC’s Vaping Prevention Resource, a website designed to provide practitioners, researchers and communities with vaping prevention media content from around the world, as well as strategies and resources for youth vaping prevention. It is the largest repository of free, open-access vaping prevention materials, all available for download at https://vapingprevention.org/.

Source: UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Can Public Clinics Be Fixed with The Right Technology?

Male doctor with smartphone
Photo by Ivan Samkov on Unsplash

Investigating the state of affairs in public clinics, Spotlight’s Daniel Steyn and Vusi Mokoena investigate whether the right technology could help them out of their predicament.

“I never look forward to clinic day,” says Nomtsato Tsietsi, 74, on a Monday morning while standing in the queue at Kayamandi Clinic in Stellenbosch, which she visits up to three times a month to collect pills, consult with a doctor, and have her blood tests taken.

Tsietsi has several diseases including diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). “We sit there for too long, sometimes all day,” she says.

Her experience is typical for people visiting state clinics. But for about 80% of South Africans, this is the only option: for most people private healthcare is unaffordable and public clinic services are free.

Some patients in the Kayamandi clinic queue said they sometimes pay people up to R80 to stand in the queue for them. One man, who had been paid by someone to stand in the queue, said that he had been there since 5am.

For employed people, a day at the clinic typically means taking a day off work, often without pay.

The pubIic health system is beset with problems: long waiting times, insufficient record keeping, poorly maintained infrastructure, and poor service delivery.

A 2018 study of nurses and doctors in Cape Town found that of 16 essential skills, ten were not performed in more than half of the consultations. In more than 60% of consultations, nurses and doctors in Cape Town did not greet patients, and in 90% of consultations, they did not attempt to understand the patient’s perspective. In nother study, 76% of Cape Town-based doctors in primary care reported that they are suffering from burnout.

During our visit to Kayamandi Clinic, we asked patients whether they would embrace technological solutions to make the experience more efficient. They all said they would. Almost all of them are smartphone users and some said they could not understand why appointments cannot be made and managed digitally, or why they cannot communicate with health workers online rather than in person.

Innovative technology solutions for primary care exist in South Africa. Phukulisa Health Solutions, for example, offers a platform that mimics a consultation with a healthcare practitioner. Equipped with Bluetooth sensors, the platform can screen patients for a range of health issues, focused specifically on HIV, TB, diabetes, and heart diseases.

Phukulisa’s CEO Raymond Campbell says that this testing and screening platform offers a more efficient screening service with a faster turnaround time. For example, the platform has been tested at an antenatal unit in Mamelodi, where the platform provided test results within 14 minutes, opposed to the usual 23 hours.

But Campbell says there is little interest from the public sector in his technology. Instead, he is finding more success licensing the platform to players in the private sector.

There have been some attempts to use innovative computer technology in public sector clinics. In Limpopo, the deputy director-general of the health department, Dr Muthei Dombo, has the vision to create a “clinic in the cloud”.

In 2018, Dombo partnered with the Mint Group to conduct a trial funded by Microsoft at Rethabile clinic. Dombo provided the team at Mint Group with several problems to solve.

The team, led by Peter Reid, developed a technology to alleviate the high rate of fraud at medicine dispensing points, the difficulty of transferring medical records between different clinics, and the long waiting times.

When a patient entered the clinic, they would register at reception. Their identity document would be scanned and a picture would be taken of the patient. At every station in the clinic visited by the patient, a camera would identify the patient and the patient’s records would pop up on the screen. When the patient left the station, the profile would automatically lock.

This ensured that only patients due for specific medication would receive that medication, thereby eliminating fraud. Because the records were all kept in the cloud, the records could easily be transferred to another clinic. Without this technology, patients need to return to the same clinic every time they need to restock their medication.

The trial also assisted with queue management. Upon entering the clinic, patients would choose a “journey” based on their reason for visiting the clinic. The system would then guide the patient from one station to the next on big screens on the wall. This made the journey more seamless while also providing visual feedback to officials at the clinic helping them to manage the queues more effectively.

The trial ended shortly before the start of the Covid pandemic. The project has not yet been restarted.

One project that has been implemented widely in the public sector is Vula Mobile. Founded by Dr William Mapham in 2014, Vula aims to bridge the gap between health workers and specialists.

There is a shortage of specialist doctors in the public sector and health workers at the primary care level often lack the information to refer patients to a relevant specialist.

With the Vula app, a nurse seeing a patient can be linked with the closest specialist. Through the built-in chat function, the nurse can provide the specialist with all the necessary info and refer the patient.

The app is available in six provinces with an emphasis on the Eastern Cape. More than 24,000 health workers are registered on the system.

But other innovators in the health space, frustrated by the public sector, are focusing on providing affordable private healthcare. This follows a growing trend in South Africa, as medical aid providers increasingly offer more affordable packages targeted to lower-income earners.

At the Kayamandi clinic during GroundUp’s visit, Mcoleseli Mlenze, a 34-year-old father who often visits the clinic for hypertension medication or when his son is sick, said that while he uses the clinic to collect medication, he has started seeing a private doctor when he is sick.

He says he cannot really afford the private doctor, which costs upwards of R350 per consultation. If there was some middle-ground where he could pay R150-R200 for a consultation at a clinic that is faster and more efficient, he would happily do so.

Others in the queue said they would pay up to R50 for a better healthcare experience.

Saul Kornik, the founder of Healthforce and the Kena App, aims to lower the cost of quality primary health care so that millions of people have access to it.

Available in almost 500 pharmacies throughout the country, Healthforce’s technology enables nurses to conduct all necessary screenings and diagnostic procedures. If and when a doctor becomes necessary, the nurse presses a button to start a video call with one of the doctors in the Healthforce network.

The nurse and patient can both see the doctor and the doctor, with the help of the nurse, can consult the patient. This reduces the amount of time that the doctor is needed, thereby reducing the cost.

The patient ends up paying on average R70 to R90 for the nurse and R115 to R250 for the doctor. If needed, the doctor can prescribe medication that the patient can purchase at the pharmacy or pick up from a government dispensary.

There are Healthforce doctors available to speak any of the 11 official languages and they are available seven days a week.

In March, Healthforce launched the Kena Health app, through which patients can have consultations with nurses, doctors and mental health practitioners via chat, voice or video. The first three consultations per year are free.

After the consultation, if necessary, the doctor can provide a script for medication and a sick note.

At Kayamandi clinic, Gcobisa Malithafa, a 30-year-old mother of a toddler told GroundUp that although she would pay a small amount for a better experience, it should not have to come to that.

Malithafa suggests that instead, the clinic’s management should consult the community on a regular basis and make immediate improvements to the running of the clinic. “This thing of having one doctor at the clinic is not right,” she says.

She is struggling to get her child immunised, having visited the clinic many times without success.

Whether they use technology or not, she says, something has to change.

By Daniel Steyn and Vusi Mokoena

Republished from the original at GroundUp under a Creative Commons Licence

New Drugs for Cryptococcal Meningitis Sorely Needed in SA

Brain scan image
Image source: Mart Production on Pexels

Despite the greater safety and efficacy of a new short course treatment for HIV-related cryptococcal meningitis (CM), access to the treatment in South Africa will be a challenge, according to a pair of articles by Spotlight.

Following positive results of a trial, the World Health Organization last week announced new recommendations for the treatment of CM, with a single high dose of L-AmB followed by two weeks of flucytosine and fluconazole.

Using L-AmB (AmBisome) and flucytosine for the treatment of CM will be a welcome change for South Africa, which has the world’s highest burden of the condition. This shorter course with fewer side effects than the current treatment involving amphotericin-B could save lives as well as clinical resources in the public sector, but at present the treatment is hamstrung by pricing and availability uncertainty, with a course of L-AmB currently only available at a steep cost.

Amphotericin B [deoxycholate] is a drug that doctors and nurses used to call ampho-terrible,” Amir Shroufi, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Southern Africa board member told Spotlight.

He explained that “it’s a really nasty drug, doctors and nurses don’t like it because it can cause severe anaemia. It’s toxic to the kidneys, so it can cause kidney damage and even kidney failure… and the infusion line used for the drug can often become infected and it can cause inflammation of the veins where it’s going into the body.”

L-AmB is a “much better drug”, he said, with great benefits of administering it for one day as opposed to a week or two. The seriousness of CM meant hospitalisation will still be required, pointed out Dr Jacqui Miot, division director of the Wits Health Economics and Epidemiology Research office, but means that patients won’t be tethered to a drip and may be able to go home sooner.

Under the treatment regimen, a patient receives a single high dose of L-AmB on the first day of treatment, followed by a 14-day course of flucytosine and fluconazole pills.

For a 60kg patient at the recommended dosage, twelve 50mg vials of L-AmB are needed, which at Gilead’s promised access price would be R2 880. Key Oncologics’ currently charges R34 560 for 12 vials.

Even given the availability of L-AmB, Shrouifi warns that “whatever you’re doing, you have to have flucytosine. That’s your baseline, even if you’re giving liposomal amphotericin B, you have to have the flucytosine”.

Flucytosine is an old, off-patent medicine developed in the 1950s. Despite its age and its demonstrated efficacy in the landmark ACTA trial four years ago, flucytosine was only recently authorised for use in South Africa and is only slowly being rolled out.

Amir Shroufi warned that access to the life-saving medicine remains a major issue. “Doctors are not being given the tools they need to treat [CM],” he said. “The first tool they have to have is flucytosine and they still don’t have flucytosine. So, that’s the thing that needs to happen urgently, you know, tomorrow! Everyone with cryptococcal meningitis must get access to flucytosine.”

Like L-AmB, Mylan’s 250mg and 500mg flucytosine tablets were only registered recently, in December 2021. The Department of Health’s target price for a pack of 100 tablets is R1 500. Fortunately, it appears that the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) will be able to secure packs of 100 at R1 470 each for use in South Africa’s flucytosine access programme.

The next steps for rollout of flucytosine will be inclusion on the national essential medicines list and in CM treatment guidelines before tenders can be put out.

Source 1: Spotlight

Source 2: Spotlight

The Pros and Cons of Robotics in Healthcare

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Having to cope with the strain of COVID on an already fragile healthcare system, a few hospitals in the Western Cape have been introducing robotics for specialised tasks – but are they worth the hype?

Robotics was able to fill an unprecedented need during the COVID pandemic – the ability to remotely conduct ward rounds from remote locations. Tygerberg Hospital made use of ‘Quintin’, a robot that is essentially a tablet on a mobile stand that allows users to remotely communicate and inspect the area, but it can’t physically interact with its environment.

Robotics offers greater surgical precision, which may translate into reduced healthcare load. IOL reported that the provincial Department of Health plans to use a pair of new robotic surgery machines installed at the Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals to fast-track surgeries and address the province’s surgical backlogs caused by COVID. These robotic surgery units will be used for procedures on colorectal, liver, prostate, kidney and bladder cancers, and women with severe endometriosis. In the province’s private sector, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital also makes use of robotic-assisted surgery.

Robotic surgery has a number of advantages. The small robotic arms allow for smaller incisions and faster recovery times, reducing the strain on hospitals. A liver resection that would have a patient in hospital for a week can be reduced to one or two days with robotic surgery. More complex surgery becomes possible, eg in difficult to access areas or in patients with obesity. Robotic surgery allows surgeons to be off their feet, easing an extremely fatiguing job, and the software automatically compensates for any tremor in the surgeon’s hands.

However, robotic surgery still has drawbacks – chief among them is cost and the need to have trained personnel to operate them. There is also some latency between the surgeon’s hands movements and the corresponding movement of the robot, leading to possible errors. Shorting of the electrical current running through the robotic arms can also cause burns to the patient’s tissue, and there is also the possibility of nerve compression injuries due to the positioning of the patient. Furthermore, operator errors, especially when operators are inexperienced or robotic surgery is performed in lower volumes, is always a possibility.

Robotics have promising applications in sanitation – they can easily disinfect areas using UV light, for example – and can also assist nurses with certain tasks, such as making a 3D vein map prior to a venipuncture. Some robots can even assist the elderly, conversing with them and can perform simple tasks like calling a nurse. Other applications include the much simpler technology of exoskeletons, a wearable frame which amplify users’ strength (though nowhere near that of the fictional Iron Man) and are useful in rehabilitation and for enhancing mobility in the elderly. Other applications include increasing strength of care staff for assisting patients, freeing up other staff.

Some exoskeletons are even purely mechanical, merely readjusting loads without any sophisticated electronics or motors. Yet even these are prohibitively expensive: the Phoenix Medical Exoskeleton goes for about US$30 000 each.

While promising, robotic systems are at present still hugely expensive, limited in function and can only assist with a small fraction of the tasks that healthcare workers perform. Even if the cost could be reduced enough to help ease healthcare worker burden in South Africa to help, that still leaves the problem of enough experienced and motivated healthcare workers, beds and neglected rural areas.

A Check-up on Western Cape Healthcare

Image by Hush Naidoo from Unsplash
Image by Hush Naidoo from Unsplash

A report by IOL revealed mixed reviews by experts and patients for the Western Cape’s healthcare system, which, while providing mostly excellent service in certain hospitals, is seen to be especially lacking in rural areas, infrastructure and handling of patients.

Award-winning service

Along with receiving the highest marks for efficiency, Western Cape healthcare has earned recognition such as through the Batho Pele Excellence Awards, with a silver medal going to Dr Barry Smith who worked in frontline COVID hospitals in Cape Town, where as medical manager he organised efforts to deal with devastating COVID waves.

A total of R29.4 billion has been allocated to the province’s 2022–2023 budget to deal with a serious backlog of unmet TB, HIV and other medical care put off during the COVID waves, along with a new surge in mental health issues.

A critical view

The ANC’s Rachel Windvogel said that while Western Cape is said have the country’s ‘most efficient’ health-care system, it is deteriorating and “nearing collapse”.

Dilapidated infrastructure in hospitals such as Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospitals is a challenged, with “sections that are cordoned off and not functioning.”

The knock-on service pressure across all district hospitals has resulted in patients having to sleep in chairs or on the floor.

Windvogel said that the Khayelitsha District Hospital is a prime example, with R150 million allocated for upgrades by the hospital but with no provincial government funding forthcoming.

She said that the provincial government’s boasts about a leading healthcare system does not match the situation. This can be seen in rural communities where people wait days for an ambulance transfer to city hospitals, she said, and doctors only visiting rural clinics to issue prescriptions without examining patients.

From the wards

Speaking to IOL, on the condition of anonymity, a nurse with over 15 years of experience currently working at a local government hospital said that while they try their best to deliver a service to residents, the sector has so much lacking.

The quality of new nurses has been steadily declining, she said. “As nurses, we are inundated with work but we manage, however, as an experienced nurse seeing how the ‘latest intakes’ have no feeling towards patients is sad.”

There have been deaths from “incorrect triages” as well as problems with nurses not knowing how to speak to the community, resulting in “pissing off the very community we took an oath to serve,” she said.

While she believes nursing is her calling, she is considering moving over to the private sector, driven by a high workload, crime, poor pay and lack of experienced assistance.

A patient’s experience

Candice van der Rheede, director of the Western Cape Missing Persons Unit (WCMPU) has been through a string of hospitals since 2020 following a collapsed lung, and her experiences reflected problems with staffing and gender segregation.

She first stayed at Mitchells Plain District Hospital, and her ward was “spotless” with security “always there”. “If help was needed and you buzzed for help, nurses came immediately,” she told IOL.

The thoracic ward at Groote Schuur Hospital was also praiseworthy – except that her ward was in the middle of the men’s section.

“One night I woke up and saw one of the men standing and watching us ladies with no nurses on the inside,” Van der Rheede said.

However, entering the ICU ward after theatre, her experience took a turn for the worse, being roughly handled when check for bed sores, despite her having a large surgical wound.

In November, Van der Rheede had to overnight in the trauma section at Tygerberg Hospital due to a check-up. While she was generally satisified with the hospital and its staff, there was a major sticking point for her – in the trauma section, “we were men and women sleeping in one room which I had a big problem with. Using one toilet. I could not sleep that night.”

While she has her reservations about the state of hospitals in the province, Van der Rheede told IOL she commended the Mitchells Plain District Hospital for its impeccable service, and the Symphony Clinic in Delft which she currently attends is of the highest standard of service and cleanliness.

Source: IOL

Researchers Uncover ‘Copycat’ Cannabis Edibles

Photo by Amit Lahav on Unsplash

NYU School of Global Public Health researchers have found that some cannabis edibles have a striking resemblance to popular snack foods such as Doritos, and may be easily confused for them, especially by young children, finds a new study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

These “copycat” edibles also have levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol or THC that far exceed the limits set by cannabis regulations in US states.

“At first glance, most of the packages look almost exactly like familiar snacks. If these copycat cannabis products are not stored safely, there is the potential for accidental ingestion by children or adults,” said Associate Professor Danielle Ompad, lead author of the study.

Edibles are a popular and growing segment of the cannabis market. In states where cannabis use is legal, more than half (56%) of cannabis users consume edibles.

Some edibles that use similar branding and imagery to mimic popular snack foods have been highlighted by the media. These copycat cannabis products are a public health concern given that people – including children – could mistake them for snacks and accidentally consume them. From 2017 to 2019, US Poison Control Centers handled nearly 2000 cases of young children ages 0 to 9 consuming edibles.

To gain a deeper understanding of copycat edibles, the researchers collected hundreds of photos of cannabis products and analysed their packaging, including branding, names, imagery, and THC content. Looking at the photos for 267 edibles, they found that 8% (22 photos) closely resembled 13 different snack products.

Twelve of the products were candies or sweet snacks (fruit chews, fruit snacks, rice and marshmallow treats, and gummies) and one was a salty snack (chips). Eight of the 13 packages used the exact brand or product name of the original product; the remaining five used names that were similar (for instance, “Stoner Patch Dummies” instead of “Sour Patch Kids”). Seven of the packages used the same cartoon or brand character as the original product.

Most US states that have legalised cannabis limit the amount of THC in edibles, generally 5–10mg of THC per dose and 100mg per package. According to the packaging information, these edibles contained an average of 459mg of THC with a range of 300 to 600 mg per package, far exceeding the maximum limits.

“While each package is likely intended to include multiple doses, few packages indicate the serving size or number of servings,” said Dr Ompad. “Moreover, if we’re considering 10mg a standard dose, these products could contain an alarming 30 to 60 doses per package.”

The findings highlight the risk that these copycat products could be attractive to children, given the colourful packaging and use of familiar branding and characters.

“Policies to prevent cannabis packaging from appealing to children haven’t stopped copycat products from entering the market — nor have food brands taking legal action against cannabis companies for copyright infringement,” said Dr Ompad. “People who purchase edibles that look like snack foods should store them separately from regular snacks and out of reach of children.”

Source: New York University

US, Europe Report Severe Hepatitis of Unknown Aetiology in Children

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Public health officials are puzzling over cases of severe hepatitis in children reported in Europe and the US. A number of the cases have tested positive for adenovirus and/or SARS-CoV-2, though what role these viruses play is not yet clear.

On 5 April 2022, UK authorities notified the World Health Organization was of 10 cases of severe acute hepatitis of unknown aetiology in previously healthy young children ranging in from 11 months to five years old across central Scotland. Nine had onset of symptoms in March 2022, and all cases were detected on hospitalisation. Symptoms included jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. An article published in Eurosurveillance detailed the cases.

Further investigations across the UK identified a total of 74 cases as of 8 April (including the 10 cases) that fulfilled the case definition. The clinical syndrome in identified cases is of acute hepatitis with markedly elevated liver enzymes, often with jaundice, sometimes preceded by gastrointestinal symptoms, in children principally up to 10 years old. Some cases have required transfer to specialist children’s liver units and six children have undergone liver transplantation. As of 11 April, no death has been reported among these cases and one epidemiologically linked case has been detected.

Laboratory testing has excluded hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses (and D where applicable) in these cases while SARS-CoV-2 and/or adenovirus have been detected in several cases. The United Kingdom has recently observed an increase in adenovirus activity, which is co-circulating with SARS-CoV-2, though the role of these viruses in the pathogenesis is not yet clear. They have however been linked to bladder inflammation and infection, and on occasion to hepatitis, but it is rare in children who are not immunocompromised.

To date, no other epidemiological risk factors have been identified, including recent international travel. Overall, the aetiology of the current hepatitis cases is still considered unknown and remains under active investigation. Laboratory testing for additional infections, chemicals and toxins is underway for the identified cases.

Following the notification from the UK, less than five cases (confirmed or possible) have been reported in Ireland, further investigations into these are ongoing. Additionally, three confirmed cases of acute hepatitis of unknown aetiology have been reported in children (ranging in age from 22 months-old to 13 years old) in Spain. A further 9 have been reported in the US state of Alabama, with five testing positive for adenovirus.

Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that the cases were spread across the state, and no links were found among the children.

“It is not common to see children with severe hepatitis,” Landers told STAT in an interview. “Seeing children with severe [hepatitis] in the absence of severe underlying health problems is very rare. That’s what really stood out to us in the state of Alabama.”

Source: WHO

Vigorous Exercise and Talking Produce Similar Levels of Aerosols

Old man jogging
Photo by Barbra Olsen on Pexels

Vigorous exercise produces a similar level of aerosol particles as speaking, but high-intensity exercise produces more, according to new research published in Communications Medicine. This is the first study to measure exhaled aerosols generated during exercise, to help inform the risk of airborne viral transmission of SARS-CoV-2 for gyms and indoor physical training.

Inhalation of infectious aerosol is considered to be the main route of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. In this study, researchers performed a series of experiments to measure the size and concentration of exhaled particles (up to 20µm diameter) which are generated in our respiratory tracts and breathed out, during vigorous and high-intensity exercise.

Using a cardiopulmonary exercise test, 25 healthy participants (13 male, 12 female) with a range of athletic abilities were recruited to undertake four different activities (breathing at rest, speaking at normal conversational volume, vigorous exercise and high-intensity exercise) on a cycle ergometer. Airflow and particles emitted were measured by particle counter. Experiments were carried out in an orthopaedic operating theatre — an environment with ‘zero aerosol background’, letting the researchers to unambiguously identify the aerosols generated by the participants.

The results showed that the size of airborne particles emitted during vigorous exercise was consistent with those emitted while breathing at rest. However, the rate of aerosol mass exhaled during vigorous exercise was found to be similar to speaking at a conversational volume.

Jonathan Reid, scientific lead on the paper, said: “COVID has profoundly impacted sports and exercise, and this study provides a comprehensive analysis of the mass emission rates of aerosol that can potentially carry infectious virus produced from an individual during exercise. Our research has shown that the likely amount of virus that someone can exhale in small aerosol particles when exercising is comparable to when someone speaks at a conversational volume.  The most effective way to reduce risk is to ensure spaces are appropriately ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.”

Source: University of Bristol

Dozens of Healthcare Facilities Damaged in KZN Floods

A destroyed house in eThekwini. Credit: Nokulunga Majola/GroundUp

The floods which have inundated KwaZulu-Natal this week and prompted the declaration of a national state of disaster, have damaged at least 58 healthcare facilities. So far, the floods have claimed the lives of 443 people, with 63 still missing.

Damage has been sustained to the roofs, floors and fencing of healthcare facilties, the KwaZulu-Natal health department said. Water shortages from infrastructure damage had forced some hospitals to divert patients elsewhere. Environmental health practitioners are monitoring clinical data for early identification of any waterborne diseases.

Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said there had been an influx of patients due to the torrential rains.

“We can confirm that our hospitals and clinics have been seeing a higher number of trauma and emergency patients than usual, particularly in the densely populated districts,” she said.

Simelane thanked the courage and dedication of the province’s healthcare workers, noting that many had simply put in extra hours to compensate. Damage to infrastructure such as roads meant that some healthcare workers have had to sleep at the facilities, she noted. Other facilities will try and provide accommodation for them.

To cope with the strain on morgues, KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said: “We have mobilised additional resources, including seven doctors, to ensure that post mortems are completed speedily, in order to avoid congestion and to enable those who are grieving to bury their loved ones. Our officials are constantly monitoring the situation and sending bodies to those facilities that do have space.”

“All the resources allocated for flood relief and the recovery and rebuilding process will be utilised in line with fiscal rectitude, accountability, transparency and openness. We want to emphasise the fact that, having learnt lessons of Covid-19, no amount of corruption, maladministration and fraud will be tolerated or associated with this province,” Premier Zikalala said.

Source: IOL

Report Finds One in Four Preschool Children in SA Malnourished

Photo by Gautam Arora on Unsplash

One in four preschool children (aged four to five years) shows signs of long-term malnutrition, according to a new survey.

The Thrive by Five Index, released on 8 April, was produced by First National Bank and Innovation Edge in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The study surveyed more than 5000 children enrolled in early learning programmes across the country.

The study found about 25% of children were physically stunted, as a result of malnutrition in pregnancy and the early years of life. About 65% of children are either cognitively delayed, physically stunted, or both. This means they are not meeting the learning or growth standards expected of a child their age, and will start school at a disadvantage.

“Children from poorer households tended to perform worse,” said Sonja Giese, the lead researcher in the study. Giese is the founder of Innovation Edge, which was set up to support innovation in early childhood development. The rates of stunting were highest among the poorest children.

She said each child was assessed for about an hour. Children were assessed for things such as early mathematical skills, literacy and communication, motor development and coordination, among other things.

But Giese also drew attention to the positive outcomes of the study, saying that even within the poorest group of children there were some children who performed very well, causing a kind of “positive deviance”.

“I think there are some really interesting lessons we can learn from these outliers …Some children just thrive in difficult circumstances,” said Giese. She said more research could help to figure out how and why these children are thriving.

Giese said as the DBE had just taken over responsibility for early childhood education from the Department of Social Development, the study could show where attention should be focused.

In a statement about the survey, the DBE said that the first five years of the child’s life are the most important and stressed the importance of physical development during this stage.

Data for the survey was collected in late 2021 from a nationally representative sample of children aged 50-59 months enrolled in early learning programmes. The final weighted sample used for analysis included 5,139 children from 1,247 programmes across the country. The school quintile system was used to measure the probable socio-economic background of the children who were assessed. School quintiles are based on the income, education and unemployment levels of households in the school catchment area and for the purposes of the Thrive by Five study, the researchers assumed that the income level of children attending early learning programmes within each school cluster matched the income level of children attending the nearest school.

The researchers included more children from quintile 1 – the poorest – in order for the study to be representative of the country and each province. “That’s how we tried to make sure that it really provides a window into the world of children today in South Africa, exactly where they are and how they’re living,” said Giese.

Giese said that some of the data had not yet been analysed and further findings would be released over the next year.

This story was written by Liezl Human for GroundUp and is reproduced under a Creative Commons 4.0 Licence.

Source: GroundUp