TB detection innovation holds potential to reduce infection’s spread | 

Sputum samples containing tuberculosis bacteria fluoresce.
Sputum samples containing tuberculosis bacteria fluoresce.
Jeffrey D. Cirillo

A newly discovered way of testing people for tuberculosis (TB) dramatically cuts the time it takes for a diagnosis to under an hour. The development by chemist Jianghong Rao of Stanford and microbiologist Jeffrey Cirillo of Texas A&M Health Science Center could not only make TB diagnosis faster, but prevent new infections by confirming someone has it before they are contagious. All that for a test that will cost roughly $5.

Initial human trial results are in, showing that the new diagnostic test has an 86% sensitivity, far better than the 50% to 60% sensitivity for the commonly used smear microscopy method. The findings were published earlier this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The results come from a test of 50 sputum samples. The test was able to detect 80% of samples that contained Mycobacterium tuberculosis that were not detected by a microscope. It is a major improvement over traditional methods.

The innovation is in the discovery of a unique enzyme present in TB. A substance developed by Rao and Cirillo reacts with the enzyme create a fluorescent hue that can be read by a battery-powered device. Efforts are underway to develop a paper-based test, making it easier for the test to be used.

Continue reading

News in the Humanosphere: Central African Republic Peace talks suspended; Widodo wins Indonesian presidency | 

Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo.
Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo.

Peace talks between the Central African Republic’s sectarian rivals were suspended Tuesday after the ex-rebel Seleka group failed to show up less than a day before the deadline of a deal. (Yahoo)

Indonesian Political Phenom Wins Presidential Election…Joko Widodo was certified the winner in a highly contentious election. He defeated the son-in-law of Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who is not conceding defeat. “Mr. Joko, a thin, unassuming figure with what he has described as a typical “village face,” will be Indonesia’s seventh president and the first not to have emerged from the country’s political elite or to have been an army general.” (NYT)


The ongoing International AIDS Conference in Melbourne has led to a spike in news reports about HIV/AIDS. We are collecting some of the top news here.

There is more good news about HIV treatment pills used to prevent infection in people at high risk of getting the AIDS virus: Follow-up from a landmark study that proved the drug works now shows that it does not encourage risky sex and is effective even if people skip some doses. (AP)

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programs designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say. Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV. (IPS)

Continue reading

AIDS 2014 – Plenty of slogans & new science but not enough money | 

downloadAt the world’s biggest AIDS meeting this week in Australia, one long-time activist and attendee sees lots of slogans and important new research findings but not nearly enough money to make use of either the potential new tools or the rallying lingo.

A new drug, Truvada, has been shown effective at preventing HIV infection and recently was endorsed by the World Health Organization for use by those most at risk of infection. Despite some disappointing news about efforts to come up with a cure for AIDS, scientists point to other research fronts, though less sexy than a cure, where progress is being made on the search for a vaccine, on treatments for preventing disease and spread of HIV.

“This is one of the most exciting times in terms of HIV science, but one of the worst of times economically,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC (AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, which despite the name works across all aspects of disease prevention), who spoke with Humanosphere by telephone from Melbourne where the International AIDS Society is holding its biannual meeting AIDS 2014.

At the last big AIDS confab, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to help create an AIDS-free generation. Others spoke optimistically about the ‘end of AIDS’ as if the world is now at a tipping point, as if we are poised to end the pandemic.

Continue reading

Rights Groups: no amnesty for Central African Republic atrocities | 

from the PK5 area in Bangui, Central African Republic under the protection of French troops and members of the Multinational Force of Central Africa. (Feb 2014)
from the PK5 area in Bangui, Central African Republic under the protection of French troops and members of the Multinational Force of Central Africa. (Feb 2014)
Rex Features via AP Images

Discussions are currently underway to bring to an end the year-long strife and fighting that has beset the Central African Republic. The hopes is that a peace settlement will be agreed upon and the country will be able to regain stability. So far, things have not gotten off to a good start. The talks were canceled today after the ex-rebel Seleka group was a no show. Moving forward on suspending fighting and disarming fighters are now on hold.

One concern going into the talks is over whether the people who committed some of the most heinous crimes will be given a pass as a part of the deal. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights watch say that such an amnesty should not be available to persons that committed serious crimes.

“Mediators and participants at the Brazzaville forum need to keep the thousands of victims in the Central African Republic and their desire for justice at the top of the agenda,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a public statement. “Amnesty for those most responsible for crimes against humanity and other heinous crimes is simply not an option.”

A day later, Amnesty International released its own statement calling for no amnesties for war crimes.

“The Brazzaville peace talks must ensure that accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law are at the heart of any discussion to bring peace in CAR. Individuals suspected of these crimes must not be allowed to use these peace talked to secure positions in the government that they may use to enjoy impunity,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy.

Continue reading

News in the Humansosphere: New peace talks kick off for Gaza and CAR | 

Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Israel May 23-24, 2013.
Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Israel May 23-24, 2013.
U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Ban Ki Moon, John Kerry in Cairo for Gaza Talks. ”[Kerry] will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt two weeks of fighting that has descended into war and killed at least 500 Palestinians and more than two-dozen Israelis. Kerry headed almost immediately into a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where he announced the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of Palestinians who have fled their homes in Gaza to escape the violence.” (Houston Chronicle)

Over 150 delegates from all sides of the fighting in Central African Republic are represented at peace talks in Brazzaville Congo that started on Monday. Appeals for a ceasefire, however, were clearly not respected on the ground. There is not high hopes that these talks will succeed. “Central African Republic’s interim president appealed on Monday to Muslim Seleka rebels and ‘anti-balaka’ Christian militia to agree on a ceasefire at the start of talks in the neighbouring Congo Republic.The three-day forum in Brazzaville, mediated by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, aims to reach terms for a halt to hostilities and disarmament but will not address negotiations for a longer-term peace deal in the former French colony. (Reuters)


Religious leaders in Sierra Leone criticized the government’s handling of an Ebola outbreak that has killed 194 people in the West African country, saying a lack of information was prompting rural communities to shun medical help. (Reuters)

Mozambique is discussing with its foreign coal mining partners ways to help them ride out depressed markets but will not be offering special tax breaks to ease the pain, its mineral resources minister said. (Reuters)

Continue reading

Echoes of 2011 Somali famine cause for concern, say aid groups | 

A woman holding her young malnourished baby queues for food at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons, July 2011.
A woman holding her young malnourished baby queues for food at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons, July 2011.

Prolonged conflict, drought and rising food prices are conspiring to put people in Somalia at risk of hunger, warn a coalition of aid groups. The nearly 20 groups issued a statement yesterday to rally support before things get worse and the issue potentially becomes a more serious problem, like the 2011 famine in Somalia.

“Though the number of afflicted has declined, Somali men, women and children still need more donor commitment to funding humanitarian assistance long term. Principles of International Humanitarian law need to be upheld by all parties to the conflict, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need to avert this imminent humanitarian crisis,” said Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, in the release.

An update from the Famine Early Warning System Network last week said that food prices are increasing in parts of southern Somalia due to trade disruptions caused by conflict in the region. Somalia has struggled with stability for more than two decades due to recurrent sectarian violence and a campaign carried out by the al-Qaeda affiliated militant Islamist group, Al Shabaab. Disruptions in food trade mean that there are places in Somalia where food supplies are increasingly becoming limited, thus leading to rising food prices. The price of red sorghum increased by 68% from March to June in Xudur. The price of other staple crops, such as maize, have increased over the same period of time.

The warning states that conflict-affected area are seeing increases more acutely than other parts of the country. This is further complicated by the 22,400 people who were fled their homes during May and June, due to fighting. Those displaced are not only away from home, but they have to pay more money to buy food than they did before. It adds up to a worrying food security situation for the region.

Continue reading

News in the Humanosphere: International AIDS Conference Kicks Off in Melbourne | 


The mood was somber with news that at least 6 conference goers were killed in downed Malaysian Airlines, including a former president of the International AIDS Society. Previous reports of over 100 delegate-goers killed were incorrect. The conference will go-on. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton will give an address on Wednesday.“Other key events include, the plenary session on Monday 21 July with an address on the “Future of Science in the HIV Response” by Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will speak on investment in the HIV response; Helen Clark, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme, will present the future of the HIV response in the post-2015 landscape; and Sean Strub, Writer, Activist, and Director of The Sero Project will moderate a debate on how new prevention technologies affect disclosure, prevention and stigma.” (http://www.aids2014.org/)

A Deadly Day in Gaza for Both Sides; Allegation of a Massacre…More than 400 people have been killed since the conflict began, including over 100 children. “More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighborhood and battled militants on Sunday in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia in the eastern suburbs of the city of Gaza and declared three days of mourning. Israel’s army said it was targeting militants from Gaza’s dominant Hamas group whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. The army said it had warned locals two days earlier to leave.” ( Reuters)


Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is killing dozens by the week. Medical workers have responded by expanding a field hospital, taking extraordinary measures to contain infection. (NPR)

Three years after famine in Somalia killed a quarter of a million people in six months, aid agencies warned Sunday a new catastrophe is looming unless urgent aid arrives. (Yahoo)

Continue reading

Eat insects to save the world: A chat with “Bug Chef” David Gordon | 

David Gordon cooking up a tarantula
David Gordon cooking up a tarantula
Joel Rogers

Future shock: Insects are almost certainly going to be a bigger part of your diet in the future. Present shock: Insects are already a part of your diet; you eat bugs, every day, by accident. Shocking fact: Bugs are healthier, for you and for the planet, than many, if not most, things Americans eat.

For those who may have missed the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s 2013 report Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security, Humanosphere suggests instead reading David George Gordon’s newly revised The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. With some 40 recipes for cooking up great snacks of crickets, grasshoppers, meal worms, spiders and other creepy crawlers, it’s a great way to dive into the world of Entomophagy.

Despite the Latinate term that makes bug-eating sound like some sort of disease, it is quite common around the world for people to consume insects. Only in the rich world, mostly the West actually, is this frowned upon with disgust. David (a Seattle writer Tom Paulson’s known for half his life!) likes to dig deep into issues that some might think are obscure, or even bizarre.

But this time, David is probably just ahead of the curve as an aficionado of entomophagy. As the UN report notes, we are heading toward a fundamental food crisis that can only be averted with some big changes in our dietary and food production practices.

As the world population grows to the expected 9 billion mark over the next few decades, we will be hard pressed (in terms of arable land, access to water and so on) to feed everyone if we continue to emphasize large mammals as our primary source of protein.

What’s needed, says David, is for the West and much of the developed world to learn from the of rest of the world the many benefits of eating bugs. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. David makes a great case for bug-eating on environmental, health and even moral grounds. And we talk about some of his favorite treats, like roasted wax worms! Yum.  So give a listen. It’s fun and fascinating.

And before we dive into the edible bugosphere, Tom and I discuss some of the week’s top news in the Humanosphere beginning with Tom Murphy’s post on the amount of money taken out of Africa illegitimately (through tax dodges, illegal harvesting of natural resources or just exploitative outsiders). We also note a very cool milestone, with PATH celebrating surpassing the 5 billion mark for distribution of a heat-sensitive vaccine vial label that has saved many lives.

Want to hear more podcasts? Subscribe and rate us on iTunes.