Cameroon made ‘public health history’, there were ‘promising trends’ in energy, good news for desk-bound employees, plus more
This week’s good news roundup
Cameroon has become the first country to start routine vaccinations against malaria, a milestone described as “a transformative chapter in Africa’s public health history”.
The jab is free to children up to the age of six months. Malaria kills around 600,000 people annually, mostly in Africa, with children accounting for around 80% of deaths.
Pilots of the RTS,S vaccine in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi showed that it reduced malaria deaths by 13%. That’s a relatively low efficacy rate but it could still save many lives.
“For a long time, we have been waiting for a day like this,” said Dr Mohammed Abdulaziz, division head at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. “It brings more than just hope, it brings a reduction in the mortality and morbidity associated with malaria.”
Twenty countries are expected to launch their own malaria vaccine programmes in 2024. But with only 18m doses available before 2025, supply is an issue. A second jab, R21, which has been shown to be even more effective, could ease supply issues if it passes regulatory hurdles.
Image: Syed Ali
No cases of cervical cancer have been detected in young women in Scotland who were vaccinated against the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), a study has found.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. Scotland’s vaccination programme began in 2008 with girls offered the vaccine in their first year at secondary school.
New research by Public Health Scotland (PHS) suggests there had been no cases of cervical cancer in immunised women, concluding that the HPV vaccine was “highly effective” in preventing the development of the cancer.
The vaccine is also now offered to boys, helping protect them from other HPV-related cancers later, such as mouth, throat and penile cancer, as well as genital warts.
Wind, solar and nuclear will cover all the world’s additional electricity needs over the next three years, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Demand for electricity is forecast to rise by an average of 3.4% from 2024 through to 2026. However, renewables and nuclear will more than keep up, the IEA predicted.
The report added that the increase in electricity generation from renewables and nuclear appears to be pushing the power sector’s emissions into structural decline. Global emissions from electricity generation are expected to decrease by 2.4% in 2024.
“While more progress is needed, and fast, these are very promising trends,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.
Habitat-friendly solar farms could help safeguard insect populations — and improve pollination services on adjacent farms.
That’s according to the results of a five-year US study monitoring two solar sites on former farmland that had been restored with native flowers.
Researchers found that insect numbers flourished on the sites – and quickly. The study, they said, lays the foundations for a new strategy, “agrivoltaics”, which combines solar energy with habitat restoration.
“If properly sited, habitat-friendly solar energy can be a feasible way to safeguard insect populations and can improve the pollination services in adjacent agricultural fields,” said Lee Walston, a landscape ecologist and lead author of the study.
Image: Red Zeppelin
Officials in New York City will buy up medical debt worth billions and erase it in a programme that could help as many as 500,000 New Yorkers.
The city joins a growing wave of local governments that are erasing medical debt across the US.
New York is partnering with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, which uses private donor funds to buy up and pay off health care debts. It was founded by two former bailiffs, who became disenchanted with their work.
“How in any civilised country can you allow someone to go bankrupt just because they got sick?” Jerry Ashton, one of its founders, told Positive News.
Now in its tenth year, it has pardoned more than $8.5bn (£7bn) of medical bills for some 5.5m US families.
Image: Antoni Shkraba
Hidden fees for online purchases are set to be outlawed in the UK under the planned digital markets, competition and consumers bill.
Unavoidable charges that are revealed only at the checkout stage cost people in the UK an estimated £2.2bn a year. Known as drip pricing, it’s a technique used by retailers to seal online purchases – but not for much longer.
Measures in the bill, which is progressing through parliament, will also crackdown on fake online reviews and oblige retailers to provide more transparency with grocery pricing.
“It’s positive to see the government pushing ahead with changes to tackle behaviour that misleads shoppers or leaves them out of pocket,” said a spokesperson for the Competition and Markets Authority.
Image: Anete Lusina
A simple blood test can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s years before people develop symptoms, a study has found, raising the prospect of routine screening for all those over 50.
The blood test detects ‘p-tau217’, a protein that can cause Alzheimer’s, and typically starts to build up on the brain 10 to 15 years before symptoms start showing.
Improving diagnosis will be vital with the imminent arrival of new Alzheimer’s disease therapies. “Coming down the line are potentially groundbreaking new drugs, which can slow the progression of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer’s Society. “But for people to be eligible for them if they’re approved in the UK, they will need an early, accurate diagnosis. This study is a hugely welcome step in the right direction.”
The findings were published in the journal JMA Neurology.
Image: RDNE Stock project
Doing just 15 minutes’ extra physical activity a day can mitigate the damage caused by desk jobs, a South Korean study has found.
For 13 years, researchers monitored 481,688 participants who had an average age of 39. They found that people who mostly sat at work had a 16% higher risk of dying from any cause, and a 34% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, than those who were mostly non-sitting at work.
The good news, said researchers, is that a relatively inactive person in a sedentary job could see “a reduction in mortality to a level similar to that of inactive individuals who mostly do not sit at work” by doing 15 to 30 minutes of exercise per day.
A separate study last year drew similar conclusions, offering tips for offsetting the harmful effects of sitting all day.
Image: Julia Larson
Winter wild swimmers have long touted the health benefits of an icy plunge, and a growing body of research suggests they might be on to something.
Adding to that evidence this week was a new study, which suggested that swimming in cold water could reduce symptoms of the menopause, including hot flushes.
The University College London study examined responses from 1,114 women aged between 16 and 80, who regularly swim in cold water. Among them, 785 were going through the menopause.
Half the group said that cold-water swimming significantly reduced their anxiety, while large minorities said it also helped tackle mood swings (35%), low mood (31%) and hot flushes (30%).
“More research still needs to be done into the frequency, duration, temperature and exposure needed to elicit a reduction in symptoms,” said senior author, Prof Joyce Harper. “However, we hope our findings may provide an alternative solution for women struggling with the menopause.”
A therapeutic programme for primary schoolchildren will be rolled out to more schools after a pilot showed an improvement in test results, attendance and behaviour.
Rather than punishing children when they become disruptive, the Nurture programme uses art, play and music to explore their anxieties. It was piloted by Oasis Academy Johanna in London.
“Not only did the school’s key stage 2 Sats results for 2023 increase by more than 40 percentage points, but it became the highest-ranking Oasis primary academy, with combined reading, writing and maths outcomes far above the national rate of 59%, at 82%,” Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis, told the Guardian.
Oasis runs more than 50 schools in England, often in deprived areas. The programme will now be rolled out to more of those schools, while a Nurture guide will be made available to schools across the country.
Image: Vlada Karpovich
He’s faced death threats over his activism, had a visit from arsonists, and witnessed a relentless decline in biodiversity. So how does the TV naturalist Chris Packham stay positive?
The coffee table in his lounge offers some clues. It’s made from the charred remains of the gate outside his house, which went up in flames after the arson attack. “I looked at the gates and thought: ‘Wow, that burned wood is actually very beautiful,’” he told Positive News.
So, he cut them up into three table-sized chunks, had them encased in resin, gave one to a friend, kept one for himself, and is auctioning another off for charities “who oppose the views of the people who burned the gates down”. Why? “Because I knew I had to turn it into something positive.”
Read the full interview with “punk optimist” Chris Packham, cover star of the latest issue of Positive News magazine, here.
Image: Pål Hansen
Main image: Media Lens King/iStock
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