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17 May 2024 : Daily Current Affairs

1. Kerala sounds warning on West Nile Virus; neighbouring States on guard

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health
Context
Kerala is facing an early outbreak of vector-borne diseases, including West Nile Fever (WNF), with cases reported even before the monsoon.

● The Health Department has confirmed 10 WNF cases and 2 suspected deaths, highlighting ongoing public health challenges related to mosquito-borne illnesses.

 Analysis of the news:

  • Kerala is experiencing an early outbreak of vector-borne diseases, including West Nile Fever (WNF), even before the South West monsoon.
  • The Health Department issued an official alert on May 7, reporting 20 suspected cases of West Nile Fever (WNF), with 10 confirmed and 2 suspected deaths.
  • Kerala has been endemic to the West Nile virus (WNV) for at least two decades, with 80% of cases being asymptomatic, leading to potential underreporting.
  • Symptomatic cases typically present with fever, headache, fatigue, myalgia, nausea, vomiting, and swollen lymph glands. Severe cases may develop neuroinvasive diseases like encephalitis or meningitis.
  • Diagnostic challenges mean only a few cases are officially recorded, as severe disease occurs in about 1 in 150 WNV infections.
  • People over 50 and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk of severe illness.
  • West Nile Fever (WNF) has been recorded in Kerala’s surveillance since 2011, with cases reported from Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Palakkad.
  • Culex mosquitoes, breeding in stagnant water bodies, are the principal vectors, maintaining West Nile Virus circulation through vertical transmission.
  • Historical outbreaks in Kerala include the Kuttanad region in 1996 (105 cases, 31 deaths) and 1997 (121 cases, 19 deaths), with Japanese Encephalitis virus and possibly WNV involvement.
  • A significant presence of WNV was confirmed in 2011 during an AES outbreak in Alappuzha (208 cases).
  • Improved diagnostics or virus spread may explain increased reports from northern districts.
  • WNV is maintained in a mosquito-bird-mosquito cycle, with over 250 bird species as reservoir hosts.
  • Public health experts emphasize the need for efficient surveillance systems on the One Health platform to track emerging arboviruses.
  • The health department views WNV as less dangerous than dengue or JE due to lower mortality rates and less efficient transmission by Culex mosquitoes.
  • Neurological sequelae post-WN infection can include cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, seizures, and motor deficits.
West Nile Fever (WNF):
Cause: West Nile fever is caused by the West Nile virus, primarily transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

Origin: First identified in Uganda in 1937, it has since spread globally, particularly in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Symptoms: Most infected people are asymptomatic. About 20% may develop mild symptoms like fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.

Severe Cases: Less than 1% of infected individuals develop severe neurological illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis.

Risk Factors: Elderly individuals and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of severe disease.

Prevention: Key preventive measures include using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, and eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed.

Treatment: There is no specific antiviral treatment for West Nile virus. Care is supportive, focusing on relieving symptoms and, in severe cases, hospitalisation and intensive supportive care may be necessary.

Practice Question:  Discuss the public health challenges posed by the early outbreak of West Nile Fever in Kerala and the measures required to improve disease surveillance and control. (150 Words /10 marks)

(Source – The Hindu, International Edition – Page No. – 7)

2. The use of AI in drug development

Topic: GS3 – Science and Technology – Development & their applications
Context
Artificial Intelligence is transforming drug development, particularly in the early stages of target discovery and drug-target interaction.

● Advanced AI tools like AlphaFold 3 and RoseTTAFold All-Atom significantly improve prediction accuracy, reducing time and costs, though challenges remain in infrastructure and broad application.

 Introduction

  • Drug development is a highly expensive and time-consuming process.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) has introduced new possibilities for accelerating drug development.

Initial Steps in Drug Development

  • The process starts with identifying and validating a target, typically a biological molecule like a gene or protein.
  • The majority of targets are proteins with suitable sites for drug binding, known as druggable proteins.

Discovery Phase

  • Target proteins are identified in the discovery phase by feeding a target protein sequence into a computer.
  • The computer searches for the best-fitting drug from millions of small molecules stored in its library.
  • This process assumes known structures of both the target protein and the drug; if unknown, models are used to predict binding sites.
  • This computational method circumvents the need for time-consuming and costly laboratory experiments, which often have a high failure rate.
  • Once a suitable protein target and drug are identified, research progresses to the pre-clinical phase.

Pre-Clinical Phase

  • Potential drug candidates are tested outside of biological systems, using cells and animals to evaluate safety and toxicity.

Clinical Phase

  • In the clinical phase, the drug is initially tested on a small number of human patients.
  • If successful, the drug is tested on more patients to assess its efficacy and safety.

Regulatory Approval and Post-Market Surveillance

  • After clinical trials, the drug undergoes regulatory approval.
  • Once approved, the drug enters the market and undergoes post-market surveillance to monitor its long-term effects and safety.

Challenges in Drug Development

  • Due to the high failure rate, the discovery phase limits the number of drugs advancing to pre-clinical and clinical phases.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Drug Development

  • AI can revolutionise target discovery and understanding drug-target interactions.
  • AI significantly reduces time and costs, and increases the accuracy of predicting interactions between drugs and their targets.

AI-Based Prediction Tools

  • Two notable AI-based tools are AlphaFold and RoseTTAFold, developed by researchers at a Google company and a U.S. university, respectively.
  • Both tools use deep neural networks to predict the three-dimensional structures of proteins.
  • Recent versions, AlphaFold 3 and RoseTTAFold All-Atom, represent significant advancements.
  • These tools can predict not only static protein structures and protein-protein interactions but also interactions involving proteins, DNA, RNA, small molecules, and ions.

Advancements in AI-Based Tools

  • AlphaFold 3 and RoseTTAFold All-Atom use generative diffusion-based architectures to predict structural complexes.
  • In tests, AlphaFold 3 accurately predicted interactions 76 percent of the time, compared to 40 percent accuracy by RoseTTAFold All-Atom.

Limitations of AI in Drug Development

  • AI tools can achieve up to 80 percent accuracy in predicting interactions, which decreases for protein-RNA interactions.
  • These tools primarily aid in the target discovery and drug-target interaction phase, and the drugs still need to undergo pre-clinical and clinical phases.
  • AI-derived molecules do not guarantee success in later development phases.
  • Diffusion-based architecture in AI models can result in hallucinations, producing incorrect or non-existent predictions due to insufficient training data.
  • Unlike previous versions, the code for AlphaFold 3 has not been released, limiting its independent verification and broader application.

AI in Drug Development in India

  • Developing AI tools for drug development requires large-scale computing infrastructure with fast Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).
  • GPUs are expensive and have a quick expiration date due to rapid advancements in hardware.
  • India lacks such large-scale computing infrastructure and skilled AI scientists compared to the U.S. and China.
  • Despite a rich history in protein X-ray crystallography and structural biology, India has not established a first-mover advantage in developing AI tools for drug development.
  • However, with a growing number of pharmaceutical organisations, India can lead in applying AI tools for target discovery, identification, and drug testing.

Conclusion

  • AI has the potential to transform drug development by making it faster, cheaper, and more accurate.
  • While AI tools have limitations, their advancements offer significant benefits in the early phases of drug development.
  • With improved infrastructure and skilled personnel, countries like India can leverage AI to enhance their drug development processes.
PYQ: Introduce the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI). How does AI help clinical diagnosis? Do you perceive any threat to privacy of the individual in the use of Al in healthcare? (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2023)
Practice Question:  Discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence in revolutionising the drug development process, highlighting its benefits and limitations. How can countries like India leverage AI advancements to enhance their pharmaceutical sector? (150 Words /10 marks)

(Source – The Hindu, International Edition – Page No. – 10)

 

3. Does the Election Commission have the power to de-recognise a political party for violation of the MCC?

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity
Context
● The Election Commission of India’s (ECI) recent emphasis on star campaigners’ responsibility to uphold social harmony during elections has sparked discussions regarding the commission’s ability to regulate violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

This comes against the backdrop of concerns over the ECI’s limited powers to deregister political parties that fail to participate in elections, prompting calls for legal reforms to enhance electoral oversight.

 Introduction

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) emphasises the importance of star campaigners leading by example to maintain social harmony during elections.
  • The debate over ECI’s powers to control Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violations has intensified.

Registered Parties

  • Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, outlines the requirements for political party registration.
  • Registered parties must pledge allegiance to the Constitution and principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy.
  • Benefits include tax exemption, a common symbol for elections, and the appointment of twenty ‘star campaigners’.
  • India currently has 2,790 active registered political parties.

Recognised Parties

  • Recognition as a ‘national’ or ‘State’ party is conferred under The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
  • Criteria for recognition involve winning seats or obtaining a percentage of votes in general elections.
  • India has six ‘national’ parties and sixty-one ‘State’ parties enjoying additional privileges such as reserved symbols and forty ‘star campaigners’.

Issues with Registered Unrecognised Political Parties (RUPPs)

  • Less than one-third of RUPPs participate in elections.
  • The Representation of Peoples Act lacks provisions empowering the ECI to deregister parties for non-participation in elections or failure to conduct inner-party elections.
  • Supreme Court rulings limit ECI’s power to deregister parties except under exceptional circumstances like fraud or loss of allegiance to the Constitution.
  • Concerns arise over potential misuse of tax exemptions and donations by RUPPs not contesting elections.

Model Code of Conduct (MCC) Violations

  • The MCC prohibits exploiting caste and communal sentiments and voter bribery or intimidation.
  • Recognised parties have been found guilty of MCC violations, with ECI imposing short-term campaign bans as the primary penalty.

Proposed Solutions

  • The ECI and the Law Commission have proposed amendments to empower ECI to deregister non-performing parties.
  • The Law Commission recommended deregistration after ten consecutive years of electoral inactivity.
  • ECI possesses the authority under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order to suspend or withdraw recognition for MCC violations.
  • This provision was rarely applied, seen only once in 2015 when the National People’s Party’s recognition was suspended for three weeks.
  • Strict enforcement of this provision can ensure MCC compliance.

Conclusion

  • The debate surrounding ECI’s powers to control MCC violations highlights the need for legal amendments to empower ECI to deregister non-participatory parties.
  • Effective implementation of existing provisions like Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order can enhance adherence to the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and uphold electoral integrity.
PYQ: Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2022)(250 Words /15 marks)
Practice Question:  What are the challenges faced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)? Discuss potential reforms and amendments needed to empower the ECI in maintaining electoral integrity. (250 Words /15 marks)

(Source – The Hindu, International Edition – Page No. – 10)

4. India’s Draft Digital Competition Bill, 2024: A Proactive Approach to Regulating Tech Giants

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government policies – Interventions for development in various sectors
Context:
  • The draft Digital Competition Bill, 2024, represents a significant shift in India’s regulatory approach towards the digital market.
  • Modeled after European regulations, this bill aims to proactively curb anti-competitive practices among tech giants before they occur, marking a departure from India’s traditional ex post facto antitrust framework.
Analysis of News:

Key Provisions:
Predictive Regulation:

  • Currently, India’s antitrust framework, governed by the Competition Act, 2002, addresses market abuse after it has taken place.
  • Critics argue that this approach is often too delayed to be effective, as the damage to market dynamics and smaller competitors has already been done by the time penalties are imposed.
  • The draft Digital Competition Bill proposes an ex ante framework, which anticipates potential harms and sets predefined restrictions to prevent anti-competitive behavior.
  • This forward-looking regulation is crucial in the fast-evolving digital markets, where companies offer increasingly interconnected services.

Significant Entities:

  • The bill introduces the concept of “Systematically Significant Digital Enterprises” (SSDEs), which applies to core digital services like search engines and social media sites.
  • The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is tasked with designating companies as SSDEs based on specific financial and user metrics, such as:
    • A turnover of at least Rs 4,000 crore in India or $30 billion globally over the past three years.
    • A gross merchandise value of at least Rs 16,000 crore in India.
    • A global market capitalization of at least $75 billion.
    • At least 1 crore end users or 10,000 business users.
  • SSDEs would be restricted from practices such as self-preferencing, anti-steering, and restricting third-party applications, with violations potentially resulting in fines up to 10% of their global turnover.

Associate Digital Enterprises:

  • The bill also targets data-sharing practices within tech conglomerates by designating “Associate Digital Enterprises” (ADEs). ADEs, which are part of the same corporate group as SSDEs, will have similar obligations, depending on their level of data sharing and integration with the core services.

Criticism from Big Tech:

  • Big tech companies and industry bodies have expressed significant resistance to the bill.
  • They argue that the ex ante framework imposes a heavy compliance burden, potentially stifling innovation and shifting focus away from research and development.
  • For instance, industry executives have cited the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which has reportedly increased the time it takes to find information via Google Search by 4,000%.
  • There are also concerns about the broad criteria for SSDE designation, which they fear could lead to arbitrary decisions by the CCI and negatively impact startups.
  • Additionally, big tech firms argue that cutting down on data sharing could harm smaller businesses that rely on their platforms for market access.
  • For example, Apple and Google have opposed requirements that could force them to allow third-party app stores on their devices, citing potential security risks.

Need for Digital Competition:

  • The bill arises from a longstanding history of anti-competitive practices by major tech companies.
  • For example, in the previous year, Google was fined Rs 1,337 crore by the CCI for anti-competitive conduct within the Android ecosystem.
  • The dominance of a few tech giants, such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta, has created high market barriers for new entrants, stifling innovation and competition.
  • Government officials argue that a predictive regulatory approach is necessary to address these issues effectively.
  • They believe that an ex ante framework will better manage the cons of current market practices, such as surveillance-based digital advertising, and foster a more competitive and fair digital marketplace.

Conclusion:

  • The draft Digital Competition Bill, 2024, represents a proactive approach to regulating the digital market, aiming to prevent anti-competitive practices before they occur.
  • While it has garnered resistance from major tech companies due to potential compliance burdens and impacts on innovation, the bill seeks to create a fairer, more competitive landscape in India’s digital economy.
  • This forward-looking regulation could serve as a model for addressing the unique challenges of the rapidly evolving digital markets.
What are the benefits of the Digital Competition Bill?
  • Increases Transparency: Requires tech companies to be more transparent in their operations and dealings.
  • Protects Innovators and Startups: Exempts smaller companies and startups from stringent rules, encouraging innovation.
  • Aligns with Global Standards: Follows a similar approach to the EU’s Digital Markets Act, showing an effort to align with international regulatory frameworks.
  • Boosts Digital Economy: By regulating effectively, it supports the growth of India’s digital market, expected to reach $800 billion by 2030.
Practice Question:  Discuss the key provisions and significance of India’s Draft Digital Competition Bill, 2024. Analyze the potential implications of this bill on regulating tech giants and fostering digital competition in the country. (250 words/15 m)

(Source: Indian Express; Section: Explained; Page: 14)

 

5. Putin-Xi Summit: Solidifying Sino-Russian Alliance Amid Global Scrutiny

Topic: GS2 – International relations – Bilateral Relations
Context:
  • The recent meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People marks a significant event in the ongoing Sino-Russian relationship, especially amidst Russia’s assertive role in the war in Ukraine.
  • This analysis will delve into the various aspects of their meeting, the evolving dynamics of the Sino-Russian relationship, China’s role in the Ukraine conflict, and the implications for other global powers, particularly India.
Analysis of News:

Bilateral Relations and Mutual Declarations:

  • Putin emphasized the enduring nature of the Russia-China relationship, stressing that it is not opportunistic or aimed against any other nation.
  • Xi echoed Putin’s sentiments, characterizing the friendship as “everlasting” and a model for a new type of international relations.
  • This rhetoric highlights the depth of their partnership and their intention to project it positively on the global stage.

China’s Role in the Ukraine Conflict:

  • China’s role in the Ukraine conflict has drawn scrutiny from the West, particularly the United States, which accuses China of supplying dual-use items crucial for Russia’s military efforts.
  • Blinken’s assertion that Russia’s assault on Ukraine would be unsustainable without Chinese support underscores the strategic implications of China’s actions.

Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership:

  • The strategic partnership between China and Russia, solidified just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has significant geopolitical ramifications.
  • The increase in Russian imports of dual-use items from China indicates the depth of their collaboration, with China providing critical support to Russia’s military capabilities.

Implications for India:

  • India’s dependence on Russian defense supplies raises concerns amid the deepening Sino-Russian partnership.
  • The possibility of Russia becoming a “junior partner” to China raises strategic questions for India, particularly in light of the ongoing border standoff with China and the need for reliable defense supplies.

Conclusion:

  • The meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping underscores the growing strategic partnership between Russia and China, with significant implications for global geopolitics.
  • As Russia asserts its dominance in the Ukraine conflict, China’s support becomes crucial, prompting scrutiny from the West and raising concerns for other regional powers like India.
  • Understanding the evolving dynamics of the Sino-Russian relationship is essential for navigating the shifting landscape of international politics.
What should be done by India?  
  • Diplomatic Measures: India should engage in active diplomacy with both China and Russia to strengthen its ties with these countries. This could involve high-level visits, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people contacts. For example, India could invite Chinese and Russian delegations to visit India and engage in constructive dialogue to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation.  
  • Economic Measures: India should also focus on enhancing its economic ties with China and Russia. This could involve exploring new trade and investment opportunities, as well as working on joint economic initiatives.
  • Regional Measures: India should also focus on strengthening its position in the region by collaborating with other countries in the neighborhood. This could involve working on regional initiatives to promote peace, stability, and economic development. For example, India could work with other countries in the region, such as Japan and South Korea, to establish a regional security framework that would counterbalance the growing influence of China and Russia.  
  • Strategic Engagement: India needs to engage in strategic cooperation with both China and Russia to ensure regional stability and security. This could involve collaboration on issues such as counter-terrorism, maritime security, and climate change.
  • Multilateral Engagement: India should engage more actively in multilateral forums such as the United Nations, G20, and SCO to project its voice and influence in the international community. India should also explore the possibility of leading initiatives in these forums that are aimed at promoting peace, stability, and development in the region. For example, India could work with China and Russia to promote regional stability and connectivity through the SCO framework.  
  •  India can take several steps to address the challenges posed by the growing China  -Russia relationship. These steps include strengthening ties with other like-minded countries, building regional partnerships, promoting economic integration, investing in military capabilities, and engaging in diplomatic dialogue. By pursuing these measures, India can enhance its own strategic partnerships and ensure peace and stability in the region.
  • Overall, India should adopt a proactive and strategic approach to develop its relations with China and Russia. By doing so, India can position itself as a key player in the region and mitigate the potential negative implications of the evolving dynamics between China and Russia.   .
Practice Question:  What are the key highlights of the recent summit between Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping, and how do they reflect the evolving Sino-Russian relationship amidst global scrutiny? (250 words/15 m)

(Source: Indian Express; Section: Explained; Page: 14)

 

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