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24 May 2024 : Daily Current Affairs

1. Naegleria fowleri: Rare Amoeba Claims Life of Five-Year-Old in Kerala, Highlighting Dangers of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM)

Topic: Important topic for Prelims
Context:
  • A five-year-old girl in Kozhikode, Kerala, succumbed to Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.
  • This rare infection occurs when contaminated water is inhaled through the nose, leading to fatal brain swelling.
  • The incident underscores the need for awareness and caution in warm freshwater environments.
Analysis of News:

What is Naegleria fowleri?

  • Naegleria fowleri is a free-living amoeba found in warm freshwater environments, such as lakes, rivers, and occasionally in poorly maintained swimming pools and recreational settings globally.
  • These amoebae can survive in warm conditions, up to 46 degrees Celsius.
  • Amoebae are single-celled organisms capable of altering their shape by extending and retracting pseudopods—temporary arm-like projections—allowing them to consume other microorganisms like bacteria or scavenge dead organic matter.

How does Naegleria fowleri infect people?

  • Infection by Naegleria fowleri primarily occurs when contaminated water is inhaled through the nose, allowing the amoeba to enter the olfactory nerve tissue.
  • From there, it travels to the brain, causing brain tissue to swell and eventually destroying it. Swallowing contaminated water does not lead to infection, nor does contact with an infected person.
  • In the recent Kozhikode case, the young victim likely contracted the infection while swimming in a local river, although other children who swam with her did not get infected.

What are the symptoms of PAM?

  • Initial symptoms of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) include headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
  • As the disease progresses, patients may experience a stiff neck, confusion, seizures, and hallucinations, eventually slipping into a coma.
  • According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most PAM patients die within 1 to 18 days after symptoms begin, typically leading to coma and death within five days.

How can PAM be treated?

  • No effective treatment for PAM has been established yet. The most commonly used medication is the antifungal drug amphotericin B, which binds to and kills Naegleria fowleri cells.
  • However, PAM has a fatality rate of 95-97% even with treatment. Other drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungals, and antimicrobials—including azithromycin, fluconazole, rifampin, miltefosine, and dexamethasone—are also used to treat the disease.
  • A 2015 paper noted that successful treatment likely resulted from early identification and treatment, using a combination of antimicrobials, and managing elevated intracranial pressure based on traumatic brain injury principles.

How prevalent is PAM?

  • PAM is an extremely rare disease. Only 20 documented cases have occurred in India, with the Kozhikode case being the seventh in Kerala. Globally, a 2021 research paper identified a total of 381 cases since the disease was first discovered in 1966.

(Source: Indian Express; Section: Explained; Page: 16)

2. Discovery in Schöningen Rewrites Early Human History: Prehistoric Wooden Tools Unveil Technological Advancements Beyond Expectations

Topic: GS1 – History
Context:
  • A recent study of prehistoric wooden artifacts from Schöningen, Germany, reveals that these tools were not merely “sharpened sticks” but rather “technologically advanced tools” that required skill, precision, and time to create.
  • The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, identified 187 wooden artifacts demonstrating a broad spectrum of woodworking techniques, including splitting, scraping, and abrasion.
  • These artifacts date back roughly 400,000 years, predating modern Homo sapiens.
Analysis of News:

Periodizing Prehistory:

  • Human ‘history’ technically begins with the advent of writing, while everything before that is classified as ‘prehistory.’ Prehistory is primarily studied through archaeological evidence and, to a lesser extent, ethnographic research.
  • The 19th-century Danish archaeologist Christian Jürgensen Thomsen developed the Stone Age-Bronze Age-Iron Age classification of human prehistory, a system that remains foundational in the discipline despite modern refinements.
  • The Stone Age, beginning around 3.4 million years ago with the first use of stone tools, comprises 99% of human history and is divided into three periods:
    • Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age): Characterized by rudimentary stone tools and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, lasting until about 11,650 BP.
    • Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age): A transitional phase.
    • Neolithic (New Stone Age): Marked by settled agriculture and animal domestication, starting around 12,000 BP in West Asia.

Preservation Bias in Archaeology:

  • The classification of the Stone Age relies heavily on archaeological evidence, particularly stone tools. However, Stone Age sites also show evidence of using bones, antlers, clay, and limited metal.
  • Woodworking evidence is rare, despite wood likely being an abundant resource. Preservation bias significantly distorts our understanding of antiquity since organic materials like wood deteriorate quickly and rarely survive.
  • For example, out of thousands of Lower Palaeolithic sites, wood has been recovered from less than ten, with the earliest evidence of wooden use dating to around 700,000 BP.

Significance of Schöningen Findings:

  • The Schöningen site is crucial due to its unique preservation conditions, which have kept organic matter intact. This has resulted in the most well-preserved assemblage of prehistoric wooden artifacts in the world.
  • The site features a variety of wooden tools, including at least 20 hunting weapons and 35 tools likely used in domestic activities.
  • In the mid-1990s, archaeologist Hartmut Thieme discovered three wooden spears at Schöningen, dated to around 400,000 years ago.
  • This finding challenged the prevailing belief that humans lived as simple scavengers until 40,000 years ago, suggesting instead that premodern hominids engaged in systematic hunting requiring foresight, planning, and appropriate technology.

Technological Complexity of Schöningen Artifacts

  • The recent study highlights the technological sophistication of Schöningen’s wooden artifacts. Using 3-D microscopy and micro-CT scanners, researchers analyzed signs of wear and cut marks on the tools.
  • For instance, some spears showed evidence of resharpening after breakage, indicating that tools were repaired and recycled for new tasks.
  • This complexity suggests that early hominids possessed advanced woodworking skills previously attributed only to modern humans.

 

Conclusion:

  • The findings from Schöningen compel a reevaluation of our understanding of early human behavior and technological capabilities.
  • The sophisticated wooden tools indicate that premodern hominids were more advanced than previously thought, engaging in activities that required significant skill and planning.
  • This challenges existing theories and highlights the importance of considering preservation bias in archaeological studies.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the recent discovery of prehistoric wooden artifacts from Schöningen, Germany, in reshaping our understanding of early human history. How do these findings challenge existing theories about premodern hominid behavior and technological capabilities, and what implications do they have for the study of human evolution? (250 words/15 m)

(Source: Indian Express; Section: Explained; Page 16)

 

3. Indian Navy Renames Colonial-Era Naval Elements: ‘Jackstaff’ and ‘Jack’ Become ‘National Flagstaff’ and ‘National Flag

Topic: Important Topic for Prelims
Context:
  • The Indian Navy has undertaken another step towards shedding colonial remnants by renaming key elements aboard its ships.
  • The terms ‘Jackstaff’ and ‘Jack,’ rooted in British naval traditions, have been replaced with ‘National Flagstaff’ and ‘National Flag,’ respectively.
  • This move, authorized under the Regulations for the Navy (Ceremonial, Conditions, and Service and Miscellaneous Regulation) 1963, reflects the government’s efforts to remove British colonial legacies from naval symbolism.
Analysis of News:

Regulatory Amendments:

  • The decision to rename these naval elements follows previous changes, including the replacement of the naval ensign in September 2022 and the introduction of new badges of rank for Admiral-ranked officers in December 2023.
  • These alterations were made to distance the Indian Navy from its colonial past, aligning its symbolism more closely with national identity and heritage.
  • The amendment to the regulations, notified in the Gazette of India on May 22, marks another significant step in this direction.

Historical Origins and Semantic Shifts:

  • The term ‘Jack,’ historically referring to a small flag flown from a flagstaff rigged on the bowsprit of ships, has undergone semantic evolution over time.
  • Originally denoting something smaller or slighter than normal, ‘Jack’ later became associated with the national flag.
  • Similarly, ‘Jackstaff’ served as the pole on the bow of a ship from which the ‘Jack’ or national flag was flown.
  • These terms, deeply rooted in British naval terminology, are being replaced to reflect contemporary Indian naval identity.

Symbolic Reinterpretation and National Identity:

  • The renaming of ‘Jackstaff’ and ‘Jack’ is part of a broader initiative within the Indian Navy to reclaim symbols and emblems that better resonate with Indian heritage.
  • The adoption of a new naval ensign in September 2022, featuring the national emblem atop a clear anchor within a blue octagon, symbolizes this shift towards a distinctly Indian maritime identity.
  • The octagonal shape draws inspiration from Shivaji Maharaj’s Rajmudra, symbolizing the Navy’s maritime outreach and embracing national heritage.

Conclusion:

  • By replacing colonial-era terminology and adopting symbols rooted in Indian history and culture, the Indian Navy reaffirms its commitment to embracing national identity and shedding vestiges of its colonial past.
  • These changes reflect a broader trend within Indian institutions to redefine symbolism and imagery in alignment with indigenous values and heritage.

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

 

4. Microplastics found in fish in Ashtamudi Lake: study

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental pollution and degradation
Context
A recent study conducted in Ashtamudi Lake, a Ramsar wetland in Kerala, has revealed extensive microplastic pollution.

● Microplastics were found in fish, shellfish, sediment, and water samples, raising concerns about environmental and public health risks.

 Analysis of the news:

  • A recent study conducted by the Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala, in Ashtamudi Lake, Kerala, revealed extensive microplastic pollution in the Ramsar wetland.
  • Microplastics were found in fish, shellfish, sediment, and water samples, with the highest concentration observed in macrofauna, particularly fish and shellfish.
 What are Microplastics?
● Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, typically less than 5 millimeters in size, that originate from the degradation of larger plastic items or are intentionally manufactured for various purposes.

● They pose environmental and health risks due to their widespread distribution and persistence in ecosystems.

  • The study, titled ‘Microplastic contamination in Ashtamudi Lake, India,’ highlighted the presence of plastic polymers and hazardous heavy metals, posing risks to aquatic organisms and human health.
  • Plastic polymers like nylon, polyurethane, polypropylene, polyethylene, and polysiloxane were identified in the microplastic samples.
  • The presence of hazardous heavy metals such as molybdenum, iron, and barium, potentially absorbed from the surroundings, adds to the pollution concerns.
  • Given the Ramsar site’s designation and the importance of the estuarine system, the study emphasises the urgent need for continuous monitoring and the development of strategies to reduce microplastic entry into the ecosystem.
 Impact of microplastic on aquatic ecosystem:
Ecosystem Impact: Microplastics can be ingested by aquatic organisms, causing physical harm, digestive blockages, and toxicity.

Chain Contamination: Microplastics can accumulate in the food chain, transferring toxins and disrupting ecosystems.

Environmental Pollution: Microplastics contribute to environmental pollution in water bodies, affecting water quality and biodiversity.

Human Health Risks: Consumption of seafood contaminated with microplastics poses potential risks to human health.

Practice Question:  To what extent does the prevalence of microplastics in aquatic ecosystems pose environmental and public health challenges? (150 Words /10 marks)

(Source – The Hindu, International Edition – Page No. – 3)

5. At the upcoming World Health Assembly, a toolkit to prepare nations for pandemics

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health
Context
The upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA) will address historic amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), aiming to enhance global responses to public health emergencies.

● These amendments follow the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and aim to strengthen surveillance systems and international coordination in health emergencies.

 Analysis of the news:

  • The World Health Assembly (WHA) is set to discuss historic amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) aimed at enhancing global response to public health emergencies.
  • The International Health Regulations (IHR), adopted in 1969 and last revised in 2005, provide a legal framework for countries to manage cross-border health events while minimising travel and trade disruptions.
  • There are 196 State Parties to the IHR, including all 194 WHO Member States, Liechtenstein, and the Holy See, making it legally binding on all.
  • The amendments aim to strengthen surveillance systems, ensuring timely detection, reporting, and response to public health risks and emergencies.
  • WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasised the importance of updating the IHR in light of experiences during COVID-19.
  • The amendments reflect international consensus on enhancing global health protection and response mechanisms.
  • The process of amending the IHR has been lengthy, demonstrating global commitment to preparing for and responding to epidemic and pandemic threats.
  • The proposed pandemic agreement, alongside the amended IHR, aims to complement efforts to protect populations from future pandemic threats, focusing on coordinated international responses and equitable access to medical resources.
Pandemic Agreement at WHO:
Importance:

Global Preparedness: A pandemic agreement at the WHO would enhance global preparedness and response to future pandemics.

Coordination: Facilitate international cooperation and coordination among countries, organisations, and stakeholders in pandemic response efforts.

Risk Mitigation: Strengthen mechanisms for early detection, surveillance, and containment of emerging infectious diseases.

Equitable Access: Ensure equitable access to vaccines, treatments, and healthcare resources during pandemics.

Issues to Address:

Vaccine Equity: Address disparities in vaccine access and distribution to ensure equitable global vaccine coverage.

Surveillance and Reporting: Strengthen surveillance systems for timely detection and reporting of infectious disease outbreaks.

Healthcare Infrastructure: Invest in healthcare infrastructure and capacity-building in low- and middle-income countries to enhance pandemic response capabilities.

Supply Chain Resilience: Improve supply chain resilience for essential medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and diagnostic tools.

Challenges:

Political Will: Securing consensus among member states with diverse interests and priorities may pose a challenge.

Resource Allocation: Adequate funding and resources are needed to implement and enforce the pandemic agreement effectively.

Legal Framework: Developing a legally binding agreement that respects national sovereignty while promoting global health security requires careful negotiation.

Way Forward:

● Prioritise equity, solidarity, and cooperation in pandemic response efforts to ensure no country is left behind.

● Strengthen the role of the WHO in coordinating international pandemic preparedness and response activities.

● Mobilise political commitment and financial resources to support the implementation of the pandemic agreement.

● Foster international collaboration in research, technology transfer, and capacity-building to address emerging infectious disease threats effectively.

PYQ: Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the Covid-19 pandemic. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2020)
Practice Question:  What are the objectives of the proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), and how do they aim to enhance global responses to public health emergencies? Discuss with reference to the upcoming deliberations at the World Health Assembly (WHA). (150 Words /10 marks)

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

 

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