Broadcast: August 12, 2003
I’m Bob Doughty with Phoebe Zimmermann, and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- a possible fast-acting vaccine against Ebola virus. Later, a special report about problems related to pregnancy. And, meet the new director of the World Health Organization.
Government scientists in the United States say they have developed a vaccine that acts quickly to prevent infection by the Ebola virus. So far, they have tested it only in a small number of laboratory animals.
Ebola spreads quickly. Up to ninety percent of victims bleed to death. Cases of Ebola are reported in Africa every few years. Earlier this year, one-hundred-twenty-eight people died in the Republic of Congo.
Until now Ebola vaccines took six months to work and required additional injections. This new one appears effective within four weeks of just one injection.
The scientists gave the vaccine to eight macaque monkeys. Twenty-eight days later, they gave the monkeys Ebola virus. All eight remained healthy. Monkeys in another group got the Ebola virus, but not the vaccine. All those monkeys died.
Gary Nabel led the study at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Doctor Nabel says the vaccine could be ready for testing in people by the end of next year.
The scientists reported the results of their work in the publication Nature.
They developed the vaccine with a piece of protein from the Ebola virus. They added the protein to a common kind of virus, called an adenovirus. This is one of the causes of colds. It also produces a strong reaction from the body's defenses.
The goal is similar to other vaccines, to make the body think it has already been infected with the disease. That is supposed to protect against re-infection.
Doctor Nabel says the vaccine could be used to stop the spread of Ebola with something called "ring vaccination." This is a method in which health workers give the vaccine to all people who live with or near any person who develops the disease.
It is not yet clear how long the vaccine will protect against Ebola. Experts say it will have to give protection for at least one year to be useful.
The idea for this kind of fast-acting vaccine may even help in the search for a vaccine against severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS.
Doctor Nabel’s team is working with an American biotechnology company to produce a SARS vaccine using the adenovirus method.
When it comes to health, experts say the biggest difference between rich and poor countries is related to pregnancy. In Africa, one woman in thirteen will die during pregnancy or childbirth. Industrial countries have a death rate of one in four-thousand.
Many problems related to pregnancy cannot be prevented. But often they can be treated.
One of the most common causes of a mother’s death is bleeding. Infection is also common. So too is obstructed labor, where the baby’s path is blocked. Also, some women die from unsafe attempts to end pregnancies.
There are warning signs to suggest if a woman might have problems during pregnancy or childbirth.
For example, experts say there is increased risk for women who are under eighteen years old or over thirty-five when they become pregnant. So too for women who gave birth to another child less than two years before, and those who have already had a difficult birth.
Experts say women who have four or more children are also at higher risk during pregnancy. The same is true if they have already had a baby born too soon or too small, or if they lost a baby before it was born.
There is also higher risk for women who weigh less than thirty-eight kilograms. And there are dangers for those who have experienced female genital cutting, a tradition in some African and other countries.
There are other warnings signs to suggest trouble during pregnancy.
One is a failure to gain weight. Another is the loss of normal color in the face. Problems may also exist if a pregnant woman feels even more tired than she would expect to feel.
Another warning sign is if the face, arms or legs become large and swollen. Still another is if the developing fetus moves very little or not at all.
Finally, there are situations where experts say women should get medical help immediately. One is if there is any bleeding during pregnancy or after birth. Another is if the woman feels severe pain in the head or stomach, or has a high body temperature.
And, experts urge women to seek medical aid if they have spent many hours trying to give birth without any success.
Doctors say a woman should see a health care worker at least one to four times during her pregnancy. It is important to ask where to go if there is an emergency. Experts also say it is best to have a skilled person present during the birth. This could be a doctor or nurse or a trained midwife.
Carol Bellamy is executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. She says women have a right to maternal health care. In her words, "These are not 'extra' services. They are necessary services for the health of women, children and families."
Doctor Lee Jong-wook says three main ideas will guide his work as the new head of the World Health Organization. These are: to do the right thing, in the right place, and in the right way.
The fifty-eight-year-old doctor from South Korea took office as director general last month in Geneva. He has worked for the World Health Organization for twenty years.
Doctor Lee says his main goal will be to fight health problems in Africa, especially AIDS. The W-H-O estimates that forty-two-million people are infected with H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS. More than two-thirds of them live in southern Africa. In addition to AIDS, Doctor Lee also wants to target malaria and tuberculosis.
Doctor Lee says he hopes to see the end of polio before his first term ends in five years. He led two campaigns against polio during the nineteen-nineties. In addition, he says he wants to improve the health of children and mothers -- and fight big killers like heart disease and cancer.
Another goal is to provide more medicine at lower cost in developing countries. Doctor Lee says he hopes to have a plan ready by World AIDS Day on December first.
Doctor Lee says the SARS crisis this year proved that the W-H-O must also lead world responses to the spread of infectious diseases.
As a result, he has created a two-year program to train young health experts to investigate and fight the spread of diseases. It is based on a similar program by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After training, the W-H-O experts will travel throughout the world to assist countries.
The W-H-O sets international rules for medicines, health care and food safety. But this new program represents a big change toward activism for the agency.
Lee Jong-wook replaced Gro Harlem Brundtland. Doctor Brundtland worked especially against diseases caused by smoking. She argued that tobacco does not only cause millions of preventable deaths each year. She worked to prove that it also hurts economic growth and development in poor nations.
Earlier this year, more than forty nations signed the world's first treaty on tobacco in the first week it was open for signature. It calls for controls on the sale and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Norway became the first country to accept the treaty.
Doctor Brundtland was Norway's prime minister for ten years before she became chief of the W-H-O in nineteen-ninety-eight. She will now work with the Turner Foundation in its efforts to develop vaccines against AIDS.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach, Karen Leggett and Jill Moss. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Phoebe Zimmermann.
And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.