The HINDU Notes – 25th February 2018 - VISION

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 25th February 2018

πŸ“° India, China hold talks ahead of SCO summit

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale meets top officials in China

•Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has held across-the-board talks with top Chinese officials on advancing ties between India and China, which have encountered several points of friction.

•Mr. Gokhale’s visit is also seen as part of preparations for talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at the June summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao. The Foreign Secretary met Politburo member and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, as well as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice-Foreign Minister Mr. Kong Xuanyou.

•Last year, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi met in Xiamen on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in September to revive ties that had been hit by the Doklam border crisis. As a follow-up to these talks, Mr. Yi and Mr. Yang visited New Delhi in December.

•“During the consultations, the two sides reviewed recent developments in bilateral relations, including high-level exchanges, and discussed the agenda for bilateral engagement in the coming months,” an Indian Embassy press statement said.

•India’s concerns regarding China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean have been rising, and have peaked after the pro-China President of Maldives Abdulla Yameen declared a state of Emergency on February 5 in the island nation.

•Without making any specific reference to the Maldives, the statement said the “two sides also exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest”.

Building convergence

•The statement noted the necessity of building on “convergences” between the two countries. It stressed that Beijing and New Delhi should “address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations”.

•In the past, Indian officials have pointed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as an infringement of India’s sovereignty.

•China’s decision to come in the way of a UN ban on Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), and Beijing’s objections to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group emerged as additional points of abrasion in ties.

πŸ“° ‘Paris accord was unfair to U.S.’

Trump blames India, China for his decision to withdraw from climate agreement

•U.S. President Donald Trump has again blamed India and China for his decision last year to withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord, saying the agreement was unfair as it would have made the U.S. pay for nations which benefited the most from the deal.

•Mr. Trump in June last year announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris deal, saying the accord would have cost America trillions of dollars, killed jobs, and hindered the oil, gas, coal and manufacturing industries. But he also, at the time, said he would be open to renegotiating the deal.

•“We knocked out the Paris Climate Accord. It would have been a disaster. Would have been a disaster for our country,” Mr. Trump said in his address to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Friday.

•Mr. Trump said, “You have a lot of oil and gas that we found — you know, technology has been amazing. And we found things that we never knew. But we have massive energy reserves.”

•“And basically, they were saying, ‘Don’t use it. You can’t use it’ ,” he added.

•“And China — their agreement didn’t kick in until 2030. Right? Our agreement kicks in immediately,” Mr. Trump said.

Growing countries

•Commenting on India and other countries, he said, “Other countries, big countries — India and others — we had to pay, because they considered them a growing country. They were a growing country. I said, What are we? Are we allowed to grow, too? Ok? No, are we allowed to grow?”

πŸ“° New H-1B policy memo is to protect workers: U.S. agency

•The new H-1B policy memorandum is part of an effort by the Trump administration to protect the wages and working conditions of both American and non-immigrant workers and prevent any fraud or abuse, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said on Saturday.

•The USCIS on Thursday issued a new policy memorandum, according to which a company would have to go to extra length to prove that its H-1B employee at a third-party worksite has specific and non-qualifying speculative assignments in speciality occupation.

•“The USCIS is simply clarifying existing regulations and policy for third-party worksite H-1B petitions,” its spokesperson said.

Employer violations

•“Based on the USCIS’s experience in administering the H-1B programme, the USCIS recognises that significant employer violations — such as paying less than the required wage and benching employees — may be more likely to occur when petitioners place employees at third-party worksites,” the spokesperson said.

•“Therefore, in order to protect the wages and working conditions of both the U.S. and H-1B non-immigrant workers and prevent any fraud or abuse, the USCIS seeks to ensure officers properly interpret and apply the statutory and regulatory requirements that apply to H-1B petitions involving third-party worksites.”

πŸ“° From Turkmenistan with natural gas

•A two-member delegation from India, led by Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, attended the ceremonies in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan on Friday for the launch of a pivotal trans-border gas pipeline. The $22.5-billion project will transport natural gas from the resource-rich Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan, and seeks to promote regional integration and stability.

•Mr. Akbar, along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was welcomed by Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for the first inaugural at Salem Chashma in Turkmenistan. Later, all four leaders travelled to the western Afghan Province of Herat to commemorate the success of the project. “It’s a moment of great pride for Afghanistan,” Jalil Jami, an official from the office of the Mayor of Herat, told this writer.

•The event organised by the local government involved welcoming the guests with a grandiose display of art and culture. Streets were lined with flags of the four nations, and artists and performers wowed the attendees with local dance and music. “Even the security situation was under control and well-managed,” Mr. Jami said.

Backing from Taliban

•Interestingly, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) project has received support from the Taliban. In a statement made in 2016, the group’s spokesperson offered “protection” to all projects of national interest, including the TAPI. The Taliban reiterated this position in a statement issued on Thursday, taking some credit for initiating the project in the late 1990s.

•“It is a national project that can help everyone in the region and perhaps that’s why the Taliban has shown support,” reasoned Mr. Jami. While construction on the Turkmen phase of the project began in 2015, this year will see the development of the Afghan phase, perhaps the most sensitive part, which is expected to be completed in 2019. For Afghanistan, the project holds tremendous potential in terms of economic growth and stability. Afghans stand to gain about $500 million annually in transit fees, apart from jobs.The Afghan stretch of the pipeline is about 800 km.

•Orzala Nemat, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, remains cautiously optimistic about the impact the project can have on improving not just economics, but also security. “This region, especially Afghanistan, has been in turmoil for a long time and there has been a political failure in curbing the bloodshed,” Ms. Nemat observed. The project might not put an end to insurgency, but it could help Afghanistan move away from aid dependency, she added. “With better jobs, improved capacity, a good economy and equitable distribution of resources, we could hope for a semblance of stability.”

•In a press conference broadcast from Herat, leaders from the four states greeted the Afghan ground-breaking of the pipeline, which will transfer 33 billion cu. m of Turkmen natural gas annually for 30 years. “Galkynysh, the world’s second-biggest gas field, will feed the TAPI,” Mr. Berdymukhamedov said, adding that apart from the economic benefits, the project will be an important step forward in the political dynamics of the region.

•“Indeed, this project will help bring India and Pakistan closer. It is a triumph for Afghanistan to be able to be part of a project that could help bring peace and stability in the region,” said Mr. Jami.

•The $22.5 billion project will transport natural gas from the resource-rich Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan and seek to promote regional integration and stability

πŸ“° No immigrants please, only robots

•Japan is the world’s ‘oldest’ country — people aged 65 and above account for more than a quarter of the archipelago’s demographic. The number is likely to shoot up to 40% by 2065. To just maintain the size of its current population, Japan would have to let in more than half a million immigrants a year, but the country is one of the most immigration-resistant nations. Less than 2% of the population is foreign-born and Japan accepted a grand total of 20 asylum seekers in 2017. The shrinking and greying population, combined with the resistance to immigration, means that the number of nursing caregiver in Japan is woefully inadequate. A shortfall of 3,70,000 carers is predicted by 2025. But the government is still seeking to keep the brakes on nurses and orderlies from abroad, with robots.

•The last decade has seen a profusion of ‘carebots,’ with humanoids — cute or high-tech ones — stealing the headlines. There is Robear, a bear-like nursing robot touted to be gentle, yet strong enough to lift an elderly person. A baby seal-shaped therapeutic robot called Paro has also been on the news. It’s intended to have a calming effect on distressed patients, similar to the emotional response evoked by a pet.

•But Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says that research money is best spent on cheaper, low-tech robots that ease the burden on nursing staff rather than supplanting them, and boost the autonomy of people still living at home. His centre has been at the forefront of a five year-long, government-funded project to develop robotic nursing devices and establish a safety protocol for them as well.

•The project, which was financed to the tune of ¥2.5 billion ($23.4 million) a year between 2013 and 2017, had 98 manufacturers participating in it and led to the development of 15 commercial products that are being tested in about 5,000 nursing homes across the country.

•These include simple devices to help frail seniors get out of beds and into a wheelchair, assist them in stepping in and out of bathtubs, as well as helping with walking up and down slopes. Smart sensors that alert staff at nursing homes when a patient is too close to the edge of the bed, or trying to rise to visit the toilet are another focus.

•Robots like these may not be eye-catching, but Mr. Hirukawa believes that they represent the best return on investment, allowing the elderly to maintain more autonomous lives for longer, and freeing caregivers from dangerous heavy-lifting.

Cultural resistance

•According to the government’s robot strategy, it is hoped that four in five care recipients accept some level of robot-support by 2020, but this seems overly ambitious. Only about 8% of nursing centres currently employ lifting robots. Moreover, Mr. Hirukawa identifies a widespread cultural resistance to using machines as the biggest challenge, despite Japan’s higher-than-average comfort level with robots. He admits that robots are not more efficient than human caregivers. It can take the latter 10 seconds to lift a patient from the bed to a wheelchair, whereas the same operation undertaken by a machine requires several minutes.

•It would appear that the Japanese face two choices, both of which require a change in mindset: more openness to immigration or more openness to robot assistants. It’s a fair guess that the robots will triumph.

πŸ“° Cauvery verdict may impact other disputes

What is the issue?

•On February 16, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on the long-standing dispute among Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Puducherry on how they ought to be sharing water from the Cauvery.

•While the headline-grabber was that Karnataka would have to share 14 tmc ft (thousand million cubic feet) less with Tamil Nadu, the text of the judgment reveals several new strands for interpretation that may complicate disputes over water-sharing arrangements in other tribunals, for instance, the Ravi and Beas Water Tribunal or the Krishna Water Tribunal. However, the court also reiterated that the Central government must form a Cauvery Management Board to implement a mechanism to ensure that water is shared fairly among all States.

What do these arguments mean?

•One is that water cannot “belong” to a particular State. States have frequently cited the historical patterns of water-flow within their borders to bolster claims for a greater portion of water. In this case, the court has stressed that water-sharing between regions should be based on fairness and equity. The second strand is that it invokes the right to drinking water. Historically, water-sharing has been about catering to the needs of farmers.

•In its verdict, the court said Bengaluru, being a large urbanised agglomeration, had the right to be able to reliably access water to meet residents’ drinking requirements. Finally, the court reasoned that Tamil Nadu had 20 tmc ft of groundwater that had not been accounted for in water-sharing pacts, and this too needed to be included in calculations.

•Modern water-management principles put a premium on ensuring that groundwater resources are not over-exploited, particularly because experts have warned that India’s water wars may stem from inadequate recharge of a large number of aquifers.

How would these affect other disputes?

•It could also well be the last tribunal constituted under the existing structure of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act. Take the case of the disagreement between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan over the sharing of the Ravi-Beas river system. In 2004, Punjab unilaterally terminated a historic agreement. Haryana demanded water from Punjab on the grounds that it needed water for the arid regions in the south. However, several parts of Haryana are far more urbanised and therefore have greater water needs and Punjab, merely by its geographical location, could not have a natural right to the Ravi-Beas. While the States are still locked in disputes in courts, this lack of historical rights — bolstered by the Cauvery ruling — could mount more pressure on Punjab to keep its side of the bargain. On the other hand, several parts of Punjab are among the most over-exploited groundwater blocks. Prompted by the Cauvery judgment, Punjab could ask that Haryana too utilise greater quantities of its groundwater reserves. The Mahanadi tribunal, intended to devise a water-sharing arrangement between Odisha and Chhattisgarh, could imbibe principles touched upon in the Cauvery judgment.

What’s next for the tribunals?

•The Centre has presented a Bill in the Lok Sabha to subsume all tribunals under one. This is because, it says, tribunals are tardy and composed entirely of members of the judiciary. A new set-up that will have non-judicial experts can mean that conflicts over equitable water-sharing will no longer be solely looked at from a legal view-point, but it will give more weight to ecological concepts such as the water basin’s capacity, environmental flows and groundwater management.

πŸ“° For the first time, peak power demand crosses 10,000 MW mark in Telangana

Demand may go up to 10,700 MW in the coming weeks, say officials

•The power utilities of Telangana met a record peak demand of 10,000 MW power on Friday and Saturday for the first time since formation of the State. The increase in the demand has been attributed mainly to the uninterrupted power supply to the agriculture sector starting from January 1 this year.

•“We are expecting the demand to go up to 10,600 MW to 10,700 MW in the coming weeks but we have tied up to meet the demand even up to 11,500 mw and the transmission and distribution networks are in a position to handle a load over 15,000 MW,” Chairman and Managing Director of the Southern Power Distribution Company G. Raghuma Reddy and CMD of the Northern PDC A. Gopal Rao said here on Saturday, on completion of 50 days of 24×7 power to the farm sector.

•Stating that it was a memorable occasion for the power utilities in the State, particularly with the background of their inability to meet uninterrupted supply even to the domestic sector when Telangana came into being, the top executives of the two distribution companies said support from the government and hard work of the employees for the last three years had been behind the success. “We have spent Rs. 12,136 crore on strengthening the transmission and distribution (T&D) network during the last three years towards introduction of 24×7 supply to the farm sector along with other sectors,” they said.

•Several States across the country were enquiring with the power utilities of Telangana how they were providing uninterrupted supply to all categories of consumers without any trouble in the system, Mr. Raghuma Reddy said, adding that some States were planning to replicate “our successful model”. They had fears of system breakdown before introducing 24×7 supply to agriculture but were convinced of the system’s efficiency after the trial run conducted in the run-up to the launch of uninterrupted supply to the farm sector, he said.

•Strengthening of T&D network had helped the utilities bring down the failure of distribution transformers by about 50% this January compared to the same period last year, the two CMDs claimed. They stated that about Rs. 84,000 crore investment would be made in public sector power generation and further improvement of T&D network in the next five years which included the expected increase of load on the system from the ongoing lift irrigation projects.

Interest relief

•Timely repayment of loans taken from the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) by the State’s power utilities had helped them get the corporation to reduce the interest rate to 9.65% from 12% and 13%. Orders to the effect were expected in a few days. This would be a huge relief since the interest burden was expected to come down by almost 25% – 2.5% to 3% , Mr. Raghuma Reddy stated.

πŸ“° The lowdown on SWIFT and bank fraud

What is it?How did it come about?Why does it matter?What lies ahead?

•The Rs. 11,500 crore fraud in the Punjab National Bank where fund transfer through an inter-bank messaging system was not reported to the core banking solution, followed by the cyberattack on the City Union Bank, has put the spotlight once again on SWIFT or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. In February 2016, in the Bangladesh Bank heist, $81 million was fraudulently withdrawn from the central bank of the country, at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York through the SWIFT network. The SWIFT is a secure financial message carrier — in other words, it transports messages from one bank to its intended bank recipient. Its core role is to provide a secure transmission channel so that Bank A knows that its message to Bank B goes to Bank B and no one else. Bank B, in turn, knows that Bank A, and no one other than Bank A, sent, read or altered the message en route. Banks, of course, need to have checks in place before actually sending messages.

•The SWIFT is a global member-owned cooperative that is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. It was founded in 1973 by a group of 239 banks from 15 countries which formed a co-operative utility to develop a secure electronic messaging service and common standards to facilitate cross-border payments. It carries an average of approximately 26 million financial messages each day. In order to use its messaging services, customers need to connect to the SWIFT environment. There are several ways of connecting to it: directly through permanent leased lines, the Internet, or SWIFT’s cloud service (Lite2); or indirectly through appointed partners. Messages sent by SWIFT’s customers are authenticated using its specialised security and identification technology. Encryption is added as the messages leave the customer environment and enter the SWIFT Environment. Messages remain in the protected SWIFT environment, subject to all its confidentiality and integrity commitments, throughout the transmission process while they are transmitted to the operating centres (OPCs) where they are processed — until they are safely delivered to the receiver.

•While all customers are responsible for protecting their own environments, SWIFT established the customer security programme (CSP) in early 2016 to support customers in the fight against a growing cyberthreat.

•It is critical that customers prioritise the security network. Last April, SWIFT published a detailed description of the mandatory and advisory customer security controls. This framework describes a set of controls for its customers to implement on their local infrastructure.

•So, have Indian banks adopted the best practices to keep the network safe? The best practices should be applied not only to the SWIFT infrastructure within banks, but the full end-to-end transaction ecosystem within their firms, including payments, securities trade and treasury. In the PNB case, one of its biggest failures was the missing link between SWIFT and the bank’s backend software. This allowed fraudulent use of a key credit instrument — letters of understanding or a loan request to another bank through the SWIFT network — to transfer funds.

•After the fraud, PNB adopted strict SWIFT controls. It has created a separate unit to reauthorise most messages sent over SWIFT by branches. Many other banks are expected to fast-track the integration between SWIFT and their backend systems. To strengthen internal controls, the RBI has set April 30 as an “outer limit” for all public sector banks to integrate SWIFT with core banking solutions. As for SWIFT, a spokesperson said: “First, there is no indication that SWIFT’s own network or core messaging services have ever been compromised. SWIFT cannot comment on particular incidents. However, it continues to share insights into modus operandi and indicators of compromise with its customers.”

πŸ“° Centre planning ‘war room’ to track investments: Prabhu

Model, in place in U.P., will help study investors’ problems

•Taking a cue from Uttar Pradesh, the Centre plans to establish a war room to help monitor investments across the country, track progress of projects and ascertain issues faced in their implementation on a real-time basis. “We are thinking of setting a war room [to] monitor all investments, including domestic and [ascertain] problems faced by investors,” Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu said here on Saturday.

•The cue, he said, came from Nivesh Mitra portal in Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s office. An investor-friendly mechanism, the Chief Minister used it to monitor the investments personally, he added.

•Speaking to the media at BioAsia 2018, the 15th in the annual series of events focused on biotechnology and lifesciences sector, he mentioned about the war room in the context of the ease of doing business (EODB) ranking for districts under consideration of the Centre.

•Pointing out how technology had made real time monitoring possible, he said besides promoting competition among the districts, the ranking would help prospective investors.

•The Union Ministry is also unveiling a Geographical Indicator campaign to promote products unique to particular locations such as Banarasi sarees.

•“Once done, the local artisan gets IPR... resulting in huge benefits,” he said, adding that all the State governments were to be involved in this process.

‘Trade deficit’

•To queries on trade deficit, Mr. Prabhu said it was a function of several factors, including oil imports. “We are sure our exports are rising... also seeing a good pipeline of foreign direct investment.” Several countries were evincing interest in India, he said.

•Earlier, participating in a discussion at BioAsia with Telangana IT and Industries Minister K.T. Rama Rao, the Union Minister highlighted the progress made by the pharma industry and assured that he would suggest an institutionalised consultative mechanism on drug pricing to the ministry concerned.

πŸ“° Gene for rare form of diabetes found

In MODY, a defect in a single gene causes a rare form of the metabolic disease that is often misdiagnosed as Type 1-diabetes

•A team led by researchers in Chennai has isolated a gene that causes a rare form of diabetes, called Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY). This adds to the 14 known gene variants that cause MODY and could advance the emerging field of precision diabetes, by helping personalise diabetes care.

•Diabetes involves a disruption of how blood sugar is kept in check by the hormone insulin. In Type-2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disorder, many genes and environmental factors combine to cause this disruption. In MODY, any one of the 14 genes, if defective, can hamper the body’s insulin usage and trigger Type-2 diabetes.

Some forms treatable

•Many times non-obese children, with elevated blood sugars, are often misdiagnosed to have Type 1 diabetes and treated with insulin, leading to poor or no control of the blood sugar. “Some forms of MODY can easily be treated with sulphonylurea, an inexpensive drug. And it works very well on the patients. If you consider the age group — young adults [14-21 years] — it is a game changer. It dramatically improves quality of life,” says V. Mohan, president, Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF), a partner in the study.

•Type 1 diabetes, that MODY is usually mistaken for, is not gene-dependent, and therefore not inherited. “While it will not be cost effective to test everyone, you can look for signs such as the children are not obese, they have a family history, and the insulin they are being treated with does not seem to help. Running the MODY gene test, first for the more common forms, and if they are negative, testing for the rare ones would be the line to take,” he adds.

•In a paper published in the BMC Medical Genetics journal, researchers outlined that variants of the NKX6-1 gene found in MODY patients were “functionally impaired”. The study was carried out by the MDRF in collaboration with scientists from Genentech, California, and MedGenome, India.

•Of the 14 MODY genes already identified, largely from European studies, MODY 1–3 are the most common. Radha Venkatesan, who heads the molecular genetics wing at the MDRF, says: “I was testing for 1-3 and it was the causative factor in only 11% of the cases. Therefore, we figured that there must be others. We found four other variants in RFX6, WFS1, AKT2, NKX6-1 that may contribute to MODY. A further functional assessment of the NKX6-1 variants showed that they are impaired.” She is hopeful that further evidence might emerge to fix the role of the three other variants also discovered, as more and more families come forward to be tested.

•The study carried out was based on a comprehensive genomic analysis of 289 individuals from India that included 152 MODY cases and 137 patients without diabetes. The latter showed no genetic variants associated with MODY.

The costs

•Currently, the costs of testing could be pretty high. “While the cost of testing each gene is about Rs. 3,000, the costs for the entire MODY genetic panel, come to about Rs. 18,000. However, we are trying to bring it to under Rs. 10,000, for the entire package,” Dr. Mohan explains.

πŸ“° Sustaining the momentum

•There is a renewed sense of urgency the world over to tackle the TB epidemic. Last year, the Global Ministerial Conference (GMC) on Ending TB in the Sustainable Development Era brought together nearly 80 health ministers in support of TB elimination efforts. The momentum created there will be taken forward this year, in New York, at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on TB. It will be attended by the heads of state.

Focus on research

•The key takeaway from the GMC was the thrust on research and development (R&D), to develop new and safer drug regimens, point-of-care diagnostics, and an effective vaccine. It is well known that TB research has been neglected which has resulted in the disease becoming one of the leading infectious killers in the world. Despite the World Health Organisation’s End TB Strategy listing R&D as key to eliminating the disease, TB research remains severely underfunded. According to estimates in the Global Plan to Stop TB, $9.84 billion (Rs. 65,000 crore) was required the world over for TB research (2011-2015), of which just a third, $3.29 billion (Rs. 19,500 crore), was spent.

•At the GMC, member states committed to significantly increasing capacity and funding for TB research. India has taken a leadership role in this regard and set up the India TB Research Consortium, under the Indian Council of Medical Research, to spearhead research efforts.

Importance of a vaccine

•The only licensed TB vaccine, the BCG (Bacille Calmette-GuΓ©rin) vaccine, dates back to the 1920s. While BCG is moderately effective in preventing severe forms of TB in children, particularly TB meningitis, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who are at the highest risk for developing and spreading TB.

•Globally, R&D efforts have made progress towards developing an effective TB vaccine but there are challenges. It is crucial to understand the type of immune response a successful vaccine should generate. We need to continue exploring a diverse range of vaccine candidate types including those that provoke different immunological responses.

•However, no critical breakthroughs will be achieved without increased and sustained investments. With 10.4 million new cases and 1.7 million deaths in 2016, TB is deadlier than HIV, malaria, or even Ebola. Yet, TB vaccine research receives only under $100 million (Rs. 650 crore) a year, a fraction of the investment made towards ending other diseases. While there is a strong government push for increased investments in R&D, the private sector can also play a pivotal role. The Rotavirus vaccine, which was made available for less than $1-a-dose (Rs. 65), is an excellent example that illustrates how public-private-partnership can be the way forward.

•In India, the government has introduced several initiatives to drive vaccine research. The Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program, between the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supports a broad spectrum of activities relating to immunisation and vaccine research. Similarly, the DBT’s National Biopharma Mission, launched last year, aims to promote product discovery, translational research and early-stage manufacturing of vaccines in the country.

•To discuss the road ahead in terms of vaccine research, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the DBT partnered with other international organisations to host the 5th Global Forum on TB Vaccines, in New Delhi last week. The forum, represented by the world’s largest gathering of multi stakeholders, strives to create vaccines. It provided an opportunity to share the latest research and identify new and innovative approaches to vaccine R&D.

•With increasing global commitment to enhance investments in this area, we are certainly off to an encouraging start. We must sustain this momentum if we are to achieve a TB-free world by 2050.

πŸ“° Jumbo bond: Asian elephant society is full of ‘clans’

Study finds little or no interactionamong members of different groups

•Asian elephants have a hierarchical social organisation and can be ‘clannish’.

•While males separate from the group when they are 10 or so years of age, the females move in an organised manner, a big study has found. The closest group consisting of two or three elephants is formed by a female and her calf or a female with her daughter and the daughter’s calf.

•A clan of several hundred elephants represents the collective of all bond groups, which, in turn, can be broken down into the smaller groups.

•Elephants maintain good communication within a clan, but there is little or no such interaction between members of different clans, the research study shows.

•The nearly decade-long study of Asian elephants, led by T.N.C. Vidya of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, is the only one of its kind in the country for scale.

•Scientists have concluded that African elephants are socially organised as family, groups, bond groups and clans, although as much larger-sized groups. But Asian elephants were thought to be different.

•Studies by Prithviraj Fernando and others in Sri Lanka came to the conclusion that Asian elephants had only a family group structure but no clans. Another study by Shermin de Silva found more extended associations beyond families.

Know your elephant

•Dr. Vidya and her student Nandini, who is the first author of their paper that is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology , have data running into several notebooks on the elephants they have studied.

•They have a page devoted to each elephant out of the 800 or so that they have been observing, giving the name and identification marks of each.

•“Impedimenta is one of the largest females we have seen [in Kabini]. Her skull and ears are very large. The top edge of her ears are beginning to fold forward, the left ear more so… she has a large tear (near the side fold) and a small hole on her right ear… About a third of the ear is prominently depigmented,” says Dr. Vidya, describing how they identify elephants.

•“We usually give them names according to the clan they belong to. However, some names start with a different letter, because it takes time to identify which clan they belong to,“ she adds.

•The field work is the most challenging and interesting part. Through the year, the team stays near the forest, where they have rented a house. With the help of trackers, who are tribal people from the Nagarhole-Bandipur region, they go into the forest to observe elephants.

Escaping trouble

•The Kabini reservoir, being a perennial source of water, always sees elephants coming back to it, especially in the dry season. It is thus a good place to study them.

•Female elephants may move together in a coordinated manner or close by (within approximately 250 m) or go to drink water and feed together and return. They can also bunch together when threatened.

•“So depending on who is seen with whom and how often, we can construct social networks,” says Dr. Vidya. The bonded group of elephants also help each other during trouble, such as when threatened by humans or if a calf has difficulty moving.

•“But these are observed rarely, and we base our studies upon the associations we see regularly,” she clarifies.

•Elephants recognise each other mainly using their sense of smell, and it has been observed during a study of African Savannah elephants that they also recognise each other by their calls. It is interesting that such associations are only among elephant members of a clan.

•Dr. Vidya and collaborators have sometimes observed aggression and dominance when a female elephant encounters a non-clan member.

•For Ms. Nandini, a doctoral researcher, the appeal of going into the forest transcends all the trouble she had to take. “In the early days, there was no power, and she [Nandini] had to pump water even to take a bath in the evenings,” says Dr. Vidya.

Applying social networks

•The researchers analysed their data using network analysis and what is known as the Louvain method (commonly used in analysing mobile phone networks).

•They found a pattern very similar to that seen earlier in African elephants: groups, bonded groups and clans. “The main difference was that ecological constraints affect group size. Group sizes are larger in African elephants; if here [in Asian elephants] you see 2-3 elephants feeding together, you would see five together there [African elephants],” explains Dr. Vidya.

•Ecological constraints include disturbance due to human intervention and availability of large areas to roam.

•Since clans do not mix with each other, any infection usually circulates only within, and knowing the clan members helps in taking preventive measures.

How information moves

•This also helps when translocating elephants as clans must not be broken up. Also, it helps in understanding the way information spreads among the individuals.

•If a barricade, for example, is set up by humans and one member of the clan learns to get past it, we can expect that the information will spread from group to group until the whole clan gets to know. Therefore, knowing the group structure can help manage elephant groups better.

•For the team of workers, it has been five solid years of data gathering and further analysis; it eventually paid off as the group structure emerged. But clearly, the work cannot stop with that, and the forest has many more angles, animals and secrets that are waiting to be studied.

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