TIME global health

This Species Is Close to Extinction and That’s a Good Thing

This July 28, 2004 picture shows volunteers Moises Matos and Helen Hand help assemble medical kits to fight Guinea worm disease at a warehouse in Atlanta.
Volunteers Moises Matos and Helen Hand help assemble medical kits to fight Guinea worm disease at a warehouse on July 28, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. John Bazemore—AP

The disappearance would mark the scouring of a disease from the face of the earth

WSF logo small

The Guinea worm is inching ever closer to extinction, but unlike just about every other endangered species, no one is going to try to save it, least of all scientists. On the contrary, the worm’s disappearance would mark the scouring of a disease from the face of the earth—a feat humanity’s only been able to celebrate twice before, with the end of smallpox in 1980 and of the cattle disease rinderpest in 2011. (Polio, despite the fact that a vaccine’s been around for more than half a century, has managed to hang on by its microscopic threads.)

What Is Guinea Worm Disease?

The Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the human body when the unwitting host-to-be drinks water contaminated with tiny water fleas in which Guinea worm larvae lurk. Once ingested, the fleas die and the Guinea worm larvae enter the host’s abdominal cavity and, unbeknownst to the host, begin maturing into a worm or worms that grow up to three feet in length. After about a year a painful blister forms on the host’s skin accompanied by itching and a burning sensation. Within about 10 to 15 days, one or more worms erupt from the person’s skin in a painful and drawn-out process. The emergence can occur from different parts of the body, including the roof of the mouth, the genitals, or the eye sockets, but around 90 percent of the worms emerge from the lower legs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). (There are plenty of videos of Guinea worm extractions on YouTube, but be warned they’re quite unsettling.)

While the disease rarely kills, it can leave the host debilitated and weakened for a short or long period of time.

“The lesions caused by the worms often develop secondary bacterial infections that migrate all along the tract where the worm was,” says Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, the director of the Carter Center’s Guinea worm eradication program. “The pain and agony can last for weeks.”

To alleviate the pain, the infected person often dips the part of the body from which the worm has emerged into water, where the female worm that is emerging can lay more larvae, and begin the process anew.

A Disease on the Decline

Thanks in large part to the work of the Carter Center, the incidence of Guinea worm disease (also known as dracunculiasis, which is Latin for “affliction with little dragons”) has plummeted in recent years, falling from an estimated 3.5 million cases worldwide in the mid-1980s to just 148 in 2013 and 126 in 2014, according to the WHO.

How has such success been achieved? It’s taken the concerted effort of all involved—the scientists who have figured out how to contain it, community organizers who have helped spread the word on preventative solutions, and the people in areas where Guinea worm disease has been a big problem who are implementing the necessary changes to keep the parasite at bay.

“Guinea worm eradication is like an orchestra: Every player has to play their own instrument but play from the same page of music,” says Ruiz-Tiben.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: The Rise of Preventable Illnesses

There’s No Cure for the Long-Lived Dracunculiasis, but Preventive Measures Are Finding Success

While it could disappear in the near future, dracunculiasis is a disease that has been around for centuries. It is believed to be the “fiery serpents” referenced in the Old Testament, and the calcified remains of a male Guinea worm were found in an Egyptian mummy.

The treatment has been around a long time too. A description found on an Egyptian papyrus from 1,500 BC outlines the treatment that’s followed today: Wind the worm around a stick as it emerges.

But unlike rinderpest and smallpox, Guinea worm disease cannot be vaccinated against. Preventing its infection is a matter of making sure people don’t drink the contaminated water. To that end, education and water filtration are key. Both cloth filters, used to filter large amounts of water in containers, and smaller pipe filters, used like a straw when drinking, can screen out the water fleas that carry the Guinea worm larvae. There are also ways of chemically treating water sources to reduce populations of water fleas, but the microorganisms eventually return.

“There’s no magic bullet against this disease,” Ruiz-Taben says. But “the more barriers we can put out there to interrupt the life cycle of this disease, the greater likelihood there is that we can interrupt transmission.”

Once spread across Africa, the worm is now holding on only in South Sudan, Mali, Chad, and Ethiopia. Stamping out those last few strongholds, says Ruiz-Taben, is just a matter of continuing the cooperative work that’s been going on since the 1990s. As the journalist Julius Cavendish wrote in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization this past December:

“Not only is guinea-worm disease relatively easy to control, in theory, but the benefits of eradication far outweigh the costs. … According to a 1997 World Bank study, the economic rate of return on the investment in Guinea-worm disease eradication will be about 29% per year once the disease is eradicated… removing guinea-worm disease translates into hundreds of thousands of communities better able to work their fields, send their children to school and escape the cycle of poverty and disease.”

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: How We Bounce Back: The New Science of Human Resilience

If Wiped Out, Could It Recrudesce?

If the number of cases drops to zero, there should be little chance of dracunculiasis coming back. There could be hurdles to its total annhilation, however. While Guinea worms (unlike Ebola) don’t seem to have a widespread tendency to hide out in animals when they’re not infecting humans, there have been a few reports of dogs with the worms reported in Chad; if this turns out to be a more common phenomenon, eradication efforts may have to turn to preventing those canine cases too. And if those countries that host the last areas of Guinea worm infestation were to suffer from war, famine, or other kinds of instability, that could slow the process of eradication. In Mali, for example, just seven cases were reported in 2012—but those numbers increased slightly in 2013 and 2014, when conflict with Islamist rebels hampered eradication efforts.

Still, the ultimate end looks to be within reach. Does Ruiz-Taben think he’ll see Guinea worm disease completely eliminated in his lifetime?

“I am very hopeful—more than hopeful,” he says.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: What Will Happen to Your Body in 2015?

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME

Why Japan Lacks Sympathy for the Hostages Held by ISIS

People in Tokyo watch news on the Japanese ISIS hostages, Jan. 23, 2015.
People in Tokyo watch news on the Japanese ISIS hostages, Jan. 23, 2015. Nicolas Datiche—Sipa

While the clock ticks down for two Japanese hostages held by ISIS, their countrymen think they've brought the problem on themselves

Japanese government officials continued to press for the release of two Japanese citizens being held by Islamist militants in Syria late Friday, even as a presumed deadline for paying the $200 million ransom expired.

The hostage drama has dominated the news cycle since ISIS released a video showing two Japanese men being threatened by a masked militant with a knife. But in very Japanese fashion, much of the anger has focused on the hostages themselves, who are seen by many as having acted recklessly. “The public thinks these guys put themselves in harm’s way, and that it is their problem — not the government’s or the taxpayers problem,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.

Haruna Yukawa, 42, a failed businessman who hoped to re-invent himself as a private military contractor, was kidnapped in August after entering ISIS-controlled territory. Kenji Goto, 47, an experienced freelance journalist, was captured in October after entering Syria in what he told friends was a quest to free Yukawa, whom he had met there earlier.

MORE Mother of Japanese Journalist Held Captive by ISIS Pleads for His Release

In the video released Tuesday, the militant accuses Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of taking sides in the Mideast conflict by pledging $200 million in aid to countries fighting against ISIS, which controls vast territory in both Syria and Iraq. The militant said the hostages would be killed if an equal amount was not paid within 72 hours – a deadline that Japanese officials presume expired Friday afternoon.

Abe has stressed that the aid money—which he pledged during a six-day trip to the Middle East that was interrupted by the hostage crisis—is for humanitarian purposes only and said his government is doing all that it can to secure the hostage’s release. But he has vowed not to “give in” to terrorists, and most analysts believe he will not authorize payment of the ransom—either openly or otherwise.

Comments on Japanese-language social media have been largely unsympathetic toward the two hostages—particularly Yukawa, who told associates that he once tried to commit suicide by cutting off his genitals and later changed his given name to Haruna, typically used for women. Goto is given credit for at least attempting to help someone in need.

MORE Japanese War Reporter Was Abducted by ISIS After Trying to Save His Friend

“They needed to know the possible results before going to that region, especially now. They’re responsible,” said a Twitter post that was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times.

“Neither Mr. Goto nor Mr. Yukawa went to Syria upon request from the Japanese government,” says another. “Maybe I’m heartless, but we cannot give in to the Islamic State group’s terrorist acts.

Japan withdrew all its diplomats from Syria in March 2012 as the civil war escalated, and warned all Japanese citizens against traveling there. The lack of an embassy hasn’t helped Tokyo as it tries to sort through the myriad government, rebel and ISIS forces fighting in the region. The advisory was in effect when Yukawa and Goto entered the country last year.

This is not the first time that Japanese hostages in the Middle East have drawn condemnation from their countrymen, rather than sympathy. Three aid workers and peace activists were pilloried in the press and nascent social media after they were kidnapped in Iraq in 2004. The government refused demands that they withdraw Japanese peacekeepers from southern Iraq and the hostages were released unharmed a week later. Nonetheless, the criticism in Japan was so severe that the former hostages were forced to go into voluntary seclusion.

“The public thought that because those citizens were working independently, and making independent comments critical (of the Iraq War), they were disloyal troublemakers putting Japan into world news for all the wrong reasons,” says Marie Thorsten, professor of international politics and media studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

The stakes could be high for Abe, who just won a commanding victory in a snap election held in December. A staunch conservative and nationalist, Abe promised to focus on Japan’s flagging economy, but increasingly has pressed for bigger defense spending, the easing of long-standing restraints on Japan’s military and the promotion of a policy of “proactive contributions to peace” overseas.

“This is the first time the public has seen Abe’s “proactive pacifism” at work and this is deeply unsettling,” says Kingston. “Until now, Islamic extremism was something that happened to other countries. People may get cold feet about Japan assuming a higher profile on global stage.”

Read next: ISIS Say Countdown for Japan’s Hostages Has Begun

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Saudi Arabia

Know Right Now: Saudi Arabia Has a New King

King Salman is 79 years old

With the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah came the crowning of King Salman.

Salman bin Abdulaziz, who was named crown prince in June 2012, was Abdullah’s third heir to the throne after two elder brothers died in late 2011 and mid-2012. As the new King of Saudi Arabia, home to 28 million people, he will also serve as Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

A longtime governor of the capital, Riyadh, Salman has a reputation as a progressive and practical prince similar in bearing to his late brother.

Find out more about who he is and what his policies are by watching today’s Know Right Now. Or read more about the King here.

TIME Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah’s Death Shows Saudi Arabia’s Declining Clout

King Abdullah, left, with then-Crown Prince Salman, right, in 2010.
King Abdullah, left, with then-Crown Prince Salman, right, in 2010. AP

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has momentarily grabbed the world’s attention, but the real story is that his kingdom matters less than it used to

Ten years ago, the death of a Saudi king would have sent shock waves through Washington. Today, as the Kingdom recovers from the death of King Abdullah yesterday, Saudis don’t carry the same clout. In part, that’s because the U.S. is much less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than it was a few years ago, as U.S. companies have reinvented the way oil and natural gas is produced. Hydraulic fracturing has opened access to liquid energy deposits locked inside once-impenetrable rock formations, and breakthroughs in horizontal drilling methods have made the technology more profitable.

By the end of this decade, the United States is expected to produce almost half the crude oil it consumes. More than 80% of its oil will come from North or South America. By 2020, the United States could become the world’s largest oil producer, and by 2035 the country could be almost entirely self-sufficient in energy. Relations with the Saudis are no longer a crucial feature of U.S. foreign policy, and the surge in global supply, which has helped force oil prices lower in recent months, ensures that others are less concerned with the Saudis as well.

In addition, outsiders are not worried that King Abdullah’s death will make the Kingdom unstable. Newly-crowned King Salman is plenty popular, and other key players—Crown Prince Muqrin, National Guard head Prince Miteab, and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef—have pragmatic working relations with the new king and with one another. The succession process will appear uneventful from the outside, but Salman will spend the next several months consolidating his authority and building a stable balance of power among factions within the family and across the government.

Another reason the Saudis matter less: They’re now bogged down in the region. Saudi worries that Iran can make mischief even under harsh sanctions only raises fears should a deal be made with the West later this year over its nuclear program, which would ease those sanctions, Tehran would only become a more troublesome rival. But even if there is no deal and sanctions are tightened, Iran will probably become more aggressive to demonstrate its defiance, creating new headaches along Saudi borders.

How will the Saudis manage its local security worries? Along the border with violence-plagued Iraq, the Saudis are actually building a 600-mile wall complete with five layers of fencing, watch towers, night-vision cameras and radar. Terrorist violence in neighboring Yemen and the fall of its government this week add to the Saudi’s sense that their country is under siege. They’re building a wall along Yemen’ s border as well. Fights with ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will demand attention and money.

King Salman is 79, and he’s been central to Saudi policymaking for 50 years. One day soon, we’ll see generational change in the Saudi leadership. When that happens, we might see a fresh approach to the Kingdom’s two biggest problems: Its inability to build a dynamic, modern economy to harness the energies of Saudi Arabia’s millions of young people and its growing marginalization as an international political and economic force.

That day has not yet come.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy. His next book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, will be published in May

TIME World

Israeli Barber Designs ‘Magic’ Hairy Yarmulke That is Basically a Toupée

Israeli hairdresser Shalom Koresh places a yarmulke, a skullcap made of hair samples, on a man's head in the city of Rehovot, Israel on Jan. 21, 2015.
Israeli hairdresser Shalom Koresh places a yarmulke, a skullcap made of hair samples, on a man's head in the city of Rehovot, Israel on Jan. 21, 2015. Dan Balilty—AP

Blends in with the wearer's hair

An Israeli barber has designed a hair-covered skullcap so that devout Jews can cover their heads without advertising their religion.

Shalom Koresh says he designed the “magic” yarmulke (also known as a kippa) to help Jews avoid trouble amid rising anti-Semitism in Europe. The yarmulke, which is designed to look just like hair on your head, has already attracted considerable interest in France and Belgium.

“This skullcap is washable, you can brush it, you can dye it,” Koresh told the Associated Press. “It was created so people could feel comfortable going to places where they are afraid to go, or places where they can’t wear it, and feel secure.”

While it’s not explicitly designed for this purpose, the “magic” yarmulke could have the added benefit of helping some men cover up signs of encroaching baldness, since it can be custom made to fit in exactly with hair color or texture.

The “Magic Kippa” is sold online. A synthetic hair kippa costs around $56, and a real-hair one costs around $91.

[AP]

 

 

TIME Davos

Emma Watson Launches New Anti-Sexism Initiative at Davos

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven and actress Emma Watson attends World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos.
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven and actress Emma Watson attends World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos. Aftonbladet/IBL/Zuma

The "Harry Potter" star was in Switzerland to unveil a new UN project aimed at improving gender equality

Harry Potter star and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson was on hand at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, where UN Women — the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment — unveiled the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative.

The new initiative was announced at a press conference attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, several world leaders and Watson. They outlined the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 program, which will be a one-year pilot project geared toward advancing women by working with governments, companies and universities in order to promote change within their respective communities.

“The groundswell of response we have received in support for HeForShe tells us we are tapping into what the world wants: to be a part of change,” Watson said at the press conference. “Now we have to channel that energy into purposeful action. The pilot initiative provides that framework. Next we need all country leadership, as well as that of hundreds of universities and corporations to follow HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 so as to bring an end to the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally.”

Watson first became involved with UN Women last summer and in the fall of 2014 announced the HeForShe campaign in a moving speech that received world-wide attention.

TIME Yemen

U.S. Downsizes Yemen Embassy Staff as Crisis Builds

Houthi fighters ride a truck near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Jan. 22. 2015.
Houthi fighters ride a truck near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Jan. 22. 2015. Khaled Abdullah—Reuters

U.S. officials say that the embassy won’t be closing

The U.S. has decided to reduce its embassy staff in Yemen following the collapse of the nation’s government at the hands of rebel Houthi fighters.

“The safety and security of U.S. personnel is our top priority in Yemen,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We are evaluating the security situation on the ground on an ongoing basis. We call on all parties to abide by their public commitments to ensure the security of the diplomatic community, including our personnel.”

The move comes four months after U.S. President Barack Obama lauded Yemen as a model for “successful” counterterrorism partnerships.

The reduction of embassy staff, mainly in response to the security situation, comes at a time when Washington is trying to secure partnerships in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria while trying to limit Iran’s influence in the region, according to Reuters.

The situation is alarming neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sees Tehran’s military and financial support for the Shi‘ite Houthis as a sign of their growing regional clout.

Former Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who resigned Thursday along with a slew of government officials, was seen as a key ally in the war against jihadist groups like al-Qaeda. However, the Houthis, who now control the capital, are said to loathe al-Qaeda as much as they do the U.S., reports Reuters.

Hadi’s resignation will “absolutely” limit drone strikes and counterterrorism operations in the immediate future, a former U.S. official told the news agency.

TIME United Nations

U.N. Hosts First Ever Meeting Dedicated to Combating Anti-Semitism

Bernard-Henri Levy
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. Richard Drew—AP

Meeting planned long before the recent attacks in Paris

The U.N. General Assembly gathered Thursday for its first ever meeting dedicated to global action against anti-Semitism.

The informal meeting, attended by approximately half the bloc’s 193 member states, was organized by mainly Western nations in order to address an “alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide.”

Planning began last October in response to the murder of three people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, and the killing of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, France, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N.’s 57 Islamic nations unanimously condemned all words and acts that encourage “hatred, anti-Semitism [and] Islamophobia.” The statement, given by the Saudi ambassador, Abdallah Al-Moualimi, was “extremely significant,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Al-Moualimi stressed the importance of dialogue in efforts to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and denounced “any discrimination based on belief and religious practices.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said that the Holocaust had elicited pledges that anti-Semitism had no place in the modern world. Yet, he lamented, “Here we are again.”

TIME Chile

Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda Could Have Been Poisoned

Chile Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda in 1971. Laurent Rebours—AP

A fresh probe is to be conducted into his death in 1973

Chile announced Wednesday that the death of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda will be reinvestigated to ascertain if the poet was poisoned in 1973 during the first days of the South American nation’s military dictatorship.

Neruda, a staunch communist whose love poems some consider to be among the most romantic ever written, was presumed to have died of prostate cancer following a U.S.-backed coup that led to the merciless rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet. However, many suspect that he was murdered, reports Reuters.

“There is initial evidence that he was poisoned and in that sense the signs point to the intervention of specific agents … that could constitute a crime against humanity,” said Francisco Ugas, the head of Chile’s humans rights department.

Neruda was a loyal follower of ousted President Salvadore Allende, leading to suspicions he was murdered to silence a potential powerful dissenting voice against the new military dictatorship.

Neruda’s chauffeur claims Pinochet’s operatives injected the poet’s stomach with poison while he was bed-ridden by illness.

[Reuters]

TIME Ireland

Irish Minister for Health Announces He’s Gay

Irish Health minister Leo Varadkar, 36, who has publicly come out as gay, pictured here on Dec. 27, 2013.
Irish Health minister Leo Varadkar, 36, who has publicly come out as gay, pictured here on Dec. 27, 2013. Brian Lawless—Press Association/AP

The country is set to hold a referedum on marriage equality in May

Just months before Ireland is due to hold a referendum on marriage equality, the country’s minister for health has come out during a radio interview. Leo Varadkar told RTÉ Radio 1, an Irish radio station, that he was gay and would be campaigning in support of same-sex marriage in the lead up to the referendum in May.

“It’s not a secret — but not something that everyone would necessarily know, but it isn’t something I’ve spoken publicly about before,” he said during the Jan. 18 interview. “I just kind of want to be honest with people. I don’t want anyone to think that I have a hidden agenda.”

He added: “I’d like the referendum to pass because I’d like to be an equal citizen in my own country, the country in which I happen to be a member of Government, and at the moment I’m not.”

Ireland decriminalized homosexuality 22 years ago and same-sex couples have been able to enter a civil partnership since 2011, but not marry.

[RTÉ]

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser