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    Dated : Friday, April 14, 2017
 


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Why 12.1 mn 'divyaang' Indians are illiterate

By Prachi Salve & Swagata Yadavar
At the launch of the government's Accessible India Campaign in December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested the term "divyaang" -- which translates into "divine body" -- for persons with disability, instead of the usual "viklaang", or handicapped. He said persons with disability are divinely blessed with "extra gifts".
Many disabled rights groups later wrote to the Prime Minister arguing that changing terminology alone would not end the discrimination persons with disability face, and asking him to address the barriers that hinder their participation in the country's economic, social and political life.
What does living with disability in India mean, particularly with regard to access to education and employment, 22 years after the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act was passed?
As things stand, 45 per cent of India's disabled population is illiterate, according to Census 2011, compared to 26 per cent of all Indians. Of persons with disability who are educated, 59 per cent complete Class X, compared to 67 per cent of the general population.
Despite the promise of universal access to education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which promotes free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and 14, children with special needs form the largest out-of-school group in India. Some 28 per cent special-needs children between six and 13 years of age are out of school, according to the 2014 National Survey of Out of School Children report, at a time when India has almost universal primary school enrolment. 
Among children with special needs, as many as 44 per cent with more than one disability are out of school, and children with mental (36 per cent) and speech (35 per cent) disabilities are more likely to be out of school than those with other disabilities.
Clearly, policies have to be more finely tailored to serve children across the disability spectrum. Experts also emphasise the need to go beyond providing just physical access.
For instance, the Accessible India Campaign aims to make 50 per cent of all government buildings in the national capital and state capitals accessible by July 2018; the larger goal is a move towards creating universal access, equal opportunity for development and independent living and participation in all aspects of life for people with disabilities. However, those with experience on the ground talk of a different reality.
"The whole problem with Accessible India Campaign is that we are only looking at physical access and not attitudinal access. If you want inclusion to take place, you need both," said Srilatha Juvva, Professor, Centre for Disability Studies and Action, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Getting special-needs children into school is only the beginning. Once in school, these children need user-friendly instruction and teaching equipment. However, Juvva said, policymakers perceive this as an additional investment.
Within special-needs children who are enrolled in school, the number drops steadily in higher grades, with a drop after Grades VIII (48 per cent, compared to 2.6 for all children) and IX (21 per cent, compared to 6.8 for all children), according to the 2015-16 District Information System for Education data. As a result, 89 per cent of school-going children with special needs are in elementary school, only 8.5 per cent are in secondary school and a mere 2.3 per cent in higher secondary.
Should there be special schools for children with special needs, or should they be integrated into regular classrooms? India's policies are unclear.
While the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) runs separate schools for children with special needs, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) promotes an inclusive-education model where such children study in regular classrooms.
Children with disability who are able to beat all the odds stacked against them to complete education up to Grade X face another hurdle: What course to choose for higher studies, given the widespread bias about what a person with disability can or cannot do?
As a result, students with disability have often had to fight to assert their right to study courses of their choice. At least two visually-challenged students have been in the news recently for approaching the courts -- Kritika Purohit filed a case in the Bombay High Court to be allowed to study physiotherapy, and Reshma Dileep approached the Kerala High Court to be allowed to study science beyond secondary school.
"Primarily because education is a state and a central subject, there is no central body that can frame guidelines for everybody," Neha Trivedi, project consultant with Xavier's Resource Centre for Visually Challenged, which has assisted visually-challenged students in their legal battles, said. Even if the MHRD issues a circular asking all universities to allow visually-challenged students to study science, each university and college has to accept the directive and enable it through its operational guidelines, she said.
One instrument that can make a significant difference in the life of a person with disability is the disability certificate. Awarded to those considered to have more than 40 per cent disability, the certificate makes its holder eligible for various state and central government schemes, scholarships, free travel, loans, prosthetic aids and appliances, and even an unemployment allowance.
For people residing in rural areas, disability certificates are mandatory to avail reservation in jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. There is a shortage of specialists in rural areas to issue certificates for disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism and Down syndrome, Rajive Raturi, Director, Disability Rights, Human Rights Law Network, Delhi, told IndiaSpend. "This makes it difficult for those with these disabilities to get their certificates and avail benefits," he said.
In December 2016, the Parliament approved the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The new Act is an improvement on the Persons with Disabilities Act, which it replaces, as it recognises 21 types of disability (up from seven earlier) including those caused by an acid attack, haemophilia, sickle cell disease and dwarfism. There is also a provision for making national and state funds available for financial support to persons with disability.
However, the budget for 2016-17 makes no mention of this fund. Even though there were increments in the budget for central sector schemes and a 3.4 per cent increase in the budget for autonomous bodies, the overall allocation to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities follows a decreasing trend. The share of allocation for persons with disability fell from 1.08 per cent of the allocation for the department in 2016-17 to 0.98 per cent in 2017-18. (IANS)

 

Eat a billion bacteria daily for better health

By Charu Bahri
Food is comforting, it can be a heady gastronomical experience, and many traditional systems of medicine believe various foods can help prevent and cure disease. Now, new research is confirming that foods containing probiotics -- health-enhancing live micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts -- and prebiotics -- non-digestible plant fibres that promote the growth of probiotics -- can complement and, in some cases, even replace medicine.
Gut microbiota, the collection of symbiotic micro-organisms in our digestive tract, is known to play a crucial role in our digestive health, and is implicated in a range of diseases including asthma and diabetes. And pre- and probiotics-rich foods and supplements help maintain an optimal ecology of such micro-organisms, which offers a wide range of health benefits.
An April 2016 study published in Minerva Urologica e Nefrologica says chronic kidney disease patients who took prebiotic and probiotic supplements thrice daily for six months, in addition to a low protein diet, maintained their estimated glomerular filtration rate -- a desirable kidney function indicator -- at more than three times the level of those taking a low protein diet alone.
"This would slow the progression of chronic kidney disease, which typically ends in end-stage renal disease, necessitating periodical dialysis and shortening the lifespan," Pavan Malleshappa, lead researcher and head, Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medical Sciences, Karnataka, told IndiaSpend.
This study has important implications for India, where chronic kidney disease was the eighth-leading cause of death in 2015, according to a Global Burden of Disease study.
The benefits of pre- and probiotics are even more remarkable in fighting diarrhoea, a leading public health challenge in India that claims the lives of 13 children below five years every hour, or 328 children every day.
Over 12 weeks, the daily consumption of a probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota -- named for Japanese scientist Minoru Shirota, who isolated it in 1930 -- reduced the occurrence of acute diarrhoea in young slum-dwelling children in Kolkata by 14 per cent, according to a June 2011 study published in Epidemiology and Infection.
Probiotics can favourably impact high cholesterol and insulin resistance -- precursors of heart disease and diabetes, respectively, which the Global Burden of Disease study ranked as the top and seventh cause of death in India.
They can also help alleviate constipation, which one in seven Indians suffers from, as well as indigestion, which afflicts three in 10.
Lata Pathak, 71, a Mumbai housewife, developed sluggish bowel movements and heartburn four years ago. These complaints exacerbated her diabetes, which she had managed to control well for over a decade with dietary precautions and medication.
Homemade curd contains the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus in an optimal measure to boost digestion, Suvarna Pathak, consulting dietician coordinator at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, told IndiaSpend.
Oats added the soluble fibre betaglucan to Pathak's diet, while elchi bananas added inulin, a class of dietary fibre called fructans that spur the growth of good bacteria and boost their action. The prebiotics helped regularise bowel movements while the probiotics helped absorb nutrients.
Since prebiotics and probiotics work symbiotically, prescribing a combination of both makes sense. "However, combining both in one product is technically challenging," said Subhashis Basu, Business Head, Dairy Products, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable. Packaged foods, therefore, usually contain either pre- or probiotics, although medical supplements often contain both.
To be effective, probiotics must reach the colon alive and in huge numbers. "A billion a day keeps your doctor away," quipped Virender Kumar Batish, secretary and founder, Probiotic Association of India and former head and emeritus professor, National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. A 2016 Indian Journal of Public Health study recommended consuming 1×107 colony-forming units (cfu) of probiotics daily.
Amul's probiotic ice-cream, for instance, contains 1×106 cfu each of the popular probiotic strains Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12 and Lactobacillus acidophilus La-5. A daily 54 gram serving has been shown to reduce the level of Streptococcus mutans -- salivary bacteria that cause dental caries -- in 6- to 12-year-olds by 12.5 per cent in just a week.
"The probiotics worked by replacing bad (disease-causing) bacteria with good... bacteria," said Taranatha Mahantesha, from the Department of Paediatric and Preventive Dentistry, Navodaya Dental College, Raichur.
For the Kolkata diarrhoea study, the team used Danone's readymade probiotic drink, Yakult, which contains 6.5x109 cfu of Lactobacillus casei Shirota.
The study on chronic kidney disease used capsules containing 15x109 cfu each of the Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacilllus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum, and 100 milligram of a prebiotic.
This supplement worked by modifying the intestinal microbiota of renal disease patients and thus reducing the production of uremic gut toxins, Malleshappa said, adding, "I now recommend probiotic and prebiotic supplements to chronic kidney disease patients who can afford them."
Batish said there is huge scope to research the bacteria that have evolved in and effectively colonised Indian guts with a view to developing appropriate probiotic foods and supplements.
What this means for you, in brief, is you may need to consult a specialist to identify the pre- or probiotic foods or supplements best suited to your health needs, and the dosage.
"Depending on your calorific need, you could consume 6 to 12 servings of prebiotic-containing foods, with a couple of servings of probiotic foods," Pathak says.
However, dosage must be chosen carefully because if taken in excess, probiotics can cause bloating and nausea. Also, not all packaged probiotic foods -- such as ice-cream -- are healthy like they claim to be.
Figuring out if a packaged probiotic food is too bacteria- or calorie-intense may become easier after January 1, 2018, when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's (FSSAI's) labelling requirements for eight categories of foods, including probiotics, come into effect. (IANS)

 

Grass could power your future flight

Researchers have developed a process to turn grass into biofuel that could one day be used to power aircraft.
‘‘Until now, grass has mainly served as feed for animals. But apart from that, grass can also be used as biofuel. Due to its vast abundance, grass is the perfect source of energy," said scientist Way Cern Khor from Ghent University in Belgium.
Khor investigated methods that can disintegrate and treat grass until it can be used as a fuel.
To improve its biodegradability, the grass was pretreated at first and then bacteria were added. They convert the sugars in the grass into lactic acid and its derivatives.
This lactic acid can serve as an intermediate chemical to produce other compounds such as biodegradable plastics (PLA) or fuels.
The lactic acid then was converted into caproic acid, which was further converted into decane which can be used in aviation fuel.
Although it might sound revolutionary, the scientists cautioned that there is still a lot to do before this becomes reality.
Right now the amount of biofuel that can be made from grass is still limited to a few drops. The current process is very expensive, and engines should be adapted to this new kind of fuel.
‘‘If we can keep working on optimising this process in cooperation with the business world, we can come down on the price. And maybe in a few years we can all fly on grass!," Khor said in a statement released by Ghent University. (IANS) 

 
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