‘Time is running short’: S.Korea’s Yoon calls for efforts to tackle falling birthrate

ISTANBUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday called for 'extraordinary determination' to tackle the country's falling birthrate. 'Time is running short. I hope that every government agency approaches the issue of low birthrates with extraordinary determination,' Seoul-based Yonhap News quoted Yoon as telling his Cabinet. Urging officials to approach the issue from a 'fundamentally different perspective,' Yoon called for 'effective solutions' to the declining birthrate, given that South Korea has the lowest birthrate in the world. The steady population decline has caused worry among policymakers, as the country's fertility rate was recorded at its lowest 0.7 in the third quarter of this year. 'The rate is significantly below the replacement level of 2.1, which is necessary to maintain the population stability at 51 million,' the news agency reported. Pointing to 'intense competition' in areas like education as one of the causes behind the falling birth rate, Yoon said: 'The issue of low birth rates requires us to take the situation more seriously and contemplate the causes and solutions from a different dimension than before.' South Korea has seen a steady decline in new births despite spending about $200 billion over the last 16 years to promote population growth. In its recent report, the World Economic Forum warned that if the current low birth rate continues, the East Asian nation "will be less than half what is now by the end of the century." South Korea had an all-time low birthrate for the third consecutive year in 2022, with only 249,000 babies born in the country, resulting in a further 4.4% decline in population from the previous record low in 2021, according to Statistics Korea. The data showed that the average woman gave birth to her first child at the age of 33 last year, followed by 34.2 and 35.6. Source: Anadolu Agency

New Chinese drug shows record treatment success against uncommon lung cancer

A new Chinese drug has shown record treatment success against an uncommon lung cancer, offering a beacon of hope for patients grappling with the disease, state media reported Monday. The Phase 2 clinical trial of sunvozertinib, which aims to combat a specific type of lung cancer in which a tumor harbors an 'EGFR exon 20 insertions' mutation, has shown a 61% anti-tumor activity response, higher than any previous candidates, the South China Morning Post reported. The trial enrolled 104 advanced patients and analyzed 97 cases, involving an uncommon and recalcitrant subtype of lung cancer that would not ease with conventional therapies such as platinum-based chemotherapy. The initial results of the trial were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago in mid-June and were peer reviewed and published by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal on Dec. 12. This new drug was developed by Dizal, a biopharmaceutical company based in eastern China's Jiangsu province. 'It's a n impressive outcome because previously, other potential candidates could only achieve a response rate below 50% for this lung cancer subgroup,' the newspaper quoted a chief scientist from a major biotech company as saying.??????? Source: Anadolu Agency

BioNTech inaugurates 1st manufacturing plant for mRNA vaccines in Africa

BioNTech inaugurated its first manufacturing site on Monday for mRNA-based vaccines in Africa in the Rwandan capital Kigali, which could ensure vaccine equity on the continent. The manufacturing facility, whose construction started in 2022, will be based on BioNTainers -- exact replications of the BioNTech factory in Germany. In 2021, the leading German biotechnology company signed deals with Rwanda and the Senegalese Institut Pasteur de Dakar to set up manufacturing sites on the continent. 'We are committed to building a sustainable mRNA vaccine ecosystem in Africa, focusing on the development of mRNA vaccines against infectious diseases with high medical needs and forging high-end technology solutions for local manufacturing,' said Ugur Sahin, the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech. Beginning next year, the facility could initially manufacture up to 50 million doses annually of a product that has an RNA process similar to that of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. BioNTech said it is on cou rse to develop prophylactic mRNA vaccines targeting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV and is also focusing on diseases with epidemic and pandemic potential, including mpox. It indicated that a clinical Phase 1 trial for the company's tuberculosis vaccine program BNT164 is already in clinical evaluation in four trial centers in South Africa while its malaria vaccine candidates are currently being evaluated in a Phase 1 clinical trial in the US. Africa imports 70% of its medicines and produces only 1% of its vaccines, according to data from the African Development Bank. Rwanda's President Paul Kagame described the launch as a milestone for the continent in its bid to achieve vaccine equity. He also recalled that initially the consensus was that mRNA vaccines could not even be administered in Africa, with claims that it is too complicated for Africa's health systems. 'When we embarked on this journey to manufacture these vaccines on our continent, we were told that it would take a mi nimum of 30 years. That was all wrong. It is possible. And because it is possible, it is also necessary,' he said. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, said the facility's launch is in line with the continent's long-term health agenda and commitment to increasing the accessibility of vaccines and other medicines to all Africans. 'We believe this facility will contribute to our collective vision of a self-reliant Africa. Creating a high-quality regulatory environment and ensuring vaccine independence is key to our future capacity to prepare, respond and better recover from pandemics,' he said. 'Working together to promote vaccine equity for Africa remains a priority.' BioNTech earmarked roughly $150 million to complete the construction of the Rwandan site, including the manufacturing units. Senegal's President Macky Sall said the ceremony was 'historic for the continent and one of the best answers Africa is giving to the present and future' in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Source: Anadolu Agency

Medical teams struggling with large number of wounded: Gaza Health Ministry

Medical teams are struggling with a large number of wounded following the end of the humanitarian pause and renewed Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza announced on Friday. "The wounded are lying on the floor in emergency departments and in front of operating rooms as a result of overcrowding,' ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said in a statement. Israel early Friday resumed its military operations against the Gaza Strip after the end of the humanitarian pause, targeting various areas in the north, center, and south of the strip, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries, according to the ministry in Gaza. At least 32 Palestinians were killed and many others injured as Israel resumed striking areas in the Gaza Strip within hours of the end of the pause, the ministry said. The pause between Israel and Hamas, which went into effect on Nov. 24, ended on Friday morning.

UN calls for community leadership on World AIDS Day

The UN has designated "Let Communities Lead" as the theme for this year's World AIDS Day, highlighting the crucial role of community leadership despite challenges like funding issues, capacity limits and pressures on civil society that impede progress in ending AIDS. Dec. 1 is recognized as "World AIDS Day" to support those with HIV and remember those lost to AIDS. HIV, which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), weakens the immune system by destroying cells involved in the body's defense against infections and other harmful invaders. The weakening of the immune system can result in severe infections, and even cancer and similar illnesses may emerge. Early detection is crucial to prevent transmission to healthy individuals and manage the patient's condition. 'Let Communities Lead' The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said in a statement that AIDS can be eradicated under community leadership, emphasizing that communities affected by HIV and AIDS are at the forefront of the battle against these health issues. It highlighted that these communities connect individuals through human-centered health services and effectively manage services and continuously monitor policies for AIDS and HIV prevention. The statement emphasized that if obstacles faced by communities providing these services such as financial constraints, capacity limitations and pressures on civil society are removed, organizations managed by communities will play a more critical role in HIV and AIDS prevention efforts. It stressed the importance of communities in addressing health issues despite disruptions in HIV and AIDS prevention efforts caused by such obstacles. Emphasizing the central role of communities in seeking solutions, budgeting, observing, evaluating and implementing HIV and AIDS programs, it highlighted the slogan "Not ending AIDS costs more than ending it." The statement also stressed the importance of removing barriers that hinder community leadership in HIV and AIDS efforts, highlighting the ne ed to protect human rights, especially for marginalized communities, and called for the repeal of harmful laws while creating empowering ones. 9.2 million people worldwide without access to effective treatments UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said there are approximately 9.2 million people worldwide who are living with HIV and do not have access to effective treatments. Byanyima suggested however that AIDS could cease to be a threat to human health by 2030. "To end AIDS, the path forward involves following the leadership of communities." A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on July 13 revealed that HIV has so far caused approximately 40.4 million deaths. In 2022 alone, 630,000 people lost their lives due to HIV-related complications. Data as of the end of 2022 show that around 39 million people worldwide have HIV, with approximately 1.3 million acquiring it last year. Two-thirds of the 39 million people live in sub-Saharan African countries and Algeria. The WHO and UNAIDS aim to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, with interim targets of 95% of the people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 95% of people who know their HIV positive status on treatment; and 95% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads-by 2025. The WHO also announced that a World AIDS Day event will be held on Dec. 1 in Geneva to raise awareness.

Plant-based diets: Enervating or life lengthening?

Sacrifice for some, joy for others but one thing - with research ongoing - is becoming clearer by the day: Vegans and vegetarians tend to live longer. A July 2023 study in the European Heart Journal showed that well-balanced plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, dementia, and cancer. Speaking to Anadolu about the viability of the vegan diet, dietician and nutritionist Tuba Gunebak said that when we consume animal-derived foods, all the toxins and heavy metals in the animal's body, which we consume as muscle, are transferred to us. "This creates a burden on our bodies, and vegans are exempt from these burdens," Gunebak told Anadolu. A separate study from last year, estimating the impact of food choices on life expectancy, suggested that consuming legumes, whole grains, and nuts, while avoiding red meat and processed meats, could help extend a person's lifespan. For men, this could result in up to 13 more years of life, while for women, it could lead to an additional 10.7 years of life, the study said. Diet and ethics Besides the health aspect of diets, they can also offer insights into a person's identity, values, and their impact on the environment. Chris Ciocchetti, the Beaird chair of philosophy at the Centenary College of Louisiana, urged vegan individuals to "focus on moral growth and gradual shifts in their dietary choices" for a sustainable plant-based diet. "Rather than striving for perfection from the outset, people should aim to reduce their consumption of animal products progressively," Ciocchetti stressed. Delving into the ethical and psychological aspects of adopting a plant-based diet and their implications for individuals, he went on to say that a diet focused on environmental and ethical considerations could provide a sense of transcendence beyond personal needs that eventually contributes to mental well-being. Veganism, which requires a person not to consume food derived from animals, has sparked numerous debates and cha llenges over the decades. Social struggles and physical hardships are among the greatest difficulties vegans face. Though these diets seemingly don't appear rich in nutrients, "with careful planning to ensure all nutritional needs are met, a vegan diet can be sustainable from a health perspective," according to dietician Gunebak. Gunebak said she observed that many who embrace veganism or vegetarianism often cannot sustain these diets for long. "They find it challenging because it requires a different effort and dedication," she said, while underlining her firm belief that if a person struggles hard enough, replacing animal-derived food with alternatives is possible. "Vegans need to employ different approaches to mitigate the risks of B12 and iron deficiencies. Primarily, it is imperative to take B12 vitamin supplements as this vitamin is predominantly found in animal-derived products," she said. To diminish the likelihood of iron deficiency, Gunebak said it is vital to consume plant-based foods rich in i ron in conjunction with vitamin C-rich foods to enhance its absorption. Regular blood tests and guidance from nutritionists are essential for a healthy vegan diet, she urged. Can the vegan diet truly be sustainable? From the first known vegan, Donald Watson (1910-2005), who founded a group called the "Vegan Society" veganism continues to grow as a lifestyle choice focused on ethical and environmental issues. According to data retrieved from Google Trends, there has been a substantial global surge in interest surrounding veganism from the mid-2000s. Leading regions include Israel, Australia, the UK, Austria, and New Zealand. But what are the key driving factors behind the growing popularity of the vegan diet in recent years? The widespread use of social media platforms has greatly increased awareness on reasons to adopt a vegan diet, effectively carrying this message to a much larger and more diverse audience. One vegan woman told Anadolu on condition of anonymity that she had come across documentaries a nd YouTube videos depicting the cruel treatment of animals in factories during her university years. "I found it ethically troubling to witness them stuck in small spaces," she said, adding that over time, she "phased out" non-vegan foods from her life. Small steps, not overnight change Discussing the challenges individuals may face when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, Ciocchetti addressed the social and psychological aspects of the transition. He acknowledged that food was not just about nutrition but often holds cultural, familial, and identity-related significance, as well. "The challenge is thinking about how to develop a vegan diet, that lets me understand myself and connect with my traditions, my families, the people around me in ways that are interesting and useful." Ciocchetti emphasized the importance of developing a sustainable and balanced approach to veganism and encouraged individuals to find ways to adapt traditional recipes, incorporate familiar flavors, and gradually reduce their con sumption of animal products. By doing so, people can bridge the gap between their current dietary habits and the goal of minimizing unnecessary harm. He highlighted that transitioning to a completely vegan diet overnight might not be realistic for everyone and recommended small steps to adapt to the lifestyle at slow yet sure pace. Source: EN - Anadolu Agency

Artificial Intelligence revolutionizes diabetes care, enhancing quality of life

The use of artificial intelligence in insulin application and continuous monitoring of blood sugar will lead to rapid and significant changes in diabetes treatment, a doctor told Anadolu. Individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in childhood have to take insulin externally throughout their lives to be able to eat. Insulin needs to be administered at least four times a day, and the attention-demanding management of diabetes can make life challenging. According to Professor Doctor Filiz Mine Cizmecioglu Jones, Head of the Department of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at Kocaeli University Faculty of Medicine, with the introduction of artificial intelligence systems that mimic the pancreas, days have begun when patients do not have to think about their diabetes. AI-supported sensors and pumps continuously monitor patients' blood sugar, automatically adjust insulin doses, and improve the quality of life for patients. Jones told the Anadolu correspondent that patients and their families need to know how to manage diabetes because there won't always be a doctor or nurse by their side, so diabetics know how to manage the disease as much as many healthcare professionals. She explained that before the discovery of insulin, the lifespan of type-1 diabetics was very short, and despite the discovery, managing 24 hours by measuring blood sugar from the finger four times a day and injecting insulin four times is challenging. 'We can make sensor and pump talk with AI help' Jones pointed out that the second turning point after the discovery of insulin was the emergence of continuous blood sugar monitoring and continuous insulin delivery systems, saying: "Now there are systems that measure blood sugar every 5 minutes from tissue fluid. Systems that are the size of a coin. We apply this to the skin surface, such as the arm, abdomen, or any part of the body. There is a small cannula (a flexible tube with both ends open) going under the skin. "This cannula measures blood sugar from the fluid between the tissues with g reat accuracy and shows whether the blood sugar will rise or fall in the next half-hour, how much it will rise or fall, and whether it is stable. These sensors have opened up a significant breakthrough, and there has become a significant difference between pricking the finger to look at the sugar and monitoring the sugar with the sensor," she said. Jones also informed that in recent years, pumpless pumps that continuously deliver insulin have arrived in the country, and with the help of artificial intelligence in the application where the sensor and pump are attached, communication is established between these devices. Jones said, "Continuous insulin delivery systems cut off insulin delivery if blood sugar is likely to drop based on the tendency to rise or fall. If blood sugar rises after eating, they balance blood sugar by injecting small doses of insulin. We can make the sensor and insulin injection pump talk with the help of artificial intelligence, ensuring that blood sugar stays within the target range . This, in my opinion, is the second turning point in diabetes treatment after the discovery of insulin. Now, with artificial intelligence entering everything, especially with the continuous application of insulin and monitoring of blood sugar, it will cause very rapid and significant changes in diabetes treatment." Making sensor and pump talk is an artificial pancreas Jones emphasized that patients want to live their lives without thinking about diabetes, stating: "In other words, we say to them, 'Our pancreas is no longer working. Instead, you will put your brain.' They will have to think continuously. 'If I eat this, how many carbohydrates will come? How much insulin should I make to lower my blood sugar? How will activity affect it?' However, these systems, with the help of artificial intelligence, recognize the diabetic, allowing them to continue their daily life activities without thinking too much and providing a chance for a healthy life." Jones said that with artificial intelligence, days have be gun when patients do not think about their diabetes, and even from last year to this year, there has been a lot of change. "To make the sensor and pump talk is actually an artificial pancreas. Making the sensor and pump, a closed system, talk actually means being able to apply the artificial pancreas to the skin surface," she added. The professor stated that economic barriers need to be overcome for the widespread use of these systems, and diabetic children can live much healthier, longer lives with pumps and sensors and can lead normal lives.

Source: EN - Anadolu Agency