Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

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The 51-year-old University of Cape Town researcher had been suffering from depression, and his death has prompted reflection on being a black academic in South Africa.

Bongani Mayosi, a prominent cardiologist and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, died of suicide on July 27. He was 51.

“In the last two years he has battled with depression and on that day [Friday] took the desperate decision to end his life,” his family said in a statement at the time, News24 reports. “We are still struggling to come to terms with this devastating loss.”

Born in 1967, Mayosi grew up under apartheid in the Transkei region of South Africa. Homeschooled by his mother as a child, he later studied medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, incorporating a year of research to qualify for a BMedSci degree. In 1998, he won a fellowship to join the PhD program in the department of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford.

Upon returning to South Africa a few years later, Bongani worked on a number of projects, including searching for the genetic mutations underpinning arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy to identifying risk factors involved in cardiovascular disease. In 2006, at 38 years old, he became the first black person to chair the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

His career over the next decade would be marked by several awards recognizing his contributions to cardiology. In 2007, he was named one of the top 25 “influential leaders in healthcare in South Africa,” and, two years later, received the Order of Mapungubwe, South Africa’s highest honor. In 2017, he was elected to the US National Academy of Medicine.

Becoming dean in 2016, Mayosi was responsible for handling part of the university’s response to a tumultuous period of student unrest across the country. In a letter published on News24, the university’s vice chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng writes that during that period, Mayosi’s “office was occupied for about two weeks in 2016. He had to manage pressure coming from many different directions, including from staff and students.” Over the next two years, Mayosi suffered from depression and took time off from his position; he resigned twice, but was persuaded to change his mind.

Mayosi’s death has led colleagues to examine the external forces that might have contributed to his desperation. In early August, Johannesburg’s City Press and other outlets reported that UCT had instigated an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mayosi’s death following calls from concerned colleagues and the university’s Black Academic Caucus. In a statement on Facebook on August 2, the Caucus wrote that “it is hard for us to exclude the UCT working environment from the tragic death of our colleague, and indeed others, including students.” Many researchers and activists also highlighted challenges Mayosi faced as a black academic in South Africa.

Matshidiso Moeti, the African regional director for the World Health Organization—where Mayosi had chaired the African Advisory Committee on Health Research & Development—was one of many health officials and researchers to send condolences after news of Mayosi’s death. “We will always cherish him for his diligence and immense contribution to the development of the WHO strategy for strengthening the use of evidence, information and research for policy-making in the African Region,” she wrote.

Cardiologists Hugh Watkins of the University of Oxford and Ntobeko Ntusi of UCT write in a memorial published yesterday (September 11) in Circulation that “one of the most striking impressions from his funeral, attended by thousands of mourners who remembered him with awe and love, was the abundant evidence of his commitment to bring others with him, nurture talent, and provide the sorts of opportunity from which he had benefited. . . . We speak for many in saying that we are in awe of what Bongani achieved.”

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/celebrated-cardiologist-bongani-mayosi-dies-64787?utm_campaign=TS_DAILY%20NEWSLETTER_2018&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=65896990&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_Xn_C3066EAlU479N7jk9yk0YpvAneSzSm7Ae9hwdounQSXC6y1NB1SlSwEHpKfuJXV3J_nz64REq0mTIGy6GuyMPE0Q&_hsmi=65896990

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by Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News, Johannesburg

Scientists have discovered a new human-like species in a burial chamber deep in a cave system in South Africa. The discovery of 15 partial skeletons is the largest single discovery of its type in Africa.

The researchers claim that the discovery will change ideas about our human ancestors.

The studies which have been published in the journal Elife also indicate that these individuals were capable of ritualistic behaviour.

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong.

The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived – but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

Like all those working in the field, he is at pains to avoid the term “missing link”. Prof Berger says naledi could be thought of as a “bridge” between more primitive bipedal primates and humans.

“We’d gone in with the idea of recovering one fossil. That turned into multiple fossils. That turned into the discovery of multiple skeletons and multiple individuals.

“And so by the end of that remarkable 21-day experience, we had discovered the largest assemblage of fossil human relatives ever discovered in the history of the continent of Africa. That was an extraordinary experience.”

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum said naledi was “a very important discovery”.

“What we are seeing is more and more species of creatures that suggests that nature was experimenting with how to evolve humans, thus giving rise to several different types of human-like creatures originating in parallel in different parts of Africa. Only one line eventually survived to give rise to us,” he told BBC News.

I went to see the bones which are kept in a secure room at Witwatersrand University. The door to the room looks like one that would seal a bank vault. As Prof Berger turned the large lever on the door, he told me that our knowledge of very early humans is based on partial skeletons and the occasional skull.

he haul of 15 partial skeletons includes both males and females of varying ages – from infants to elderly. The discovery is unprecedented in Africa and will shed more light on how the first humans evolved.

“We are going to know everything about this species,” Prof Berger told me as we walked over to the remains of H. naledi.

“We are going to know when its children were weaned, when they were born, how they developed, the speed at which they developed, the difference between males and females at every developmental stage from infancy, to childhood to teens to how they aged and how they died.”

I was astonished to see how well preserved the bones were. The skull, teeth and feet looked as if they belonged to a human child – even though the skeleton was that of an elderly female.
Its hand looked human-like too, up to its fingers which curl around a bit like those of an ape.

Homo naledi is unlike any primitive human found in Africa. It has a tiny brain – about the size of a gorilla’s and a primitive pelvis and shoulders. But it is put into the same genus as humans because of the more progressive shape of its skull, relatively small teeth, characteristic long legs and modern-looking feet.

“I saw something I thought I would never see in my career,” Prof Berger told me.

“It was a moment that 25 years as a paleoanthropologist had not prepared me for.”

One of the most intriguing questions raised by the find is how the remains got there.

I visited the site of the find, the Rising Star cave, an hour’s drive from the university in an area known as the Cradle of Humankind. The cave leads to a narrow underground tunnel through which some of Prof Berger’s team crawled in an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society.

Small women were chosen because the tunnel was so narrow. They crawled through darkness lit only by their head torches on a precarious 20 minute-long journey to find a chamber containing hundreds of bones.

Among them was Marina Elliott. She showed me the narrow entrance to the cave and then described how she felt when she first saw the chamber.

“The first time I went to the excavation site I likened it to the feeling that Howard Carter must have had when he opened Tutankhamen’s tomb – that you are in a very confined space and then it opens up and all of a sudden all you can see are all these wonderful things – it was incredible,” she said.

Ms Elliott and her colleagues believe that they have found a burial chamber. The Homo naledi people appear to have carried individuals deep into the cave system and deposited them in the chamber – possibly over generations.

If that is correct, it suggests naledi was capable of ritual behaviour and possibly symbolic thought – something that until now had only been associated with much later humans within the last 200,000 years.

Prof Berger said: “We are going to have to contemplate some very deep things about what it is to be human. Have we been wrong all along about this kind of behaviour that we thought was unique to modern humans?

“Did we inherit that behaviour from deep time and is it something that (the earliest humans) have always been able to do?”

Prof Berger believes that the discovery of a creature that has such a mix of modern and primitive features should make scientists rethink the definition of what it is to be human – so much so that he himself is reluctant to describe naledi as human.

Other researchers working in the field, such as Prof Stringer, believe that naledi should be described as a primitive human. But he agrees that current theories need to be re-evaluated and that we have only just scratched the surface of the rich and complex story of human evolution.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34192447

by Richard Knox

It’s only a matter of time, some researchers are warning, before isolated cases of Ebola start turning up in developed nations, as well as hitherto-unaffected African countries.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The official count includes about 3,600 cases and 1,800 deaths across four countries.

Meanwhile, the authors of a new analysis say many countries — including the U.S. — should gear up to recognize, isolate and treat imported cases of Ebola.

The probability of seeing at least one imported case of Ebola in the U.S. is as high as 18 percent by late September, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks. That’s compared with less than 5 percent right now.

These predictions are based on the flow of airline passengers from West Africa and the difficulty of preventing an infected passenger from boarding a flight.

As with any such analysis, there’s some uncertainty. The range of a probable U.S. importation of Ebola by Sept. 22 runs from 1 percent to 18 percent. But with time — and a continuing intense outbreak in West Africa — importation is almost inevitable, the researchers told NPR.

“What is happening in West Africa is going to get here. We can’t escape that at this point,” says physicist Alessandro Vespignani, the senior author on the study, who analyzes the spread of infectious diseases at Northeastern University.

To be clear, the projection is for at least one imported case of Ebola — not for the kind of viral mayhem afflicting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“What we could expect, if there is an importation, would be very small clusters of cases, between one and three,” Vespignani says.

But the probability increases as long as the West African epidemics keep growing. And that means U.S. hospitals, doctors and public health officials need to heighten their vigilance.

The same is true for a roster of 16 other nations, from the U.K. to South Africa, which are connected to West Africa through air traffic, Vespignani and his colleagues say.

There’s a 25 to 28 percent chance that an Ebola case will turn up in the U.K. by late September. Belgium, France and Germany will have lower risk. “But it’s not negligible,” Vespignani says. “Sooner or later, they will arrive.”

The probability of imported cases in Africa is higher, not surprisingly. There’s more than a 50 percent probability Ebola will show up in the West African nation of Ghana by late September, according to the study. Gambia, Ivory Coast, Morocco, South Africa and Kenya are among 11 African countries where Ebola could pop up.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a presentation on the numbers on Tuesday. The CDC has deployed teams of personnel in West Africa to help bring Ebola under control. And here at home, the agency is charged with preparing both the U.S. medical system and the American public for the possibility that the deadly virus could sneak into this country.

Biostatistician Ira Longini from the University of Florida agrees that Ebola doesn’t pose a public health threat in the U.S. and other developed nations. But that doesn’t mean that preparation isn’t urgent.

“We certainly need to make sure that staff and leadership of American medical centers understand the implications of Ebola,” says Longini, who also worked on the study. “We need to have diagnostics in place to identify Ebola quickly. We need quite a few local labs to do this and not just rely on sending samples to the CDC. And we need to make sure isolation and quarantine of contacts takes place. If it doesn’t, we could have a small cluster of cases.”

The analysis by Longini, Vespignani and their colleagues takes into account the number of airline passengers coming from West Africa to various countries. For instance, more than 6,000 a week arrive in Britain from Nigeria, many of them originating in other African countries.

Hundreds to several thousands travel every week from West Africa to France, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, China and other countries.

The researchers calculated the impact of severe restrictions on flights from Ebola-affected regions. An 80 percent reduction in air travelers would do no more than delay the impact of Ebola by a few weeks. (A 100 percent choke-off of air travel is considered impossible.)

“Unless you can completely shut down the transportation systems, these kinds of efforts will, at best, buy you a little time,” Longini says. “And they can be quite counterproductive because you’re interrupting the flow of help, goods and services. It can make the epidemic worse in the country that’s being quarantined.”

The basic problem with confining Ebola is that, like any infectious disease, people can be infected without showing symptoms. In Ebola’s case, the average incubation period is 7 days, though it can be longer. That’s more than enough time for an infected traveler to land on the other side of the world.

Fortunately, an Ebola-infected person can’t infect others unless he’s obviously sick. At that stage, the virus can spread by direct contact with the infected person or bodily fluids. On average, each case of Ebola infects about two other people. That spread rate is similar to that of the flu, and roughly half the rate of smallpox.

Vespignani, from Northeastern University, says screening airline passengers is not going to prevent Ebola from traveling across the globe. “I don’t trust screening too much,” he says. “It’s difficult. Intercepting passengers that are really not sick is not easy.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/09/04/345767439/a-few-ebola-cases-likely-in-u-s-air-traffic-analysis-shows

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.