Thursday, March 03, 2005

That's the Way the Money Goes 

Always this-a-way:
The US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be used for torture . . . .

One document, a research contract between the Office of Naval Research and the University of Florida in Gainesville, US, is entitled "Sensory consequences of electromagnetic pulses emitted by laser induced plasmas".

It concerns so-called Pulsed Energy Projectiles (PEPs), which fire a laser pulse that generates a burst of expanding plasma when it hits something solid, like a person. The weapon, destined for use in 2007, could literally knock rioters off their feet.

The contract, heavily censored before release, asks researchers to look for "optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor activation" - in other words, cause the maximum pain possible. Studies on cells grown in the lab will identify how much pain can be inflicted on someone before causing injury or death . . . .

According to a 2003 review of non-lethal weapons by the US Naval Studies Board, which advises the navy and marine corps, PEPs produced "pain and temporary paralysis" in tests on animals. This appears to be the result of an electromagnetic pulse produced by the expanding plasma which triggers impulses in nerve cells. John Wood of University College London, UK, an expert in how the brain perceives pain, says the researchers involved in the project should face censure. "It could be used for torture," he says, "the [researchers] must be aware of this."

Amanda Williams, a clinical psychologist at University College London, fears that victims risk long-term harm. "Persistent pain can result from a range of supposedly non-destructive stimuli which nevertheless change the functioning of the nervous system," she says. She is concerned that studies of cultured cells will fall short of demonstrating a safe level for a plasma burst. "They cannot tell us about the pain and psychological consequences of such a painful experience."
Rarely that-a-way:
Three of the four million newborn babies that die every year could be saved with low-cost, low-tech care, scientists and health agencies are urging. It would require initial investment to provide the extra clinics and midwife training needed to achieve these vast improvements, but even simple, cheap measures such as health education and tetanus immunisation could save one million babies each year - 99% of whom live in developing countries . . . .

The scientists looked at the cost of integrating various intervention methods into current health programmes. They found that a combination of 16 low-technology interventions could save almost three-quarters of the four million babies that die every year if everyone could access them.

Even with 90% coverage, two thirds of the deaths could be prevented. Many of the 500,000 women that die during or soon after childbirth every year could also be saved.

The interventions range from educating women to keep premature babies against their chests and to feed them only with breast milk to providing emergency care during obstructed or breech labours. The provision of early care for babies that develop infections was also stressed, along with teaching birth attendants how to resuscitate babies that stop breathing . . . .

[I]n many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, almost 60% of women attend at least two antenatal clinic visits, but only 42% have the two 20-cent injections to immunise against tetanus, which still accounts for 7% of neonatal deaths. Small changes to address these issues could save almost one million babies every year, they suggest. "We don't have to hold our breath and wait until a pot full of money arrives," says Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF.

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