Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 16 August 2023

Wildfires ravage Hawaii’s Maui Island

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

The images of the aftermath of the devastating fire in Hawaii’s Maui Island have grabbed the world’s attention. The wildfires, which have already killed nearly 100 people and left thousands homeless, have become part of a wider global list of unusually intense blazes that have raged across EuropeCanada and the United States.

What happened in Hawaii

  • Hawaii is no stranger to fires, which burn on a smaller scale with some regularity, especially in the drier parts of the island.
  • The current fires – active in Lahaina, Upcountry and Pūlehu/Kīhei – are believed to have started with the one in Lahaina spreading quickly across the town.
  • The exact cause of the fires is still under investigation, but experts agree that the fires were bolstered by strong winds from Category-4 Hurricane Dora, which was passing through the Pacific Ocean – far to the southwest of the island.
  • Low humidity and dry vegetation too precipitated the issue. Initial reports suggest that the changing land-use patterns in Hawaii, which has seen farm and forest lands being replaced by flammable non-native species of grasses like Guinea grass, are a likely cause for the easy spread of the fire.
  • Over the past few decades, wildfire has been increasing in Hawaii as a result of changing climate, as a result of increases in invasive species, and a lot of our active agriculture going out… and becoming fallow.

What is the link between wildfires and climate change?

  • Wildfires have been a part of life on Earth, usually following a seasonal pattern during the June-August period.
  • Be it natural or human-made, the phenomenon is a critical part of the ecosystem. A healthy fire is key to ensuring that forests remain robust and resilient.
  • It also aids the natural replenishment of nutrients in the soilhelps sunlight reach the forest floors, and encourages the germination of seeds.
  • It is the increasingly intense nature of the wildfires – aided by the warming weatherdry conditions and change in rain cycles – that is now becoming a source of worry.
  • Experts have compared it akin to the difference between throwing a lighted matchstick on a pile of wet, green wood and on dry kindling. And increasingly, climate change is determining the degree of dryness of the latter.
  • Besides the destruction of lives and livelihoods, these catastrophic wildfires also release an immense amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • There is also one immediate issue – these immense fires contribute adversely to air pollution, leading to long-term and short-term respiratory issuesheart disease and lung cancer.


Isro’s space probe to study the Sun

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) released images of the Aditya-L1 mission — the space agency’s first attempt to study the Sun. The satellite has reached the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, for its integration with the launch vehicle, PSLV.

What is the Aditya-L1 mission?

  • The Aditya-L1 will observe the Sun from a close distance, and try to obtain information about its atmosphere and magnetic field.
  • It’s equipped with seven payloads (instruments) on board to study the Sun’s coronasolar emissionssolar winds and flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), and will carry out round-the-clock imaging of the Sun.

Why is studying the Sun important?

  • Every planet, including Earth and the exoplanets beyond the Solar Systemevolves — and this evolution is governed by its parent star.
  • The solar weather and environment affect the weather of the entire system. Variations in this weather can change the orbits of satellites or shorten their lives, interfere with or damage onboard electronics, and cause power blackouts and other disturbances on Earth. Knowledge of solar events is key to understanding space weather.
  • To learn about and track Earth-directed storms, and to predict their impact, continuous solar observations are needed.
  • Every storm that emerges from the Sun and heads towards Earth passes through L1, and a satellite placed in the halo orbit around L1 of the Sun-Earth system has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any occultation/eclipses.
  • L1 refers to Lagrangian/Lagrange Point 1, one of five points in the orbital plane of the Earth-Sun system. Lagrange Points, named after Italian-French mathematician Josephy-Louis Lagrange, are positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two-body system (like the Sun and the Earth) produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion.
  • These can be used by spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position. The L1 point is home to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite (SOHO), an international collaboration project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • The L1 point is about 1.5 million km from Earth, or about one-hundredth of the way to the Sun. Aditya L1 will perform continuous observations looking directly at the Sun.
  • NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, has already gone far closer — but it will be looking away from the Sun.
  • The earlier Helios 2 solar probe, a joint venture between NASA and the space agency of erstwhile West Germany, went within 43 million km of the Sun’s surface in 1976.


Rule to prescribe generic drugs

GS Paper - 3 (Health and Diseases)

After the National Medical Commission notified new guidelines on professional conduct recently, doctors have been protesting one of the stipulations — using generic names of medicines on the prescription instead of a particular brand name. The Indian Medical Association, the largest body of doctors in the country, said in a statement this was akin to “running trains without tracks.

What do the guidelines say?

  • The guidelines say that doctors can only write the generic names of the medicine on the prescription.
  • For example, a doctor will have to prescribe paracetamol for fever, instead of Dolo or Calpol Every RMP should prescribe drugs using generic names written legibly, the guidelines say.
  • This practice can only be relaxed for medicines with narrow therapeutic index (drugs where a small difference in dosage may lead to adverse outcomes), biosimilars (a different version of biologic products that are manufactured in living systems), and “similar other exceptional cases.”
  • The guideline says that generic medicines, on average, are 30% to 80% cheaper than the branded versions, and are hence likely to bring down healthcare costs.

What does it mean for you?

  • The new guidelines do not allow doctors to write a specific brand, which means that you will get whichever medicine with the relevant active ingredient your pharmacist stocks.
  • If a pharmacy does not have a generic version of a medicine — which drug stores usually do not stock because of very low profit margins — the responsibility to substitute it with a branded medicine will shift to the pharmacist instead of the doctor. This will promote brands that have good profit margins, irrespective of how good they are.
  • Additionally, doctors say it will also take away their choice of prescribing the medicine they think is the best for a patient.
  • Taken in the context of the quality of generics varying across companies, this could result in ineffective treatment.

What are the issues with generic medicines?

  • Doctorsdrug manufacturers, and the government all agree that there is much to be done when it comes to the quality of generic medicines in the country.
  • While the doctors in the IMA statement said that only 0.1% medicines are tested for quality checks, manufacturers said it is not possible for the government to test every batch, but following good manufacturing practices to the T can assure quality by design.
  • Many have also questioned the tests that a company needs to do to get approval. Until a few years ago, it was not mandatory for companies making generics to carry out bio-equivalence or stability studies.
  • Bioequivalence studies are done to show that the generic drug elicits the same response as a branded version.
  • Stability studies are done to see how the quality of the drug varies over a period under specific environmental conditions.
  • Experts from the pharmaceutical sector admit that there are drugs still in the market that never underwent these studies.
  • Data from the Union health ministry shows that around 3% of all medicines tested over the last three years — including genericsbranded generics, and branded medicines — were found to be not of standard quality.

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