Daily Current Affairs : 29th and 30th December 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
  2. RT-LAMP (Reverse Transcriptase loop-mediated isothermal amplification) technology
  3. Cyclone Tracking
  4. Issue of Non-allopathic doctors performing Surgery
  5. Dams in Brahmaputra
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)


Context : India will host the Heads of Government (HoG) council meeting of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on Monday, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not attend the meeting, which will be chaired by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu instead. “It will be the first time that a Summit-level Meeting will be held under India’s Chairmanship, since it gained full membership of the organization in 2017.

About SCO

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation founded in 2001 in Shanghai (China)
  • The SCO was built on the ‘Shanghai Five’ grouping of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz Republic) and Tajikistan, which had come together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops, and terrorism.

Members

  • SCO comprises eight member states, namely the Republic of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan;
  • SCO counts four observer states, namely the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, the Islamic Republic of Iran and  the Republic of Mongolia;
  • SCO has six dialogue partners, namely the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the Republic of Turkey, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

Main goals

  • The SCO’s main goals are as follows: strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

Administration

  • According to its rules, the organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
  • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years.
  • However, the venue of the SCO council meetings moves between the eight members (including India and Pakistan).
  • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO.
  • The SCO Heads of Government Council (HGC) meets once a year to discuss the organisation’s multilateral cooperation strategy and priority areas, to resolve current important economic and other cooperation issues, and also to approve the organisation’s annual budget.
  • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.

2 . RT-LAMP (Reverse Transcriptase loop-mediated isothermal amplification) technology


Context : The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes the Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) and this pandemic. It is highly infective, and everyday thousands of people are newly infected. Since there is no vaccine or cure for the novel coronavirus infection till today, there is a strong need for rapid, specific and sensitive SARS-CoV-2 detection technology to control and contain the virus.

Current method

  • The current method for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis is the real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test which detects the presence of viral nucleic acids in nasopharyngeal swab samples.

Issues with the current method

  • The test requires complex and costly equipment.
  • It requires extensive training for potential users. As the specificity and sensitivity of the test is about 95%, there is a possibility of false negative results. The turnaround time is about 10 hours, so that the result will be available only by the next day. In remote places, the turnaround time further increases depending on the distance the samples need to travel. In short, the RT-PCR does not have the capacity to keep pace with the increasing demand.
  • COVID-19 serology tests are also in use to detect antigens that are associated with the virus infection. These tests are easy to use with rapid results, as well as have minimal expenses. However, serology immunoassay lacks the necessary accuracy to be a reliable diagnostic test due to its low sensitivity and high false negative/positive rates.

About RT-LAMP

  • RT-LAMP (Reverse Transcriptase loop-mediated isothermal amplification) technology is a one-step nucleic acid amplification method to multiply specific sequences of RNA of the coronavirus.
  • Here, the RNA is first made into cDNA (copy DNA) by the usual reverse transcription. Then, the DNA is amplified by the LAMP technique.
  • Although the LAMP technique has been used in western countries for the past five years or more, the technique is new to the Indian IVD industry.

Advantages

  • The RT-PCR test needs different temperatures in one cycle. The temperature of the solution has to be changed from 92 degrees C to 56 degrees C and again to 72 degrees C every two minutes, and this cycle has to be repeated. Thus, the PCR test needs expensive thermal cycler as well as the real time PCR machines. On the other hand, the new RT-LAMP technology is done at 65 degrees C, where the DNA amplification is done at a constant temperature (isothermal), so that expensive thermal cycler is not required.
  • The quantity of DNA amplified in the LAMP technology is hundred thousand times more than that is taking place in PCR. Therefore the final assay is possible with a simple colour reaction, removing the need for very costly real time PCR machines.
  • An equally important advantage of the LAMP technology is that the assay is so fast that results can be obtained within 30 minutes and positive samples are amplified as early as 10 minutes. This may be compared with the PCR technique which needs 8–10 hours for completion. This means that COVID-19 testing centres can report with accuracy in substantially lower turnover time.
  • Yet another advantage of LAMP is that the reagents are to be stored at 4 degree C (ordinary fridge), whereas the PCR-based reagents are to be stored and transported at –20 degrees C, which needs deep freezers that escalate the cost.
  • The LAMP technology does not need laborious preparation as in the case of RT-PCR. LAMP is cost effective and does not need complex expensive equipment. Assays can be performed with minimum skill and minimum infrastructure.

Recently validated

  • The LAMP technology has been recently validated by the Indian Council of Medical Research with sensitivity 98.7% and specificity 100%.
  • Thus the LAMP technology is superior to the PCR technology–based COVID-19 kits where specificity is around 95% only. Thus, in the case of LAMP-based kits, the Positive predictive value is 100% and Negative predictive value is 98.8% with accuracy of 99.38%.

3 . Cyclone Forecasting


Context : Cyclone Nivar, that barrelled through Tamil Nadu and brought copious rain in its wake, was the third major cyclone to land on India’s coast this year, besides Amphan and Nisarga. The Nivar storm originated in the Bay of Bengal and whipped up windspeeds close to 125-145 kmph, blowing away roofs and felling standing crop. However, relatively fewer lives were lost compared to the havoc wreaked by Amphan in West Bengal in May. What aided relief operations in the anticipation of Nivar was that it largely conformed to forecasts issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

How are cyclones forecast?

  • Over the years, India’s ability to track the formation of cyclones has improved significantly. There is a network of 12 doppler weather radars (DWR) along India’s coast and there are 27 in all in the country.
  • Depending on where a storm is forming, these radars send pulses of radio waves to gauge the size as well as the speed at which water droplets are moving.
  • The earlier generation of radars was unable to track such progress in real time, but with DWRs, now the base standard of weather radars, it is usually possible to detect a potential storm at least four-five days in advance.
  • The IMD also collaborates with similar international networks, such as the Japan Meteorological Agency, the U.S. National Hurricane Center, and the U.S. Central Pacific Hurricane Center, and these bodies constantly send warnings and forecasts about changes in the ocean weather.
  • The near ubiquity of ocean-buoys that track changes in ocean sea surface temperatures as well as dedicated meteorological satellites improve the odds of early detection.

How has disaster warning changed?

  • Forecasts, on their own, are important, but they cannot override the importance of preparedness by State agencies.
  • The formation of cyclones is preceded by ‘depressions’, and they are often the first warnings.
  • Not all depressions become cyclones, but many coastal States — especially those with a history of being battered — begin organising shelters and evacuation of coastal residents. Sea pockets, where cyclones form, are also places that drive schools of fish and lure fisherfolk.
  • While meteorological agencies give advisories on where fish-catches are likely, they suspend such advisories during storm formation to dissuade fishermen from venturing out. The ubiquity of mobile communication makes it much easier to quickly give warnings.
  • The IMD also issues flood forecast maps, in collaboration with urban bodies that forecast which pockets in a city are likely to be flooded and where crop damage is likely to be maximum.

4 . Issue of Non-allopathic doctors performing Surgery


Context : Central Council of Indian Medicine, a statutory body set up under the AYUSH Ministry to regulate Indian systems of medicine, issued a gazette notification allowing postgraduate (PG)Ayurvedic practitioners to receive formal training for a variety of general surgery, ENT, ophthalmology and dental procedures. The decision follows the amendment to the Indian Medicine Central Council (Post Graduate Ayurveda Education) Regulations, 2016, to allow PG students of Ayurveda to practise general surgery.

Is allowing non-allopathic doctors to perform surgery legally and medically tenable?

  • The passing of the National Medical Commission Act in 2019 allowed for the formalisation of proposals to induct mid-level care providers — Community Health Providers — in primary healthcare in India, who would serve at health and wellness centres across the country, and focus on primary healthcare provision, with a limited range of medicines allowed for them to use for treatment of patients.
  • This move had also attracted strong opposition from modern medicine practitioners, who branded this as a form of quackery through half-baked doctors. Several countries have been using mid-level care providers, such as nurse practitioners, to enhance the access to healthcare, though with strict safeguards around training, certification, and standards.
  • The current debate revolves around the Central Council of Indian Medicine issuing amendments to the Indian Medicine Central Council (Post Graduate Ayurvedic Education) Regulations, 2016, to allow postgraduates students in Ayurveda undergoing ‘Shalya’ (general surgery) and ‘Shalakya’ (dealing with eye, ear, nose, throat, head and neck, oro-dentistry) to perform 58 specified surgical procedures.
  • This was immediately opposed by many allopathic professionals, with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) decrying it as a mode of allowing mixing of systems of medicine by using terms from allopathy.
  • The AYUSH Ministry subsequently clarified that the ‘Shalya’ and ‘Shalakya’ postgraduates were already learning these procedures in their (surgical) departments in Ayurvedic medical colleges as per their training curriculum, and the amendment merely added clarity and definitions to the 2016 regulations concerning post-graduate Ayurveda education.

Can short-term training equip them to conduct surgeries and will this dilute the medicine standards in India?

  • As such, the postgraduate Ayurvedic surgical training is not short-term but a formal three-year course. Whether the surgeries conducted in Ayurvedic medical colleges and hospitals have the same standards and outcomes as allopathic institutions requires explication and detailed formal enquiry, in the interest of patient safety.

Will non-allopathic doctors who have undergone training be restricted to practise in rural areas having poor doctor-patient ratios?

  • As of now, no such restriction exists that limits non-allopathic doctors, including those doing Ayurvedic surgical postgraduation, to rural areas. They have the same rights as allopathic graduates and postgraduates to practise in any setting of their choice.

With allopathic surgeons often unwilling to practise in rural areas, how can this problem be solved?

  • The shortage and unwillingness of allopathic doctors, including surgeons, to serve in rural areas is now a chronic issue. The government has tried to address this by mechanisms such as rural bonds, a quota for those who have served in rural service in postgraduate seats, as well as, more recently, a plan to work on increasing the number of medical colleges and postgraduate seats.
  • However, we would probably still continue to fall short of enough trained specialists in rural areas. We need to explore creative ways of addressing this gap by evidence-based approaches, such as task-sharing, supported by efficient and quality referral mechanisms.
  • The advent of mid-level healthcare providers, such as Community Health Providers in many States, is also an opportunity to shift some elements of healthcare (preventive, promotive, and limited curative) to these providers, while ensuring clarity of role and career progression.

Is it sensible to allow Ayurvedic surgeons to only assist allopathic surgeons, rather than perform surgeries themselves?

  • The AYUSH streams are recognised systems of medicine, and as such are allowed to independently practise medicine. They have medical colleges with both undergraduate and postgraduate training, which include surgical disciplines for some systems, such as Ayurveda.
  • There is, however, a difference in approach in the systems of medicine, and hence models, which allow for cross-pathy. An apprenticeship model for Ayurvedic surgeons working with allopathic surgeons might fall into a regulatory grey zone. It might require re-training Ayurvedic practitioners in the science of surgical approaches in modern medicine. Even then, there might be a limit to what they are allowed to do. Any such experiment can put patient safety in peril, and hence, will need careful oversight and evaluation.

Can this lead to substandard care?

  • Many patients prefer to receive treatment exclusively from AYUSH providers, while some approach this form of treatment as a complement to the existing allopathic treatment they are receiving. For invasive procedures, like surgery, the risk element can be high. Patients have a right to know and understand who their surgeon would be, what system of medicine they belong to, and their expertise and level of training. There should not be a difference in quality of care between urban and rural patients — everyone deserves a right to quality and evidence-based care from trained professionals.

5 . Dams in Brahmaputra


Context : China’s media reported on Sunday that authorities have given the go-ahead for a Chinese hydropower company to construct the first downstream dam on the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river, or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in Tibet, marking a new phase in China’s hydropower exploitation of the river with potential ramifications for India.

About the Project

  • A report in the Chinese media said the State-owned hydropower company POWERCHINA had last month signed “a strategic cooperation agreement” with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government to “implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River” as part of the new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).
  • China in 2015 operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed, all on the upper and middle reaches of the river. This will be the first time the downstream sections of the river will be tapped.

Importance of Brahmaputra

  • As far as India is concerned, its basin is a critical water source for Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Nagaland and West Bengal, and deemed one among 12 hotspots of mega biodiversity globally as per the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
  • The Brahmaputra valley is the lifeblood of several indigenous communities who rely on it to sustain cattle-raising, crop cultivation, fishing, irrigation and river transport. 

Impact of Dam construction

  • Proposals for dams on the Brahmaputra have evoked concerns in India and Bangladesh, the riparian states. As a lower riparian State with considerable established user rights to the waters of the trans-border rivers, the Indian government has consistently conveyed its views and concerns to the Chinese authorities and has urged them to ensure that the interests of downstream States are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas.
  • The ability to control water flowing from the Brahmaputra raises serious questions over whether China may effectively weaponise these dams to divert water flow and starve downstream communities in India

6 . Facts for Prelims


Diabetes

  • Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. 
  • Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.
  • The most common types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
    • Type 1 diabetes : If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. Your immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.
    • Type 2 diabetes : If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin well. You can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, this type of diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.
  • As per Diabetics Atlas published by International Diabetes Foundation One in six people with diabetes in the world is from India. The numbers place the country among the top 10 countries for people with diabetes, coming in at number two with an estimated 77 million diabetics. China leads the list with over 116 million diabetics.

Quartz

  • Quartz is a hard, crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms. Some of the varieties are semi-precious stones.
  • The term ‘quartz’ is often referred to as a synonym for silica. Silica (SiO2) is one of the ubiquitous materials in the earth’s crust.
  • Quartz, quartz crystals, quartzite, silica sand, sand (others) and moulding sand are all coined together in one generic name ‘silica minerals’. This is because all these commodities are essentially crystalline silicon dioxide (SiO2) with variations mostly related to their crystalline structure and presence of minor or trace impurities. Silica occurs in several forms giving rise to different varieties
  • Quartz has a wide variety of applications. Quartz crystals are used in making gemstones and jewelry, whereas quartz sand is used in making glasses and bricks. Quartz is also used in the manufacture of quartz resonators. These resonators are utilized as high-performance resonators and can be found in filters and oscillators.

Vasoplegia

  • Vasoplegia, where “vaso” refers to blood vessels and “plegia” stands for paralysis, is a condition where the patient exhibits a low blood pressure, even in the presence of normal or increased output of blood from the heart.
  • When this occurs as a complication of cardiopulmonary bypass surgery, there is a chance that it can lead to multiple organ failure and even death.

A new species of lizard

  • A new species of lizard, the smallest known Indian gekkonid, has been discovered in the Eastern Ghats. Studies show that the species belonged to the genus Cnemaspis. In India, 45 diverse species of Cnemaspis have been found, of which 34 are from the Western Ghats.
  • The newly discovered dwarf gecko – Cnemaspis avasabinae is the twelfth species to be discovered outside the Western Ghats and also the first species reported from the Velikonda Range in Andhra Pradesh.
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