ScienceScope

Science  11 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5617, pp. 227
  1. India, WHO Attack Polio

    NEW DELHI—Calling India “the number one priority for stopping the transmission of polio,” WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland this week traveled to the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to launch a final assault on the disease. With 55 new cases already this year, Brundtland says that “Uttar Pradesh is the epicenter” of a global battle to eradicate polio by 2005.

    CREDIT: P. BAGLA

    India joins Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, and Somalia as the only countries with indigenous wild polio, and last year it was home to five of every six new cases. Uttar Pradesh was also the source of outbreaks in two other Indian provinces, and this winter a Lebanese youth who never left his village was paralyzed by a virus traced back to India.

    WHO officials say the latest epidemic is the result of fewer vaccination campaigns than planned and a failure to achieve blanket coverage during home visits. This year officials hope to reach every child under 5 in six campaigns. Although Brundtland says that “we have the tools and the strategies to finish this job,” WHO remains $275 million short of what it estimates is needed to eradicate the disease.

  2. Fast Flux, R.I.P.

    PORTLAND, OREGON—After displaying more lives than a cat, the Fast Flux Test Facility, a nuclear research reactor in Hanford, Washington, has finally run out of luck. A federal appeals court in San Francisco last week denied a local group's bid to keep the Department of Energy reactor on standby for possible conversion to a for-profit producer of medical radioactive isotopes.

    The research reactor went online in 1980 but was shut down just 12 years later because of high operating costs. The government has since spent about $35 million a year to keep the reactor idle while searching for possible new missions, such as producing tritium for nuclear weapons and radioisotopes for spacecraft batteries. Those hopes came to an end this week, as workers began draining molten sodium coolant from the reactor's core. Once drained, the reactor “would be extremely hard to restart,” says Michael Turner of Fluor Hanford, the company doing the work. The shutdown could take 10 years and cost more than $600 million.

  3. World Bank Approves Russia TB Loan

    MOSCOW—Ending 4 years of wrangling, the World Bank last week approved a 6-year, $100 million loan to support Russian tuberculosis (TB) control programs.

    Russia's TB problem has exploded in the last decade, with a failing public health system contributing to 30,000 deaths from the disease annually. But a World Bank aid offer became entangled in disputes over the best way to combat the disease and who would make drug-buying decisions (Science, 11 October 2002, p. 343). The logjam was broken by agreements to blend Russian anti-TB strategies with those developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and to allow Russian officials to purchase drugs in accord with WHO guidelines.

    The new funds will be matched by $134 million from the Russian government. Initially, a treatment plan will target prisons, where TB rates are 10 times the national average, and regions struggling with drug-resistant TB strains. The World Bank is also providing $50 million to combat HIV/AIDS. The loan marks “a very important turning point,” says Olusoji Adeyi, the World Bank's lead health specialist for Europe and Central Asia. But Donna Barry of the U.S. group Partners in Health warns that Russia faces “an infectious-disease mix no other country has experienced.”

  4. Science Board Budget Draws Blanks at Hearing

    This year Congress gave the National Science Board (NSB) its own budget and encouraged the White House-appointed panel to become a more independent overseer of the National Science Foundation (NSF). So legislators are understandably ticked off by the president's failure to include it in his 2004 budget request.

    “What happened to the $3.5 million [for the board]?” Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), who chairs the Senate panel that controls NSF's budget, asked NSF Director Rita Colwell and NSB Chair Warren Washington at a hearing last week. “I assume that it was an oversight that will be straightened out.” An Administration official explained later that the money was folded into NSF's $5.4 billion request for 2004 because Congress hadn't finished work on the 2003 budget.

    Washington said that the board will pass along its budget suggestions next month, after discussing its needs. “Don't wait too long,” cautioned Bond, who also advised the board to hire its own general counsel.

  5. SARS Scuttles Major Meeting

    The rugs had been rolled out and PA systems were being tested in Toronto, Canada, when the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) decided last week to pull the plug on its annual meeting. Officials feared putting the 16,000 participants and their patients back home at risk of SARS, a disease that has sickened almost 100 people and killed 70 in Ontario (see related story, p. 224). Many scientists had already canceled plans to attend the 5 to 9 April meeting, says AACR executive officer Margaret Foti.

    The association is looking for a new venue to stage the $7.5 million event sometime within the next 3 months—“a heroic challenge,” Foti says. Meanwhile, many members are in a “state of shock,” she adds. “Some people have built their internal clocks around this meeting.” AACR is hoping that insurance will cover financial losses

  6. Panel Knocks U.K. Plan

    LONDON—The U.K.'s ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions has taken another blow. A House of Commons science panel last week said the government lacks the “passion and commitment” to reach its goals. In February, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government unveiled a plan to curb carbon dioxide output by 60% over the next 50 years by boosting renewable-energy supplies. It also called for abandoning nuclear energy (Science, 28 February, p. 1291). But the new House of Commons report concludes that both public funding and current incentives for private investment are “wholly insufficient” to meet the goal. It also says fossil fuels would be needed to fill the gap created by closing nuclear stations. The government declined to comment.

  7. French AIDS Agency Lives

    PARIS—A campaign to save France's AIDS research agency appears to have succeeded. The governing council of the National Agency for AIDS Research (ANRS) last week voted unanimously to extend the organization's mandate for another 6 years. The move quashed rumors that ANRS, which was created in 1992 and has an annual budget of about $40 million, was on the budgetary chopping block (Science, 7 February, p. 799). Researchers had mounted an online petition drive in support of the agency.

    In a statement, the ANRS council said it recognized the “necessity of extending the agency's mission,” particularly in the areas of “basic research and vaccine research.”