Current Affairs (10th May 2021)
‘Black fungus’ in Covid patients
- A rare but serious fungal infection, known as mucormycosis and colloquially as “black fungus”, is being detected relatively frequently among Covid-19 patients in some states.
- The disease often manifests in the skin and affects the lungs and the brain.
- With several mucormycosis cases detected in Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat, experts in the national Covid-19 task force recently issued an evidence-based advisory on the disease.
- Although rare, it is a serious infection. It is caused by a group of moulds known as mucormycetes present naturally in the environment.
- It mainly affects people who are on medication for health problems that reduces their ability to fight environmental pathogens.
- Sinuses or lungs of such individuals get affected after they inhale fungal spores from the air. Doctors in some states have noted a rise in cases of mucormycosis among people hospitalized or recovering from Covid 19, with some requiring urgent surgery.
- Usually, mucormycetes does not pose a major threat to those with a healthy immune system.
- Warning signs include pain and redness around the eyes or nose, with fever, headache, coughing, shortness of breath, bloody vomits, and altered mental status. According to the advisory, infection with mucormycetes should be suspected when there is:
- Sinusitis — nasal blockade or congestion, nasal discharge (blackish/bloody);
- Local pain on the cheek bone, one-sided facial pain, numbness or swelling
- Blackish discoloration over bridge of nose/palate
- Loosening of teeth, jaw involvement;
- Blurred or double vision with pain;
- Thrombosis, necrosis, skin lesion;
- Chest pain, pleural effusion, worsening of respiratory symptoms.
- While it is treated with antifungals, mucormycosis may eventually require surgery. To maintain adequate systemic hydration, the treatment includes infusion of normal saline (IV) before infusion of amphotericin B and antifungal therapy, for at least 4-6 weeks.
What is mucormycosis?
- Mucormycosis, commonly called black fungus, is a rare but serious fungal infection caused by a kind of fungus called mucormycete, which is abundant in the environment.
- It mainly affects people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness.
- Vulnerable groups include people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness. These include those with diabetes, cancer, or those who have had an organ transplant.
Four vacation Benches
- Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana nominated four separate Benches of the Supreme Court to sit consecutively in May 2021, to hear extremely urgent cases.
- The decision to have two separate Division Benches sitting in a week during vacations is significant because petitions may be filed concerning COVID management and connected human rights issues.
- The Vacation Benches will hear the cases virtually.
What is Vacation Bench of Supreme Court?
- A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court is a special bench constituted by the Chief Justice of India.
- The court takes two long vacations each year, the summer and winter breaks, but is technically not fully closed during these periods.
- Litigants can still approach the Supreme Court and, if the court decides that the plea is an urgent matter, the Vacation Bench hears the case on its merits.
- While there is no specific definition as to what an “urgent matter” is, during vacations the court generally admits writs related to habeas corpus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto matters for enforcement of any fundamental right.
Welfare of children
- The Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee, in coordination with UNICEF, has highlighted the need to urgently provide care and protect children suddenly made vulnerable by the loss of one or both parents due to the second wave of COVID-19.
- The Supreme Court has been nudging the Centre to prepare for the third wave of the pandemic.
- Recently, a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had highlighted reports that children would be affected in the third wave.
- The Juvenile Justice Committee has noted the need for concerted efforts to provide interim care for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or even left unaccompanied in their own homes.
- Setting up of State-level nodal officers and a district task force for rapid response for the care and protection of such children.
- Sponsorship for children who had lost parent/s or bread-earners or were facing economic hardship.
- Clear guidance has to be published on steps to be taken in the event when such children in an extremely vulnerable state had been exposed to the virus or showed symptoms of infection. Care measures for their isolation and treatment needed to be stepped up.
- Childcare institutions should be declared “essential services”.
- The caregivers and employees of childcare institutions — both government and private — should be vaccinated as frontline professionals.
- The state should focus on ensuring heightened medical watch for children in institutional care.
E.U., India relaunch FTA talks
- The meeting was held in a hybrid format with the participation of leaders of all the 27 EU Member States as well as the President of the European Council and the European Commission.
- This is the first time that the EU hosted a meeting with India in the EU+27 format. The EU+27 have met in this format only once before, with the US President in March this year.
- During the meeting, the leaders exchanged views on three key thematic areas: i) foreign policy and security; ii) COVID-19, climate and environment; and iii) trade, connectivity and technology.
Free Trade Agreement (FTA):
- It is a significant political milestone and will further build on the momentum witnessed in the relationship since the 15th India-EU Summit in July 2020. The meeting was the initiative of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
- India and the European Union have agreed to relaunch free trade negotiations by resuming talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
- The talks had begun in 2007, and stalled in 2013, over differences on issues like market access issues, and tariffs by India on products like wine, dairy, and automotive parts, as well as E.U. resistance over visas for Indian professionals.
- India and the E.U. have agreed to work towards a balanced, comprehensive, and mutually beneficial trade agreement.
- They would also launch negotiations for a stand-alone investment protection agreement and a separate agreement on “geographical indications” pertaining to intellectual property rights.
- In 2005, India had scrapped all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). This has posed hurdles for new E.U. investments in India.
- The relaunched talks would be steered by the recently set up High-Level dialogue between Indian Commerce Minister and his counterpart, EU Trade Commissioner.
- The relaunch of free trade talks holds immense importance amid the USA negotiations with China on their Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) have run into trouble.
- The Connectivity Partnership document outlines plans to cooperate on digital and infrastructure projects.
- The partnership is seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- The India-E.U. connectivity partnership has committed the two sides to work together on digital, energy, transport, people to people connectivity that was transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, with a rules-based approach.
Temporary waiver for TRIPS:
- India has failed to secure the support of the European leaders for its proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for patent waivers for COVID vaccine.
- The support of a major bloc like the E.U. is crucial to passing the resolution at the WTO by consensus.
- Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted permission for emergency use of an anti-COVID-19 therapeutic application of the 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG).
- The order allows for emergency use of the drug as adjunct therapy in moderate to severe COVID-19 patients.
- The drug comes in powder form in sachets and is taken orally by dissolving it in water.
- It selectively accumulates in virally infected cells and prevents their growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production.
- The drug has been developed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) in collaboration with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Hyderabad.
- INMAS is a lab of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
- Clinical trial results have shown that this drug helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence.
- This will help ease the acute bed shortage and help reduce medical oxygen demand to a great extent.
- The drug being a generic molecule and analogue of glucose, it can be easily produced and made available in plenty in the country.
Conflict and Conservation Report
- International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report titled “Conflict and Conservation” that focuses on the complex relationships between nature and armed conflict.
Objective of the Report:
- To help bring the importance of nature conservation into mainstream political and economic decision-making.
- Major threats posed by the conflict:
(a) Direct killing of wildlife
(b) Degradation of ecosystems
(c) Disruption of conservation efforts
- Armed conflicts were particularly prevalent in some of the world’s more biodiverse regions.
- Conflicts were less frequent within the boundaries of natural reserves and other protected areas.
- Degradation of nature was associated with increased risk of conflict.
- Conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural resources can help reduce the pressures that drive conflict by improving the condition and productivity of the landscape.
- Establishing safeguards for staff in protected areas and other conservationists.
- Sanctions against those who commit environmental war.
- Coordinate law enforcement efforts across sectors and scales to strengthen prevention and mitigation.