Thursday, September 24, 2009

HIV vaccine promise

My uncle once joked that this blog should be called 'reasons to be cautiously optimistic'! Well, that moniker could well apply to today's linked article from the Bangkok Post. The world's largest and longest HIV vaccine trial - conducted in Thailand - has just released some promising outcomes, showing that trial participants who received the experimental vaccine were 31% less likely to be infected with HIV over the 6 year trial period than those who received a placebo. So, not good enough to use more widely - but the kind of modest success that could yield significant clues as to what might work better. And with more focused research we may just get an HIV vaccine that bit quicker. Definitely a reason to be cautiously optimistic...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Planting the seeds of hope

What a wonderful story this is from the BBC! It's about an Indian civil servant, SM Raju, who just led an effort to break the world record for the number of trees planted in one day - but that's really the least of his achievements. He took advantage of an Indian government commitment to guarantee families living below the poverty line 100 days of work a year, and used monies from this program to employ villagers to plant and protect trees. In his state, Bihar, almost half the population is below the poverty line, and on 30 August alone 300,000 of them planted trees that they will tend over the coming years in return for a living wage. SM Raju's initiative not only has environmental and economic benefits, it brings hope to communities that had been hopeless. As a result, fewer people are moving away from the area. And with his success story attracting more attention to the government policy that made it possible, it's quite likely others across the country will seek to replicate it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go, tennis mother!

I can't help but rave about Kim Clijsters - along with the article linked above from the New York Times! What a woman! After retiring from her tennis career, having a baby girl and raising her through her first 18 months of life, Kim returned to tennis this summer and today won the US Open women's singles title. On the way, she claimed victory over both the Williams sisters (quite a feat in itself) and several other top-seeded players, though she was at the tournament on a wildcard. She really is an inspiration - such character, dedication and grace. In a tournament that has seen a few tantrums on court, there were none today - from either Clijsters or her toddler daughter. Just some good tennis, and a great comeback story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Improving health and cutting crime

Poor RTBH has been neglected of late. Sorry about that! I've found recently that my creative, intellectual and emotional energy has been sucked into a range of other things - but I have to say that I've also struggled to find compelling, positive news. The continued anxiety around the world's financial and economic situation seems to have infected reporting on other issues. Perhaps the mood will lift a little now that a few big economies seem to be pulling themselves out of recession? Or perhaps reporters and readers alike will grow weary of the gloom and push towards optimism and hope... Who knows.

Anyway - I did find this interesting story today, in Newsweek (linked from the title above). It's a tantalizing piece on the ways in which some aspects of US healthcare reform may have knock-on social benefits. Specifically, there is evidence from pilot programs that home visits by nurses to support disadvantaged and teenage mothers have helped to cut crime. How? Well, it seems that the assistance given to mothers helped them stay healthy and happy and also reduced substance dependence. This translated into kids that were less likely to commit crime, being arrested half as often and convicted 80% less than similar children whose mothers weren't supported. It's a very interesting approach - and it's in the current draft US healthcare bill... though only time will tell if it'll stay there. Definitely one to watch.


RTBH reader Karn just sent me something very cool. It's a film about how thousands of Estonian volunteers cleared their nation of garbage in just a day last year. It's 5 minutes long and well worth a watch - very inspirational and translatable to many other contexts. In fact, Karn tells me that Portugal is planning a similar event in March 2010. Hopeful happenings are infectious, it seems! Thanks, Karn!