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Palestinian schools, health centers at risk if funding gap not plugged: UNRWA

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees said schools and health centers are at risk if it is unable to plug a $185 million funding gap needed to keep operating until the end of the year, the agency’s head said on Monday.

“Currently we have money in the bank … will last I presume somewhere into … mid October,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in New York, where world leaders are attending the annual U.N. General Assembly.

“But it’s clear that we still need approximately $185 million to be able to ensure that all of our services, education system, health care, relief and social services and our emergency work in Syria and Gaza in particular can continue until the end of the year,” Krahenbuhl said.

The United States last month announced a halt in its aid to UNRWA, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation”, a decision that further heightened tensions between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump administration.

UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.

The growing refugee count was cited by Washington, UNRWA’s biggest donor, in its decision to withhold funding.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has been critical of the U.N.’s count of Palestinian refugees. She has also questioned the “right of return” to Israel, claimed by the Palestinians as part of any eventual peace settlement.

“When you don’t tackle the underlying causes of conflict, that’s when you get 70 years of UNRWA, it’s not UNRWA that perpetuates itself, it’s because the refugee community is still there waiting for a political solution to address its situation,” Krahenbuhl said on Monday.

Under Trump, Washington has taken a number of actions that have alienated the Palestinians, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a reversal of longtime U.S. policy. It led to the Palestinian leadership boycotting Washington’s peace efforts being led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law.

Krahenbuhl compared the Palestinian refugee “right of return” issue with those of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar who have fled into Bangladesh and the return of Bosnian Muslim refugees to areas under Serb control in the 1990s.

“So the only question one should ask is why should Palestine refugees be the one community where this question is not a justified question,” Krahenbuhl said.

Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool

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Measuring human capital: a systematic analysis of 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016

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Vikings’ Griffen battling serious mental-health issue

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has been battling a serious mental-health related issue for the past several weeks and currently is undergoing evaluation at a local hospital, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday morning.

Griffen was able to play in the Vikings’ first two games of the season, recording a half sack in each contest, but “the situation became unmanageable this past week when they ruled him out against the Bills,” Pelissero reported on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told reporters following Sunday’s loss to the Bills that Griffen did not play due to a personal matter, and there have been a number of reports concerning Griffen’s status following the game.

“I had two team sources reach out to me to specifically refute a report that Griffen was arrested over the weekend in connection to an attempted break-in at one of his teammate’s houses,” Pelissero said.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman released the following statement Monday night:

“We are aware of the situation involving Everson Griffen and certainly concerned by what we have heard. We are focused on Everson’s well-being and providing the appropriate support for him and his family.”

The Vikings face the Rams this Thursday night in Los Angeles, but Pelissero reported it is unlikely that Griffen will be active for the game.

Griffen signed a four-year, $58 million contract extension with the Vikings in 2017.

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Learn more about the NSC mission.

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Too many people missing out on health benefits of golf, says expert panel

The consensus–one of the first of its kind–comes on the eve of the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf tournament between Europe and the US.

Amid a growing body of evidence on the health impacts of the sport, the consensus aims to help current and would-be players maximise the health pros and minimise the health cons of golf, and to guide policy-makers and industry leaders on how best to make golf more inclusive and accessible and so encourage more people from all walks of life to take up the sport.

The statement draws on a systematic review of the available published evidence (342 eligible studies) and discussions among an international working group of 25 experts in public health and health policy, and industry leaders.

Agreement was reached on 79 statements in three areas. These set out what is currently known about golf’s associations with health; the factors that may help or hinder take-up of the sport; and a series of recommendations for golfers, industry leaders, and policy makers on how best to maximise its health benefits, promote sustainability, and widen participation.

The evidence shows that playing golf regularly is associated with longevity and reducing the risk factors for heart disease/stroke. And it can boost older people’s strength and balance.

The sport is also associated with good mental health and improving the overall health of those with disabilities.

Compared with other sports, the risk of injury is moderate, but as it’s an outdoor activity, golfers may be more at risk of skin cancer.

Golf is sociable, and gets people outdoors, connecting with nature. It can provide moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, and its health benefits are greatest for players (and spectators) who walk round the course rather than opt for a golf cart.

While around 60 million people play golf at least twice every year, the participant profile is quite narrow: players tend to be middle aged to older, male, of white European heritage, relatively well off, and living in North America, Europe, and Australasia.

And the sport is often perceived as expensive, male dominated, difficult to learn, and not a game for the young or those on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

This can put people off, says the statement. The sport needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds, and any such initiatives should be supported, it says.

More people might be keen to take it up if golf were promoted as an enjoyable, lifelong outdoors activity that affords a sense of community and competitive challenge while providing some ‘me time’ as well as helping to fulfil recommended exercise quotas, says the statement.

And the sport can do its bit for sustainability by “practices that prioritise diversity, healthy societies, connection with, and care of, the environment, environmental integrity and health and wellbeing,” the statement suggests.

Among its raft of recommendations, the consensus statement says that:


  • Should aim to play for 150 minutes/week, or do less, but couple golf with other physical activity, and walk the course rather than ride a golf cart

  • Do warm-up/strengthening exercises to cut the risk of injury and use sun-cream and wear collared shirts/blouses to minimise the risk of skin cancer

  • Make everyone feel welcome

Clubs/Industry should:

  • Build on existing initiatives to promote inclusivity and develop environments and price structures that will be attractive to everyone

  • Develop a culture that will inspire more women and girls to play golf

  • Make every effort to promote equality and diversity, and boost accessibility

  • Promote sustainability through wildlife conservation and by restricting the use of water, energy, and pesticides

  • Provide additional facilities at clubs, such as a gym, walking routes, crèches and improve the focus on health and safety, with the provision of healthy foods, defibrillators, and speed limiters on golf carts, for example

Policy makers should:

  • Promote the benefits of regular physical activity, including golf, for people of all ages, genders, and income brackets

  • Promote the specific health enhancing aspects of golf

  • Support diversity, equality, and sustainability

  • Work with industry and national associations to boost take up of the sport, particularly in groups where physical activity levels are low

  • Work with industry and regulatory bodies to get golf included in the Paralympics

“These outputs, if widely shared and adopted, will contribute to an improved understanding of golf and health, and aid these groups in making evidence-informed decisions and to improve health and wellbeing,” the consensus statement concludes.


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Hugs and kisses: The health impact of affective touch

There are a number of good reasons that touching, hugging, and kissing the people we love feels comforting and reassuring. In this Spotlight, we will explore how such displays of affection impact your health and well-being.

What are the benefits of affective touch? In this Spotlight, we investigate.

When we touch, hug, or kiss a friend or partner, that gesture is loaded with meaning.

We seek affection, try to establish a connection, or attempt to communicate a need.

Various cultures use touch in various ways to display tenderness or respect, and other non-human primates use it to create a connection and establish social hierarchies.

Recently, however, some experts have expressed concern that Western societies are experiencing a moment of crisis, as physical touch becomes more strictly regulated and we are less and less likely to engage in social acts such as hugging.

Of course, physical touch is not always welcome and not always appropriate. Between strangers, it can be an act of violation.

As researchers from Finland noted in a study paper published last year, whether touch produces a positive or a negative effect is highly dependent on the context in which it occurs.

“Touch does not universally lead to positive emotions,” they explain. For instance, they note that “cultural differences can result in touch being construed as a breach of preferred interpersonal distance.”

At the same time, research has also found that touch is important for humans when it comes to communicating emotions and maintaining relationships — both romantic and otherwise.

In this Spotlight feature, we will look at the importance and benefits of touching, hugging, and kissing for a person’s health and well-being.

Why touch is so important

Famous studies have demonstrated that children — as well as the infants of non-human primates — who grow up without affective touch have severe developmental issues and are unable to relate socially.

Touch is a vital social cue, signaling an offer of comfort and empathy.

Touching, and being touched, activate particular areas of our brain, thus influencing our thought processes, reactions, and even physiological responses.

For example, one study reports that brain scans have revealed that affective touch activates the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region associated with learning and decision-making as well as with emotional and social behaviors.

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Certain experiments have also suggested that romantic kissing is an important tool — particularly for women — when it comes to choosing a partner, because the personalized chemical cocktail found in an individual’s saliva conveys important information to the brain about their physiological compatibility.

Touch can also be reassuring and calming for a person in distress, since it can communicate an offer of support and empathy.

A study from Sweden — the findings of which were published last year in the journal Research on Language and Social Interaction — found that embracing and patting children in distress has a soothing effect for them.

In such a circumstance, the study authors explain, the interaction involves the adult signaling that they are available to offer soothing contact, followed by the child’s acknowledgement of this invitation and positive response to it.

The interaction and coordination involved with this scenario allow the child in distress to regain a sense of security and reassurance.

As a result of this, there are also many debates surrounding the use of touch during counseling, mainly asking whether the potential benefits outweigh the ethical perils.

Scientists recognize that touch has valuable therapeutic potential and that some people might benefit from receiving a reassuring pat on the shoulder when they are feeling down.

Psychological benefits

In fact, we seek to receive and give hugs to people we love precisely because they trigger a neural pattern of comfort and affection.

Studies have shown that sharing a hug can remove existential anxiety.

A study found that women who offered physical touch as a symbol of support to their partners showed higher activity in the ventral striatum, which is a brain area involved in the reward system.

So, offering a reassuring hug to a person who is in pain or feeling down can actually benefit both the receiver and the giver; both people involved in the interaction experience more positive emotions and feel more strongly connected to each other.

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Moreover, a series of studies conducted by Dutch researchers showed that hugging could relieve a person’s feelings of existential fear and remove self-doubt.

“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” says researcher Sander Koole, from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears. Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”

Sander Koole

Other research has revealed that sharing in the nonverbal communication of affection — which includes actions such as hugging and kissing — can buffer the effect of stress and accelerate recovery from it.

Benefits for health

The benefits of affective touch expand to measures of physical health as well as mental health and social relations.

One study published in 2014 in the journal Psychological Science suggested that the stress buffer provided by shared hugs actually has a protective effect against respiratory infections.

Also, among the people who did become ill, those who received emotional support in the form of affective touches showed less severe symptoms of infection.

Other studies showed that, in romantic couples where the partners share frequent hugs, women tend to have lower blood pressure and heart rates, which suggests that this type of contact can benefit the heart literally, not just metaphorically.

Romantic kisses also help boost the immune system, research has demonstrated. When we kiss, we transfer “80 million bacteria per intimate kiss of 10 [seconds],” scientists report.

This may sound disgusting, but it is beneficial; this microbial exchange acts almost like a vaccine, familiarizing the immune system with potential new bacterial threats and strengthening its effectiveness against a more varied array of pathogens.

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Touch as a painkiller

Finally, touch is very effective when it comes to relieving physical pain. Massage therapies can be a great way of soothing all kinds of aches, from headaches to back pain.

Touching someone you love can actually soothe physical pain.

However, you do not necessarily have to go to a massage parlour in order to experience the pain-soothing benefits of touch.

Holding hands with your partner will suffice, say two studies published in two consecutive years, both of which were covered on Medical News Today.

The first study — which appeared in the journal Scientific Reports in 2017 — showed that if two partners touch and one of them experiences mild pain, the touch actually diminishes the sensation of pain.

In the second study — featured earlier this year in the journal PNAS — the team observed the same effect in groups of young couples when they were holding hands.

“Our findings,” the study authors report, “indicate that hand holding during pain administration increases brain-to-brain coupling in a network that mainly involves the central regions of the pain target and the right hemisphere of the pain observer.”

Wherever we’re from, touch is likely an important marker of affection. In the eighteenth century, the famous English poet John Keats wrote, “Touch has a memory.” Research has now proven that this evocative poetic image has a scientific basis: touch does have a memory, as it turns out.

A study led by neuroscientists from the Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany has shown that not only can our bodies remember touch, but they can also remember several different types of touch simultaneously.

“A new touch does not erase the memory of a previous touch from working memory,” explains that study’s lead researcher.

“Rather,” he goes on, “new and old tactile memories can persist independently of each another, once a person’s attention has registered the touches.”

It seems that touch has a more powerful impact on our brains and our bodies than we might have imagined, so it is important to be fully aware of how something as simple as a hug can alter our own, and others’, perception of the world.

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Tripoli clashes leave 115 dead, 383 injured- health ministry

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – At least 115 people have been killed and 383 injured in month-long clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, Libya’s health ministry said on Sunday.

The fighting pitted the Seventh Brigade, or Kaniyat, from Tarhouna, a town 65 km (45 miles) southeast of Tripoli, against the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigades (TRB) and the Nawasi, two of the capital’s largest armed groups.

Tripoli and western Libya are run by a U.N.-backed government mainly supported by armed groups, while Eastern Libya is controlled by a rival administration. The country has been riven since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The Kaniyat and other groups from outside Tripoli launched an assault on the capital in late August amid unease over reports of the wealth, power and extravagant lifestyles of some Tripoli militia commanders.

At the Frontline in Tripoli’s southern residential areas of Wadi Rabea and Fatma Zahra, shelled houses, torched vehicles, destroyed shops and deserted streets attest to the intensity of the clashes.

“The death toll could surge because of the critical condition of the injured and the continuing fighting,” Wedad Abo Al-Niran, media officer at the health ministry told Reuters.

The armed groups which claim official status through the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli patrol the area in armored vehicles and pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

The fighting has knocked out most power stations in the city and crippled Tripoli’s main airport.

Although civilian targets continue to be shelled, Hakeem Al-Sheikh, commander of 42 Brigade loyal to GNA, said “the situation is under control.”

Meanwhile residents in southern Tripoli continue to bear the brunt of the infighting, with many forced to flee their homes.

“We are staying with our relatives as we are afraid of looting acts,” said Abdulqader al-Ryani, a father of three who left everything behind when he left his house.

So far, calls by the GNA for all sides to uphold a ceasefire agreed on Sept. 4 have fallen on deaf ears.

Adding to the existing tensions, a coalition of armed groups including Misrata military council promised on Saturday to fight alongside Tarhouna’s Seventh Brigade saying that they “reject the rule of militias inside Tripoli.”

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Hani Amara; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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India’s Modi launches health insurance for 100 million families ahead of elections

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s biggest healthcare program on Sunday, aiming to provide free health services to half a billion poor people, which could boost his chances in national elections early next year.

The scheme, which the government dubs “Modicare”, will provide 100 million families, or about 500 million poor people, with health cover of 500,000 rupees per year for free treatment of serious ailments.

The measures are Modi’s latest attempt to reform a public health system that faces a shortage of hospitals and doctors. The government has also in recent years capped prices of critical drugs and medical devices and increased health funding.

But critics say the scheme has been launched in a hurry for political gain and lacks adequate funds to support it.

India spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on public health, among the world’s lowest, and the health ministry estimates such funding leads to “catastrophic” expenses that push 7 percent of the population into poverty each year.

“This is the world’s biggest healthcare scheme, benefiting more than the combined population of the United States, Canada and Mexico,” Modi said after launching the nation-wide plan from Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.

No separate registration would be required for the scheme and the people could check online whether they were eligible, Modi said.

Vinod K Paul, a senior official at the NITI Aayog told Reuters in an interview last week the benefits would be available at hundreds of empanelled private hospitals as well.

“India’s health system is never going to be the same. It’s a turning point,” he said. Private hospitals and pharmaceutical companies expect the plan would boost their business.

The scheme has been called a “game changer” by the chairman of India’s Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, Prathap Reddy, while Jefferies analysts have said companies such as Healthcare Global Enterprises and Narayana Hrudayalaya are likely to benefit.

The plan will be initially rolled out in 27 states, where the federal government will bear 60 percent of the costs and 40 percent would be born by state governments.

Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra and Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Louise Heavens

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Waits: Previous article on rural health care was hazy – Casper Star

Too Many Requests

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Sloan Kettering’s Cozy Deal With Start-Up Ignites a New Uproar

Universities and teaching hospitals have long sought to turn their scientific discoveries into lucrative business deals. Indeed, 10 cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration originated at Memorial Sloan Kettering. But the Paige.AI arrangement is different because what’s being commercialized is not an invention, per se, but rather access to raw materials — notes and slides — gathered over decades.

Norman Selby, executive board member of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and one of the founders of Paige.AI.CreditNick Hunt/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

Paige.AI is among a growing number of companies, including Google and Microsoft, that are exploring ways to use artificial intelligence to improve health care. Pathology has been a focus because it remains a time-consuming, error-prone and often subjective process, where doctors examine tissue slides to decide whether cancer is present, and which type. Other start-ups in the field include PathAI, based in Boston, and SpIntellx, which is working in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

The Paige.AI project finally took off after enlisting the help of Norman Selby, a member of the hospital board’s executive committee and a longtime health care consultant, manager and investor. He is listed as a founder and executive chairman of Paige.AI and holds an equity stake.

Jim Breyer, the early Facebook investor and venture capitalist, also agreed to invest. At a New York Times conference in February on artificial intelligence, he said Paige’s goal would be “to provide predictive data and help to cancer physicians around the country — as second opinions, in many cases as well, because not everyone of course has access to a Sloan Kettering.”

The three other hospital board members who became investors are Stanley Druckenmiller, Alexander T. Robertson and Marie-Josée Kravis, according to Richard Beattie, honorary chairman of the cancer center’s board and a member of its executive committee. “We were desperate,” he said in an interview. “This is more risky than most transactions, and we couldn’t find investors.”

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