Watching the World

Oxygen-Starved Eyes

Some contact-lens wearers may be starving their eyes of oxygen, reports The Globe and Mail. “Vascularization occurs when the cornea [the eye’s transparent cover] can’t get the oxygen it needs through surface contact with the air and begins growing blood vessels to compensate.” Impaired vision or even blindness can result. Dr. Raymond Stein, chief of ophthalmology at a Toronto hospital, says that the “worst scenario is when a patient fails to take care of his or her lenses and does not come in for follow-up.” Optometrists encourage patients to consult an eye-care professional to make sure that they have the right contact lenses for their particular eyes and then to follow the recommended wear schedule and lens-care instructions.

Brazilian Friendship in Decline

Brazilians now cultivate friendships with less frequency than they did ten years ago, reports O Globo newspaper. According to mental-health expert Maria Abigail de Souza of the University of São Paulo, fierce competition in the job market, the struggle to maintain a certain life-style, and a reduction in leisure time are all contributing factors. César Vasconcelos de Souza, medical director at the Adventist Healthy Life Center, São Paulo, says: “To have true friends, we must share our feelings, open our heart, and let out happy and sad things, hard and easy things. That requires time and a deepening of emotional ties. Most people would like to share their feelings with others but are afraid to do so. To avoid risks they prefer shallow friendships.”

Grieving and Depression

A survey of men and women between the ages of 70 and 79 shows that some widows and widowers experience high levels of depressive symptoms up to two years after the loss of their spouse. Those taking part in the study were divided into six groups, based on the amount of time that had passed since the death of their spouse. Both interviews and questionnaires were used to measure symptoms of depression. Of the respondents, 38 percent were men, and 62 percent were women. The study found that the rate of depression among the newly bereaved is nine times higher than among married individuals who had not suffered a similar bereavement.

Hooked on Internet Pornography

Researchers have found that “at least 200,000 Internet users are hooked on pornography sites, X-rated chat rooms or other sexual materials online,” reports The New York Times. The study was conducted by psychologists at Stanford and Duquesne universities and is one of the first to have estimated the number of Internet “cybersex compulsives.” The researchers said that these individuals visit X-rated Web sites more than 11 hours a week. The newspaper quoted the researchers as saying: “This is a hidden public health hazard exploding, in part, because very few are recognizing it as such or taking it seriously.”

AIDS Devastates Africa

In the past year, AIDS has killed more people in Africa than has warfare, according to Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations. This includes the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Angola, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan. Almost two thirds of the world’s 36 million AIDS sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa. In Côte d’Ivoire, AIDS kills one teacher every school day, and in Botswana, life expectancy has dropped from 70 years to 41. Zimbabwe expects that by the year 2005, HIV and AIDS will consume 60 percent of its health budget, and even that will be inadequate. The subject of AIDS is avoided in Malawi and Zambia, where rates of infection are extremely high; and in South Africa sufferers are shunned, reports London’s newspaper The Guardian. “None of us has yet begun to grasp the full impact  of this horror—on the quality of life in Africa, its economic potential and its social and political stability,” stated Mr. Annan.

Cities Alter Climate

“Explosive urban growth is creating ‘heat islands’ so intense that they are establishing their own local weather systems,” reports The Times of London. The cities trap heat during the day and radiate it back into space at night. Temperatures in cities such as Beijing and Atlanta are thus raised 10 degrees Fahrenheit [5.5°C] or more. In the past 19 years, Atlanta has lost 380,000 acres [150,000 ha] of tree cover to roads and housing. The urban sprawl increases air pollution, causes unseasonal thunderstorms, and reduces the photosynthetic productivity of farmland. Commenting on the effects of these “heat islands,” Dr. Marc Imhoff, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist, said: “Human survival depends on the ability of the landscape to produce food. If the capacity of the landscape to carry out photosynthesis is substantially reduced, the ability of the planet to support human life must also be diminished.” In most cases it is prime agricultural land that is sacrificed for urban expansion.

Pollution Kills the Demand for Whales

Pollution may have become an unlikely ally in the fight to save the whale. Recent investigations have shown that whales and dolphins caught off the coast of Japan are highly contaminated by DDT, dioxin, PCBs, and methylmercury. One test showed that eating just one and a half ounces [50 g] of contaminated dolphin meat could cause a significant health risk to a person. Such news, some expect, may kill the demand for whale meat.

“Self-cleaning” Lotus

Why does the lotus plant, long held sacred in Eastern religions, always look so clean? German scientists now claim to have found the answer to this question that has intrigued biologists for ages. “Water-repellency of plant surfaces has long been known,” say the scientists W. Barthlott and C. Neinhuis. “But the self-cleaning properties . . . had been completely overlooked.” As explained in The Sunday Times of India, “the water droplets rolling off a lotus leaf carry away contaminating particles, thus cleaning the surface perfectly.” This is not because the surface is smooth. Seen under a microscope, the leaf has a rough surface of “knobs, folds and buttons” with “convex or dome-shaped water-shedding” profile. But added to this is the effect of the hydrophobic, or water-hating, wax crystalloids with which the plant is covered. The researchers say that this “lotus effect” drastically reduces the adhesion of water and dirt particles, and they add that the plant can regenerate waxes in spite of adverse environmental conditions. This, they say, makes the lotus’ natural efficiency far superior to man-made waterproof paint or washing detergents.

Fit to Drink?

A study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warns that “preventive measures must be taken” before the water quality in France reaches “a point of no return.” According to WWF, France’s underground and surface waters are being contaminated by pesticides and nitrates. Nitrate contamination primarily occurs when pig and cattle manure is carried into the water supply. The report says that “the feces of the eight million pigs in the Brittany region are comparable to the waste produced by a city of 24 million inhabitants without any sewage treatment plant!” Moreover, “the massive use of fertilizers for large-scale farming” also pollutes the water supply with nitrates, says WWF. Additionally, the heavy use of pesticides in corn production has resulted in raising pesticide levels over 40 percent higher than established standards. The WWF report recommends that wetlands and wooded embankments be rebuilt to act as natural filters.