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Friday, March 30, 2007

Agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has suggested special agriculture zones be promoted for protecting prime agriculture land.

Agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has suggested special agriculture zones be promoted for protecting prime agriculture land.
The need of the hour was to keep the good prime land and high farm productive areas under agriculture. Furthermore, there were swathes of land whose potential had not been tapped. All these should be brought under the special zones for improving farm production, he said addressing members of farmers' clubs here on Tuesday.
Prof. Swaminathan said these clubs should serve as knowledge centres to help farmers adopt improved farm practices for getting higher productivity.
The aim should be more grain per drop. Sharing of information would improve the income of farmers, besides creating additional employment opportunities.
It was unfortunate that a majority of small and marginal farmers were not aware of the welfare schemes of the Government.
The clubs should educate farmers about them. In the current budget, the Centre proposed to start rural common service centres throughout the country to educate farmers on increasing productivity and using water judiciously. The clubs should associate themselves with these centres, he said.
Recognition for ryots
Regretting that farmers had not been given due recognition, Mr. Swaminathan said those who had done exceptionally well in agriculture should be honoured with "Padma awards."
He distributed awards for the best performing clubs.
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development Chief General Manager K.V. Raghavulu said at Atpresent, banks were meeting only 60 per cent of the credit needs of farmers. For the rest, they depended on moneylenders, who were charging a high rate of interest.
The following farmers clubs won prizes: Jeyankondapattinam Farmers Club, Sangamangalam Farmers Club, All Women's Farmers Club, Kallar Pasupathi Koil, Gangavalli Farmers Club, Chinampalli Farmers Club, Dharmapuri, and Uzhaipallar Uzhavar Mandram, Villupuram.

Studying the prevalence of HIV in TB patients

EVEN AS "Difficulties in working alongside the better-funded efforts to tackle AIDS permeate many aspects of TB prevention, treatment and research ... " as the Editorial in the latest issue of Nature points out, the scenario in India is changing for the better.
With their immunity compromised, TB is one of the most common opportunistic infections in those with HIV/AIDS. And such coinfection often proves fatal.
Greater possibility
And with a total TB burden of 8.5 million as per 2000 estimates, and almost 1.8 million new cases occurring every year, the chances of over 5 million HIV positive people getting TB are quite high.
It is to address this problem that the prevalence of TB in HIV infected people, and HIV in those with TB are being studied in India.
Earlier, TB patients were provided with information to get tested for HIV. But there was no way of ensuring that patients indeed went for the HIV test.
"We lost many patients in the process," noted Supriya Sahu, Project Director, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS).
The National Surveillance Survey conducted by the Central TB Division is under way to address this problem. The surveillance survey has been expanded to cover 20 districts in the country, with two being in Tamil Nadu, and has been designed to test for HIV in all the newly diagnosed TB patients.
This would help understand the prevalence of HIV in newly diagnosed TB patients.
The study in two districts in Tamil Nadu — Thiruvannamalai and Villupuram — started in December last year.
Automatically tested
This is a pilot study where every newly diagnosed TB patient is automatically tested for HIV at the designated microscopy centres and is unlike the earlier scenario when healthcare providers used their discretion to decide who should be asked to go for HIV testing.
The two districts in Tamil Nadu where the surveillance will be carried out will be operational till 400 samples are collected from each centre. "All newly diagnosed TB patients and who are already on DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course) for two months will be tested for HIV," said Ms. Sahu.
Unlike the conventional practice, the newly diagnosed TB patients will neither be informed nor their consent taken before they are tested for HIV.
But is testing for HIV without the patients' knowledge ethical?
"It is an unlinked and anonymous HIV testing," she explained. "The samples will be coded and nobody will ever know the patients' HIV status. So there is no need to take the patients' consent. We are following the WHO protocol." The only parameters that will be known are the age and sex of the patients and their TB status.
But will zeroing in on newly diagnosed TB patients alone be a truly representative sample? "Nearly 80 per cent of those who come for testing to designated microscopy centres are new cases," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director, Tuberculosis Research Centre, Chennai.
Another study
A similar study to understand the prevalence of HIV in newly diagnosed TB patients was undertaken in 2005-2006 by Dr. Swaminathan. The study funded by TANSACS looked at four districts — Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Chennai and Vellore — in Tamil Nadu. Unlike the surveillance study undertaken by TANSACS, Dr. Swaminathan's study did not collect blood samples for HIV testing from the newly diagnosed TB patients. Instead, they were provided with information and counselled to get tested for HIV.
"One of the objectives of our study was to see the level of acceptance by TB patients to getting tested for HIV," Dr. Swaminathan explained. "And we found that about 70 per cent of TB patients were convinced of the virtue of getting tested for HIV."
People who did not go in for HIV testing were those who considered themselves as too old to get infected with HIV or were not at risk of getting infected. "Women generally considered themselves not at risk," she noted.
Studying co-infection
Another study that TANSACS intends to undertake in Tiruchi district, Tamil Nadu, is to see the level of co-infection with HIV and TB. Patients diagnosed with TB will be sent to voluntary counselling and testing centres (VCTC) and all who test positive for HIV will be sent to designated microscopy centres to check for their TB status.
The study on co-infection will be the first of its kind in the country. "This will not be a surveillance study," Ms. Sahu said. The protocol for the study is yet to be drawn up.
Under the joint TB-HIV action plan started in 2005 by NACO in six high prevalence HIV States, including Tamil Nadu, those coming to VCTC for HIV testing and suspected of having TB are referred for TB testing.
The second, third and fourth quarter results of the 2005 joint TB-HIV action plan found that of the 6,055 persons from the six states who tested positive for HIV, 1,601 were also infected with TB.
This highlights the seriousness of coinfection with HIV/AIDS and TB in people living in India. And it is only to be expected as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB is high in the country.
Showing the way
India, South Africa and a few other countries are indeed showing the world and international bodies, including the WHO, on the ways of tackling the problem and working in a more coordinated manner.
Researchers in India working on TB, much like their counterparts in other countries, still do not get generous funding unlike those working on HIV/AIDS, and unlike HIV/AIDS, TB has failed to attract the kind of attention it deserves.
But these conditions have not stopped the researchers from starting to work in a more coordinated manner. That is good for India and those suffering from HIV/AIDS and TB.

Electrification of lines given priority: Velu

Electrification works of railway lines has been given top priority in the 10th Five Year plan, Union Minister of State for Railways R Velu has said.

During a visit to Vellore Cantonment station, he said the Katpadi-Villupuram electrification work was in progress and after the broad gauge conversion, the line will be open for traffic next year.

In the 10th plan, Villupuram-Tiruchirappalli electrification also would be taken up, he said.
The Vellore Cantonment station was being given a facelift at a cost of Rs 2.75 crore, he added.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Rural areas to benefit from budget initiatives

Job guarantee, groundwater recharge schemes

130 more districts all over the country to be brought under rural employment guarantee scheme

Groundwater scheme envisages 100% subsidy to small, marginal farmers for sinking wells

CHENNAI: Rural Tamil Nadu will benefit from two major Union budget initiatives in the areas of rural employment guarantee and groundwater recharge schemes.
Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, 130 more districts all over the country will be added. At present, the scheme is in operation in 200 districts, of which six are in Tamil Nadu.

A few months ago, the State-level Council for the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme recommended that 10 more districts in Tamil Nadu be brought under the ambit of the scheme.
Subsequently, the State Government forwarded the suggestion to the Centre. In January, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote to the Centre to apply the scheme to all districts of the State.
According to a senior government official, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Ramanthapuram, Tuticorin, Virudhunagar and Vellore are among the districts recommended. As these districts are economically backward and dry regions, the State Government hopes the Centre would agree to its suggestion. As for the remaining 13 districts, the district administrations have been asked to submit proposals. The groundwater recharge scheme, as spelt out in the budget, focusses on seven States having most of the "overexploited or critical blocks."
The scheme envisages 100 per cent subsidy to small and marginal farmers for sinking wells and 50 per cent subsidy to other farmers.

In Tamil Nadu, 175 out of a total of 385 blocks come under the two categories of blocks. According to a Central Groundwater Board (CGWB)'s survey in 2004, 143 blocks are overexploited and 32 critical.
(According to CGWB, "overexploitation" refers to more than 100 per cent extraction, showing long-term decline in the groundwater table in pre or post-monsoon or both. The "critical" category pertains to 90-100 per cent extraction, showing long-term decline either in pre or post-monsoon. Blocks with 70-90 per cent extraction with the decline in both pre and post-monsoon also come under this category.)

6 districts to be covered Under the proposed scheme, Villupuram, Salem, Namakkal, Dindigul, Theni and Tuticorin are likely to be covered, as they account for the bulk of the overexploited and the critical blocks, says a senior CGWB official. A project, estimated to cost Rs. 2.2 crore, is being implemented in the Gangavalli block in Salem district, where a host of measures is being carried out to improve the groundwater table.

The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, the nodal agency for the new scheme, has been providing assistance for artificial recharge and water conservation schemes
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