Elias Zerhouni Leaving as Head of US National Institutes of Health

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein. This week, we will tell about a plan to stop the disease malaria in Africa by twenty fifteen. We will also tell about a change of leadership at America's National Institutes of Health. And we will tell about an insect suspected of influencing weather conditions in the Rocky Mountains.

Governments, businesses and other groups have promised to add three billion dollars to the fight against malaria. The promises came last month at a meeting at the United Nations in New York.

The money will support a new Global Malaria Action Plan. The plan aims to stop the disease in Africa by two thousand fifteen. Malaria is not limited to Africa. Yet ninety percent of deaths happen south of the Sahara. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the plan will not only support bed nets, but research, cutting drug costs and expanding health care systems

Governments and international groups spent a billion dollars on malaria programs last year. But the Roll Back Malaria Partnership says the world should spend more than five times that amount. It says doing so could save four million lives by twenty-fifteen. The partnership includes U.N. agencies, the World Bank and leading drug makers.

Last month, the World Health Organization released its World Malaria Report for two thousand eight. The report presented sharply lower estimates of malaria cases than in the past. Officials say the corrections were mostly the result of better methods of collecting information.

Until now, the W.H.O. has said there were as many as five hundred million infections every year, with a million deaths. The new report estimates the number of malaria cases in two thousand six at about two hundred fifty million. And, it estimates the number of deaths at eight hundred eighty-one thousand. The great majority who die are young children.

The W.H.O. says the old numbers came from using malaria maps from the nineteen sixties. But changes have taken place, including the movement of people to cities, especially in Asia. The disease is less common in cities and towns.

The report says malaria deaths have decreased in several countries, and a few African nations have reduced deaths by half. Yet the malaria drugs needed for what is known as artemisinin-based combination therapy reached only three percent of African children in need.

In the last two years, there have been greatly increased efforts to provide families with bed nets. These nets are treated with insecticide products to kill the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Campaigns for indoor spraying of insecticides in homes have also increased in Africa and other areas.

The director of the National Institutes of Health will resign at the end of this month. Doctor Elias Zerhouni has led the organization for more than six years.

The N.I.H. is the United States government's medical research agency. The research is done at its headquarters in Maryland, in other states and around the world. About eighteen thousand people work for the agency. It has twenty-seven centers and other institutes. They include the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Doctor Zerhouni says he plans to write about his time at the N.I.H. before he accepts another position. During his first two years as director, the organization had strong financial support. But after that time, Congress did not increase the budget by very much.

Some scientists have praised Doctor Zerhouni for creating a plan known as the N.I.H. Road Map.

The goal of the plan is to speed up creation of medical treatments and devices from scientific discoveries. This is to be done by getting researchers from different specialties to cooperate.

In addition, Doctor Zerhouni is known for banning N.I.H. researchers from serving as paid consultants, or advisors, to drug manufacturers and chemical companies. Doctor Zerhouni announced the ban in two thousand five. He acted after lawmakers investigated scientists who also worked for private companies while still employed at the N.I.H. These employees received additional payment as consultants or members of boards of directors.

Elias Zerhouni and his wife moved to the United States from Algeria in nineteen seventy-five. At the time, they had very little money and no family or friends in America. But he had completed medical school at the University of Algiers. He began his graduate school training as a doctor at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Later, Doctor Zerhouni held increasingly important medical positions at the School. Before his appointment to the N.I.H., he was chief of radiology at the university's hospital. Radiology uses X rays and other methods to find and treat medical problems. Doctor Zerhouni also established or helped establish medical companies. One of the companies produced a device that lets magnetic resonance imaging tests be done in places other than hospitals.

President Bush chose Doctor Zerhouni to lead the N.I.H. eight years ago. The president made the appointment after limiting federal financing of research on stem cells from human embryos. Stem cells can grow into any one of the body's cells. Scientists say such cells have the possibility of treating diseases like cancer and Parkinson's disease. Last year, the doctor told the Congress he thought the limits were interfering with progress in research.

Doctor Zerhouni said his resignation would let the new American President choose his own director of the N.I.H. The presidential election is two weeks from now.

Finally, scientists are attempting to learn whether a tree-killing insect can have an effect on weather conditions and air quality. The mountain pine beetle is a threat to forests in the western United States. The beetles invade pine trees to mate and leave their eggs. A tree will produce a sticky substance in an effort to defend itself against the beetles.

In some cases, however, the insects are able to enter the tree. The beetle larvae then feed off the tree as they develop under the tree's bark or protective cover. The larvae rob the tree of its nutrients as they feed. It takes one year for the larvae to develop and become adult beetles. In that time, the tree is so weakened, that it dies.

The mountain pine beetle has killed large numbers of pine trees. But that might not be the only effect of the insect. American scientists are leading an international project to study how the large tree kills affect weather conditions.

The scientists work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. The project is called BEACHON. That is short for Bio-hydro-atmosphere Interactions of Energy, Aerosols, Carbon, H-two-O, Organics and Nitrogen.

Earlier studies have suggested that beetles killing trees can result in temporary increases in temperature. The scientists say this is partly because the lost trees do not throw the sun's heat back into space.

Scientists also believe that beetle attacks cause trees to release more particles and chemicals in the atmosphere as they fight the insects. This makes air quality worse and at least temporarily increases levels of ground-level ozone. This affects both nearby air quality and temperatures.

The BEACHON project is expected to last four years. It will cover an area extending from southern Wyoming to northern New Mexico.

Scientists say they will use aircraft, instruments on the ground and above the trees to study relationships between Earth and its atmosphere. Scientists will be able to gather information about cloud formation, climate change and movement of gases and particles between the ground and the atmosphere. Plants release gases like water vapor and tiny particles that influence the atmosphere. The scientists say the exchange of gases and particles between the ground and the atmosphere is especially important in dry areas such as the western United States.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Brianna Blake, Jerilyn Watson and Caty Weaver. Brianna Blake was also our producer. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein. Read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again at this time next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

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