Saturday, August 8, 2020

Yemen's Multilayered War: The Failing Healthcare Infrastructure

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Anant Jani

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Yemen's Multilayered War: The Failing Healthcare Infrastructure


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 8, 2020


Air strike Al-Thawra hospital, Hodeida on August 2, 2018

Air strike Al-Thawra hospital, Hodeida on August 2, 2018 | Photo credit: ABDO HYDER/AFP/Getty Images | Source: Felton Davis via Flickr

This is the 6th and last part of a short explainer article series on the current crisis in Yemen. To read the earlier parts of the series click on the link.

To read the 1st part of the series click on the link.

To read the 2nd part of the series click on the link.

To read the 3rd part of the series click on the link.

To read the 4th part of the series click on the link.

To read the 5th part of the series click on the link.

The civil war in Yemen, more so after 2015 has taken a toll on the civic infrastructure of the already fragile and poor country. Among these, the healthcare infrastructure of the country was one of the worst affected.

Apart from the physical damage to the hospitals and clinics due to the aerial bombings by the Saudi Arabia led coalition, the naval blockades exacerbated the dire situation. In June 2015 itself, aid agencies warned of the humanitarian risks brought by the US and UK-backed Saudi blockades.

The humanitarian situation aggravated further as there was a consistent famine since 2016 and Yemen was dependent on foreign aid for feeding almost 80% of its population.  According to UNICEF reports, over 3.3 million children and pregnant or lactating women suffer from acute malnutrition.

In 2017, the World Food Programme estimated that an additional 3.2 million people would be pushed into hunger. If left untreated, 150,000 malnourished children could die within the coming months.

Save the Children, the international charity and aid agency, estimated that 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death in between 2015 to 2018.

Major healthcare operatives are dying due to the active bombing and conflict in Yemen, including personnel from MSF and United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHO).

The MSF (or Doctors Without Borders), who have been in Yemen since 2007, have reported that fears of stigmatization are causing people to stay away from hospitals, with misinformation and lack of medical services only compounding the healthcare issue during the pandemic.

As of 24th July, the country reports 1640 confirmed infections and 458 related deaths.  Al Jazeera reported that “Cemeteries in Aden are overflowing with graves, suggesting that the number of people killed by the new coronavirus is higher than the official count.” Yemen and its related aid agencies also suffer from lack of PPEs and adequate information about the pandemic.

As of April 2020, there are 800,000 internally displaced persons in just one province of Yemen Marib. The number of verified civilian deaths stands at 7,700.

The United Nations has been continually asking for donations, but has failed to collect as much as it requires. While it collected $4 billion last year, it has only received $700 million, halfway into 2020.

The UN urged for $2.4 billion this year to fight the humanitarian crises and the Coronavirus. As of 2nd June, 29 countries and the European Commission pledged a total of $1.35 billion to support humanitarian efforts in Yemen, just over half of the amount needed to sustain programs through the end of this year.

In April 2020, the Saudi deputy defence minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said Saudi Arabia “will contribute $500m to the UN humanitarian relief program for Yemen in 2020, and an additional $25m to help combat the pandemic. It is up to Houthis to put the health and safety of the Yemeni people above all else.”

There are 41 major UN programmes in Yemen, and it is estimated that more than 30 of them will close due to lack of funds. The UN stated, “Due to the COVID-19 suppression measures, all integrated outreach activities, which include the Expanded Programme on Immunization, Integrated Management of Childhood Illness, Maternal and Newborn Health,and nutrition activities, were suspended.”

Most of Yemen's 3,500 medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed in air strikes, and only half are thought to be fully functioning. Officials warn that monetary relief may not be enough to assist in the war against the pandemic alongside the Civil War. A solution to the war must be found soon, before the pandemic eviscerates more of the healthcare infrastructure.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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