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U.N.: HIV drives families into ‘irreversible poverty’

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Tens of thousands of HIV-affected households in Asia are facing “irreversible poverty” because of the cost of living with the disease, with women and children hardest hit, a UN report said Thursday.

Catastrophic healthcare costs and the loss of employment opportunities due to widespread discrimination mean that many HIV-positive households across the region are in “rapid socio-economic decline,” the report said.

“Without intervention, many (HIV-affected families) will slip into irreversible poverty,” the UN Development Programme’s deputy regional director Nicolas Rosellini said in a statement released Thursday.

He called on regional governments to do more to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the disease, which drives many families into debt traps, locking their children into a lifetime of poverty.

The extra costs faced by HIV-affected households make it harder for parents to pay for their children’s education, with school dropout rates far higher for such families across the region, the report found.

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The disease also “disproportionately affects women and girls” who are biologically more vulnerable to infection, have more limited access to treatment and usually take on the bulk of responsibility for caring for affected individuals, it found.

In countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, HIV-affected families spend up to three times more on healthcare costs than the average, according to the report, which examined some 17,000 households across Asia.

Cambodia is the only country in Asia where households’ health expenditure as a percentage of their overall consumption is not substantially higher for HIV-affected families due to the widespread government provision of antiretroviral treatment, the report said.

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The UN estimates some 34 million people worldwide lived with HIV last year, while improved treatment has meant that the number of AIDS-linked deaths has steadily dropped from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 to 1.8 million last year.

About half of those eligible for treatment are now receiving it, something that saved the lives of 700,000 people in 2010, the UN has said.

“Yet the challenge is far from over,” Samlee Plianbangchang, regional director of the World Health Organisation, wrote in an opinion piece in the Bangkok Post Thursday.

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“The impact on women and children is devastating. An estimated 1.3 million women aged 15 and above currently live with HIV” in Asia, he wrote, adding that the number of children living with HIV had risen 46 percent from 2001 to 2009.

The main drivers of the spread of HIV are unsafe sex and drug injection, with five countries — Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand — accounting for the majority of the disease burden in the region, he said.


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Elon Musk shows off progress on brain-machine interface

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Futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk late Tuesday revealed his secretive Neuralink startup is making progress on an interface linking brains with computers, and said they hope to begin testing on people next year.

Musk has long contended that a neural lace meshing minds with machines is vital if people are going to avoid being so outpaced by artificial intelligence that, under the best of circumstances, humans would be akin to "house cats."

Musk and members of the Neuralink team laid out progress they have made on their mission at an event held in San Francisco to recruit talent in software, robotics, neuroscience and more.

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Fifty years after Moon mission, Apollo astronauts meet at historic launchpad

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Fifty years ago on Tuesday, three American astronauts set off from Florida for the Moon on a mission that would change the way we see humanity's place in the universe.

The crew's surviving members, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, are set to reunite at the same launchpad on Tuesday, the start of a week-long series of events commemorating Apollo 11.

Their commander and the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, passed away in 2012.

But Aldrin and Collins, 89 and 88 respectively, will meet Tuesday at precisely 9:32 am (1332 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A to kick off the festivities.

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At 82, NASA pioneer Sue Finley still reaching for the stars

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Sue Finley began work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the US prepared to launch its first satellite into orbit in 1958, racing to match the Soviet Union, which had accomplished the feat months earlier.

Now 82, she is one of NASA's longest-serving women, starting out as one of its "human computers," whose critical yet long-hidden contributions to the space program, including the Apollo missions to the Moon, are finally being recognized.

Finley had dropped out of college and joined a group of mathematically gifted individuals, overwhelmingly women, whose job it was to solve the complex equations thrown at them by rocket scientists before electronic computing became affordable and reliable.

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