On a slow news day in the secular world, BBC News has picked up on a survey of teachers in which many report that financial pressure on pupils’ families is having an impact on their learning. The survey was conducted by the NASUWT union. It’s also recently published similar results on unqualified teachers (we’ll be looking at that issue...
Newspapers reported that one in three South Africans are obese. This, they said, makes the country the most obese in the region. But the 1-in-3 claim is based on outdated data and care must be taken with rankings.
"Thousands of pregnant women are unwittingly passing on infections to their unborn babies that cause severe disabilities," is the headline in the Daily Mail after a new report highlighted the risks cytomegalovirus (CMV) can pose to pregnancies.
The paper says cytomegalovirus "can lie dormant in mother's body for years" and "is caught from other children through nappy changing and wiping mouths", so often older siblings can pass it on to unborn babies.
What is the basis for this report?
The story was prompted by the release of a report by the charity CMV Action. The charity aims to raise awareness of the virus and campaign for better prevention measures within the health service. They also provide support for those affected by CMV.
What is CMV?
CMV is a member of the herpes family of viruses. It is a common virus, and is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva and urine.
It can be passed on through close contact with young children, such as when changing nappies. It can also be passed on in other ways that involve contact with bodily fluids, such as kissing or having sex.
CMV doesn't cause symptoms in most people, so many people carrying the virus won't know they have had it. But some people can develop flu-like symptoms such as a fever, sore throat and swollen glands when they are first infected with the virus.
Up to 80% of adults in the UK are thought to be infected with CMV. Many people are first infected as children. The virus usually remains inactive in the body and does not cause any problems.
It can become a risk if a person infected with CMV has a weakened immune system (someone with cancer or another serious illness), or if a pregnant woman is infected and passes it on to her baby.
Why is CMV a problem for babies?
A woman can pass an active CMV infection on to her baby in the womb. This only occurs if the woman has an active CMV infection – for example, if she has just been infected for the first time, has just been infected with a different strain, or has an old CMV infection that has reactivated as the result of a weakened immune system.
About 13% of babies infected in this way are estimated to have problems from birth. These can include being born small for their age, having jaundice or a rash, an enlarged spleen and liver, or the lung infection pneumonia.
The expert report says CMV is a "neglected public health burden" and calls for more to be done to tackle it. It says:
CMV affects almost 1,000 babies a year – more than Down's syndrome, toxoplasmosis or listeriosis
one in five babies born with CMV will suffer consequences such as hearing loss, cerebral palsy and epilepsy
there is a growing body of evidence that providing pregnant women with this information can reduce the risk of them catching CMV in pregnancy
The report also claims pregnant women receive no advice about CMV in pregnancy. But it is not possible to say to what extent GPs and midwives generally give advice on CMV to women.
It may be the case that the risks of CMV may not be as commonly discussed as those associated with food or alcohol, for example. Advice on CMV in pregnancy has been available on the NHS Choices website for many years.
What can be done now?
The report recommends that:
professionals involved in the care of pregnant women improve their understanding of CMV
midwives and GPs advise women about reducing the risks of infection
health professionals dealing with the foetus and newborns should be alert to the potential signs of CMV infection so more newborns can be diagnosed and treated in the first month of life
paediatricians and other professionals working with families should understand the guidelines for managing CMV so more families receive the monitoring and support their child needs
there should be more research into developing a vaccine against CMV and treatments that prevent its effects in babies
What does the report recommend that pregnant women should know?
The report suggests a simple "Don't share, wash with care" four-step approach, which midwives can communicate to childbearing women:
Avoid placing objects in your mouth that have been in an infant's mouth previously. So, for example, avoid sharing food, cups and utensils or sucking a child's dummy to clean it after it has been dropped.
Avoid kissing young children on the mouth or cheek – they suggest kissing them on the head or giving them a big hug instead.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after coming into contact with any bodily fluids. This includes after a nappy change, or after wiping a toddler's nose or mouth.
Thoroughly clean items that have been in contact with bodily fluids.
The charity says that, "Whilst it is hard for busy women to avoid every potential exposure, simply improving hygiene measures can markedly reduce the risk of transmission."
South African president Jacob Zuma is due to deliver his eighth State of the Nation Address in parliament on Thursday. Last year he delivered two State of the Nation Addresses - one before and one after the country’s national elections in May. This report looks at his claims about crime.
“Our reforms to university funding mean you do not have to pay anything towards tuition while studying, and only start paying back if you earn over £21,000 per year”—Conservative manifesto “Students in England do not have to pay anything until they are earning over £21,000 per year […] only high-earning graduates pay their tuition fees […]
The court ruling that Britain’s parliament must have a vote before the government can trigger Article 50 to start Brexit negotiations has opened more than one can of worms. One particularly interesting question is what exactly the House of Commons and House of Lords will be voting on now that they are to have their say.
In its ruling, the court made it very clear that parliamentary authorisation is required – but it did not determine what the form of authorisation would be. But the Brexit minister, David Davis, has conceded that, if the Supreme Court upholds the decision at appeal, an act of parliament will be sought.
The big question is how much detail parliament will demand on any potential exit deal and the government’s negotiating position in return for its consent. Of course, that will be a matter of political decision making, contestation, conflict and compromise.
Points of clarity
It is reasonable to expect that in order to authorise Article 50 being triggered, MPs and peers might want at least a preliminary decision on some of the big, knotty questions that Brexit raises. For instance, they might demand a clearer indication of the government’s plans pertaining to Northern Ireland and its border with Ireland, what happens to EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit and what happens to Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU. They might especially want some clarity on what the government’s likely red lines are to remain in the single market, and who will take on the many and complex regulatory tasks currently carried out by EU agencies.
Of course, the more detailed the proposition put to parliament the more time will be spent debating it – which will delay the triggering of Article 50. I cannot foresee a situation in which, realistically speaking, this task will be completed in much less than 12 months – although the prime minister appears to still be confident that Article 50 can be triggered in March.
The high court decision should also lead to some positions in Brussels being softened. In particular, the fairly rigid proposition that there will be no firm negotiation or concrete discussions until Article 50 has been triggered should, for reasons of practicality and pragmatism, be relaxed by those who hold it within the EU itself.
That said, whatever parliament authorises will have to be somewhat speculative. The final shape and detail of any Brexit deal will be the subject of extensive negotiation, so British MPs could only be voting on a proposed deal.
The complexity does not end there. Depending on its content, there is a remote possibility that the proposed deal, or parts of it, might require the unanimous consent of Europe’s other member states. In some cases (and very much depending on the content of the deal) it may even require national referendums in some member states. In other words, there is a real possibility that the UK might exit without a “deal” in place for its future relationship with the EU.
Once Article 50 is triggered withdrawal will happen in two years – with or without a deal. The only way to avoid that would be to revoke the Article 50 notice – but it remains unclear whether that is legally possible and, certainly, it seems unlikely to be politically acceptable in the UK.
In this way, the court decision has revealed the complexity of leaving the EU. Does this mean there will be another referendum? I don’t think so. The likelihood is that parliament will respect the vote to leave the EU, and that anything that might call that into question will be approached with caution.
This is why, in spite of the turmoil that this decision has created (and which may increase if the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court does not succeed) I cannot foresee an election being called in spring 2017. An election at that point would be perceived as a proxy second referendum – and there seems to be little, if any, government desire for such a course.
However, there might be a case for an election after the parliamentary vote, once Article 50 has been triggered. That would give the new government a strong mandate in terms of negotiating the exit and any possible Brexit deal. The downside, of course, would be the lack of continuity in government through this complex negotiation.
So all eyes now turn to the Supreme Court on December 7 and 8 and, subsequently, to parliament. The Brexit story has barely begun.
Fiona de Londras does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.