HAMNET Report 21 April 2019

HAMNET notes with sadness the passing of Owen Garriott, W5LFL, the first astronaut and radio ham to make a contact from space to earth in 1983, from aboard the Shuttle Columbia, when it was operating Spacelab-1.

An Oklahoma native, Garriott — an electrical engineer — spent 2 months aboard the Skylab space station in 1973 and 10 days aboard Spacelab-1 during a 1983 Space Shuttle Columbia mission. It was during the latter mission that Garriott thrilled radio amateurs around the world by making the first contacts from space. Thousands of hams listened on 2-meter FM, hoping to hear him or to make a contact. He also made the first CW contact from space. Garriott called hamming from space “a pleasant pastime.”

Rest in peace, Owen, and thank you for all you did to kick-start amateur radio in space.

And, on the medical front, The World Health Organisation announced this week that  Measles cases have continued to climb into 2019. Preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years.

While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases. Current outbreaks include Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, causing many deaths – mostly among young children.

Over recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases, with the potential to be extremely severe. In 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, it caused close to 110 000 deaths. Even in high-income countries, complications result in hospitalization in up to a quarter of cases, and can lead to lifelong disability, from brain damage and blindness to hearing loss.

The disease is almost entirely preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 percent. This is still short of the 95 percent needed to prevent outbreaks, and leaves many people, in many communities, at risk. Second dose coverage, while increasing, stands at 67 percent.

With governments and partners such as the Measles & Rubella Initiative, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and others, response operations are underway to bring country outbreaks under control, strengthen health services, and increase vaccine coverage.

A third layer of disaster management after Cyclone IDAI last month is now becoming apparent.

First came the shock and the terror. Then the fight for survival – to find food, water and shelter, and to avoid diseases.

But in the wake of a natural disaster, children very quickly need protection and education. Being in a safe learning environment with other youngsters is crucial if they are to begin to recover from the trauma.

Children who are out for school for a long time after a disaster are in danger of falling prey to child labour, early marriage, trafficking and other risks. Many will never return to education.

It’s a scenario repeated over and over as communities around the world fall victim to floods, earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“Nearly 40 million children a year have their education interrupted by natural disasters such as earthquakes and disease outbreaks,” said Theirworld’s recent report Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis.

“The impacts on children and young people’s education can be profound, with the poorest and most marginalised, including girls, most at risk. The devastation is often most severe and long-lasting in contexts where education capacity and resources are already low.”

However, the report warned, “education is rarely a core focus in emergency responses”. It added: “The rebuilding of school infrastructure is often considered a secondary priority, resulting in children being educated in temporary learning centres for years after the event.”

“For children affected by Cyclone Idai, the road to recovery will be long,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “They will need to regain access to health, education, water and sanitation. And they will need to heal from the deep trauma they have just experienced.”

Thank you to Theirworld for this report published on April the 17th.

HAMNET Western Cape took part in the safety and logistics aspects of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon yesterday. Twenty operators drove sweep vehicles picking up the fallen, or operated rover mobile, reacting to any emergency occurrences along the route, or manned the 4 cut-off points along the two routes.

Unfortunately, due to factors beyond the control of the organisers, it became necessary to deviate from the original route through Hout Bay and on to Chapman’s Peak Drive, and the runners of the ultra race instead turned out of Sunvalley to come back into the Constantia area over Ou Kaapseweg. Plan B, the alternate route via Ou Kaapseweg, has been planned for every year for at least 5 years, so the re-organisation was not very difficult, but it was a pity that the ultra runners did not get to see both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans as they ran!

The Medical JOC at the Provincial Emergency Management Centre at Tygerberg Hospital was manned by 2 operators, using Tetra radio units, or Ham repeater frequencies. A water sachet shortage manifested itself badly in the second half of the Ultra, probably because the climb over Ou Kaapseweg, and the fairly warm weather had people very dehydrated and cramping. We were shocked to discover later that a young male competitor had died after collapsing during the race. Our sincere condolences are extended to his loved ones.

Your writer thanks most earnestly all those HAMNET members in the Western Cape who assisted with the race.

This is Dave Reece  ZS1DFR  reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.