Eight small buses equipped with wheelchair access hit the roads – National Strategy for Disability coming soon (images)

Eight small buses equipped with wheelchair seating were delivered today, and the National Strategy for Disability will soon be submitted to the Cabinet.

These vehicles, which include provisions for people with disabilities, were given to the “Apostolos Loukas” Special School in Limassol, the “Apostolos Varnavas” Special School in Liopetri, the “Apostolos Pavlos” Private Center for people with intellectual disabilities in Liopetri, the “Evangelismos” Special School in Geri, the Ministry of Education for Secondary Education, and the Social Welfare Services of the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare.

At the delivery event were the Minister of Transport, Alexis Vafeadis, and the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Marilena Evangelou.

Ms. Evangelou noted that, as the responsible Deputy Ministry for the integration of People with Disabilities, the mobility of people with disabilities is a necessary prerequisite for their participation in education, creative employment, independent living, and therefore their social integration.

She also noted that in the coming period, they will investigate additional similar requests to meet other needs. Moreover, she said, they are in dialogue with the directly involved stakeholders to develop a new, modern legislation that will govern all issues related to social integration, inclusion, and support for People with Disabilities.

The revised National Strategy and Action Plan for Disability, which will be in effect until 2028, has been completed and will be submitted to the Cabinet next week. It includes a total of 73 new actions and goals from 8 Ministries and 4 Deputy Ministries. For the first time, the National Strategy and Action Plan is organized into thematic pillars that follow the life of a Person with Disabilities from birth to old age, she said.

Special Education to Undergo Changes in September

The Ministry of Education is ready to delve even deeper into the chapter of Special Education in its effort to implement actions and policies that truly reflect inclusive and unified education in practice.

As “Ph” is informed, from the new school year these issues will take center stage for the responsible Ministry of Education, which has developed a specific plan. Already, some points that have been included in the plans have been recently implemented, according to a responsible source from the Ministry of Education.
 

It concerns the following three important chapters:

>>Preparation of differentiated educational material

>>Preparation for the needs of school assistants and companions for the new school year

>>Teacher training

As we have been informed about the first point, since last March, the preparation of educational material has been completed. This material has been differentiated and adapted to meet the needs of students according to the difficulties they face. The differentiated material has been developed through collaboration with Greece, and as we were informed, clear guidelines and instructions for teaching are now provided in a scientific manner.
 

Regarding the issue of school assistants and companions, information indicates that the Ministry already has a clear understanding of the needs for the new school year. This matter has been a significant concern every year, as the school year begins and children in need of companionship stay at home for days without immediate assistance. What’s different in the process this year is the early collection of clear needs (it’s noted that the number is expected to increase as needs continuously arise, even after the start of the school year). The intention of the Ministry of Education is to record these needs to the fullest extent possible so that they can be addressed promptly to the Ministry of Finance for the necessary budget allocation.
 

It’s worth noting that the issue of companions concerns the Ministry not only in terms of the number of students they will serve for the school year 2024-2025 but also in their employment status. That’s why there is consultation aimed at improving their contracts. It’s recalled that this issue has concerned the Parliamentary Education Committee several times in recent years, in an effort to find solutions to the labor issues that exist with this group of employees.
 
 

Regarding the third point, teacher training is expected to be intensified from the new school year so that educators can fully utilize the differentiated educational material that has been prepared.

Furthermore, a key pillar in the upgrading and modernization efforts in this field is the process of reviewing applications for providing accommodations and companions to students. According to our information, the Ministry is taking steps and actions to expedite the procedures in the relevant Committees that examine each case.
 
 

Parents of children with disabilities: an essential link in the education chain

“OF SIMONI SYMEONIDOU”
 

With the pretext of the biased views expressed in the media regarding the role of parents of children with disabilities in their education, as well as the whispers that have been circulating for years, I feel it necessary to share some of my opinions, which are supported by the literature. Initially, the notion that “parents of children with disabilities do not accept their child’s disability” arises from a faction of professionals who believe that the interests of children with disabilities are not aligned with those advocated by their parents. This position is also connected to another one, that “professionals in the field of public education should have the right to evaluate children they believe have a disability, without the consent of their parents.” The aforementioned positions demonstrate that individuals and organized groups expressing them verbally or in writing have no clue about the rights of children with disabilities and the role of their families in education. In this manner, they construct the concepts of “good parent,” “good professional practice,” and “well-adjusted child” (Goodley, 2014), where a “good parent” is one who “accepts” their child’s disability and consents to their evaluation, “good professional practice” involves the evaluation, and a “well-adjusted child” is one who is evaluated and receives special education without the consent of their parents.

Initially, when we refer to parents of children with disabilities, we should bear in mind that they are a heterogeneous group of individuals with different identities (e.g., gender, ethnicity, mother tongue, religion, disability, etc.), roles (e.g., parent, single parent, spouse, partner, son/daughter, caregiver), and beliefs. We cannot express generalized judgments about this group so easily. The parents of all children may strive for their children’s well-being, or they may be parents who mistreat them. They may be parents who meticulously explore every detail of legislation and pedagogy to decide what is best for their child, or they may be parents who are not interested or lack the skills to search and expect others to guide them. At the same time, we must keep in mind that raising a child with a disability is the same as raising a child without a disability, but it is also different. The experience of parents of children with disabilities differs from that of parents of children without disabilities, as they are confronted with a system of policies and practices, as well as a culture that excludes instead of including, erects barriers instead of removing them, and considers that school is for some children and not for all (Karagianni & Koutsoklenis, 2023; Symeonidou & Mavrou, 2020; Vlachou & Fyssa, 2016).

In any case, when we refer to parents, we should consider how their identities and roles are linked to their beliefs about their child’s education. For example, if we are discussing with a mother who is a victim of domestic violence, she may understand that her child needs assessment, but if she mentions it to her spouse, she may only trigger a new cycle of violence. In another scenario, if parents have consulted with many professionals (special education teachers, psychologists, doctors, etc.) before the school suggests the need for an assessment, they may disagree for reasons they consider important (e.g., they want to avoid labeling their child, withdrawing from the class for support through special education, etc.) and prefer to support it themselves. There is also the case where assessment may be suggested at the wrong time (e.g., in kindergarten, a child does not sit in his chair for half an hour and therefore assessment is suggested to the parents) and in the wrong way (e.g., threat/warning that if the child is not assessed, they will not receive the support they need). Parents are faced with the “dilemma of difference,” according to which if the “difference” is “officially recognized,” then their child may benefit to some extent (perhaps with reasonable adjustments), but they will be stigmatized, whereas if the “difference” is not “officially recognized,” their child may not fully benefit academically but will not be stigmatized (Graham et al., 2020).

Secondly, parents of children with disabilities have all the rights that parents have. Therefore, it is imperative that they give their consent for anything concerning their child, from whether they will be photographed at school to whether they will be evaluated by a team of specialists. Especially regarding the issue of assessment, the current legislation on inclusion, despite its distortions, has ensured that parents give their consent for the assessment process to begin, are informed in advance about when their child will be evaluated, and have the right to attend evaluation meetings and provide information during the assessment process. This is necessary because parents live with the child, so they have a view of their behaviors at home and in other contexts, as well as their knowledge and skills. Thus, their presence during the assessment ensures that they can explain how the child responds, understand which aspects of their behavior are different outside of assessment conditions, and gives the child a sense of security in a process that requires collaboration with professionals they may not always know beforehand.

Instead of making nihilistic judgments that negatively characterize parents and suggesting evaluations without parental consent, if we truly want to support the children, the requests should be as follows:

  • Reduction of the number of children in the classroom
  • Co-teaching by two educators (general and special or two general educators)
  • Modification of the curricula to allow for differentiated teaching and assessment
  • Mandatory differentiation of teaching in the general classroom
  • Institutionalization of procedures that comprehensively support children and their families (at home, at school, in therapies they may need)

All of the above require a change in the roles of general and special educators, their training, redistribution of financial resources, and the way services are provided, as well as long-term strategic planning for change.

Concluding, parents of children with disabilities have the same chances as parents of children without disabilities to know their child very well because they live with them every day, or not to observe their child as much as they should. Also, parents of children with disabilities choose how they will handle the educational system and its representatives, depending on their knowledge and experiences. If after evaluation, the educational system proposes a support package (i.e., special education outside the classroom), parents may choose not to proceed with evaluation. Even if they give their consent for evaluation, they may later demand quality education without segregation and full access to the detailed curriculum, but they may still be considered unreasonable because some believe they have not accepted their child.

It’s a vicious cycle that will only cease to exist if we consider that children with disabilities should be supported in school in the best possible way, just like their families.

References

Goodley, D. (2014). Dis/ability studies. Theorising disablism and ableism. London: Routledge.

Graham, L., Medhurst, M., Tancredi, H., Spandagou, I. & Walton, E. (2020). Fundamental concepts of inclusive education. In L. Graham (Ed.). Inclusive education for the 21st century (27-54). London: Routledge.

Ryan, S., & Runswick-Cole, K. (2008). Repositioning mothers: Mothers, disabled children and disability studies. Disability and Society, 23(3), 199–210.

Symeonidou. S. & Mavrou. K. (2020). Problematising disabling discourses on the assessment and placement of learners with disabilities: can interdependence inform an alternative narrative for inclusion?, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 35(1), 70-84.

Vlachou, A. & Fyssa, A. (2016). ‘Inclusion in Practice’: Programme Practices in Mainstream Preschool Classrooms and Associations with Context and Teacher Characteristics. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63(5), 529-544.

Karagianni, G., & Koutsoklenis, A. (2023). Studies on Disability and Inclusive Pedagogy [Undergraduate Handbook]. Kallipos: Open Academic Editions. http://dx.doi.org/10.57713/kallipos-226
 

*Assistant Professor
 

University of Cyprus

A child lost their vision due to a laser toy burn – The OKYPY advises caution.

Faced with a tragic incident, the Ophthalmology Clinic of the Archbishop Makarios III Hospital stepped in when a case was examined where a child was diagnosed with significant and permanent loss of vision in one eye due to extensive burns, during play.

According to an announcement by the Ophthalmological Society of Cyprus, the said accident was caused by laser pointers purchased online. Children using them ended up directly staring into the lens, causing multiple burns to the retina, the layer at the back of the eye that contains light-sensitive cells, enabling us to see.

In this context, the Ophthalmological Society of Cyprus calls on everyone, especially parents, to control both the suitability and the use of the products their children have in their possession. Specifically, for laser toys, we should never look at them directly in the eyes, aim them at other people, mirrors, or other reflective surfaces. These guidelines, as emphasized by the organization, apply to all laser toys.

Additionally, as stated by the Organization, the public must be particularly cautious because in case of injury, there is not much room for repairing the damage, as the laser beam remains strong even if it is several meters away from its source.

In case anything similar related to children’s eyes and vision is detected, please contact the Accident and Emergency Department of the OKYPY at 112 immediately, or contact the Ophthalmology Clinic of the Archbishop Makarios III Hospital at 22603550.

Euro 2024: Germany, football, and volunteering for people with disabilities

“One supports the other.”

The Euro 2024, fifty days before kickoff in Germany, is not just about football but takes volunteering to another level by engaging people with disabilities and their “tandem” companions.

There are almost 10 days left for the Euro 2024, in Germany and football, to be precise, volunteering, gives a way out to people with disabilities, which it actually includes in the organization. In particular, in the context of Euro 2024 which will be held in the summer in Germany, in addition to what concerns football as such, an inclusive volunteering program is also activated, in which 50 disabled people and their companions-partners “Tandem” – from the British term which literally means “one behind the other”, they are ready for action.

Like every major football tournament, Euro 2024 in Germany is a football-themed spectacle where volunteering plays its role, and Germans, in particular, support part of it with individuals with disabilities and their “Tandem” partners.
 

In the service of Euro 2024 in Germany, individuals with disabilities are also included.

“It is something that is particularly interesting and indeed gives a different cultural color to Euro 2024, with Germany showing that beyond football, volunteering is sensitized, bringing people with disabilities to the fore.”
 

UEFA EURO 2024 logo launched!

“Thousands of volunteers across Germany will play a significant role in the success of Euro 2024, but the host city of Cologne has implemented an inclusive program to ensure that the experience is open to everyone. Not to play football, but to contribute through volunteering, including people with disabilities.”
 
 

Euro 2024 recruited 50 people with intellectual disabilities.

Cologne has recruited 50 people with intellectual disabilities to become volunteers for Euro 2024 in Germany. Each of them has appointed a “Tandem” partner to collaborate throughout the tournament and assist with any challenges that may arise.
 

Tandem paragliding with the flying wheelchair for our disabled friends

The program effectively kicked off on Tuesday, April 9, as the 50 volunteers and their Tandem partners met for the first time. This event allowed everyone to get to know their partners, ensuring that they feel comfortable and secure with each other ahead of the volunteerism commencement event on Saturday, April 27.
 

“One of the volunteers expressed, ‘I really like that individuals with intellectual disabilities like myself can participate as volunteers in major events in Cologne. This makes me feel well integrated and excited for Euro 2024.'”
 

“The inspiration for this particular initiative came during the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.”
 

“Unwelcoming stadiums for people with disabilities – Recommendations of the Commissioner for Administration”

The report highlights accessibility issues raised by the Cyprus Paraplegics Organization (O.P.A.K.) concerning the new stadium in Limassol, as well as other football stadiums.

In a series of recommendations aimed at reversing the situation prevailing in football stadiums regarding the accessibility of people with disabilities, a special report by the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, Maria Stylianou-Lottides, is issued. The goal, emphasized, is to take specific measures so that people with disabilities can enjoy sports events equally and without any discrimination, including football matches at all football stadiums.

According to the Commissioner, there should be:

· Parking spaces for people with disabilities, available at all times, near the stadium entrance, and measures taken to prevent them from being occupied by unauthorized individuals.

· Sufficient and continuous access chain from the parking area to the stadium gates, where there should be appropriately configured ticket booths and service points at a lower height for people with disabilities using wheelchairs, as well as separate accessible non-revolving entrance gates to the stadium.

· Unobstructed and obstacle-free movement for people with disabilities to their seats within the stadium, as well as along the aisles and to/from the refreshment areas and restroom facilities of the stadium.

· Specially designed seating areas for people with disabilities that ensure an equivalent view of the playing field to that enjoyed by other attendees in the stadium. Based on standards of adequate visibility, the line of sight for people with disabilities, especially those who, due to the nature of their disability, remain seated throughout the match, should remain clear and unaffected by obstacles.

· In any case, these designated seats, as well as restroom facilities and refreshment areas, should be available in the stands not only of the home team but also of the visiting team, so that people with disabilities have the opportunity, like other fans attending the stadium, to choose their seat and watch the match alongside the supporters of their team. They should enjoy the same experience within the stadium without feeling excluded or restricted in any way.

“The specific areas, which are envisaged to provide protection from weather conditions, should be located both at the top of the stands and at the back of the boxes, as well as close to the playing field, at a higher level, however, to ensure an adequate field of vision. Furthermore, they should provide easy and adequate access to the restrooms and refreshment areas, as well as to the exit gates in case of emergency.”

· Ramps and specially designed elevators for wheelchair users to allow them access to the upper rows of the stands and other shared areas.

· In existing stadiums and where the installation of a suitable conventional elevator is difficult, vertical lifting platforms or stair lifts should be provided to ensure access for people with disabilities to all key areas of the stadium.

· An audio description service of the match for spectators with visual impairments or hearing impairments, which should not be limited to a predetermined area of the stadium, but should provide a portable audio description system (via headphones) so that users of the service can choose where they want to sit to be close to their relatives and friends and among the fans of their team.

· In any case, the attendants of people with disabilities, besides being exempted from the ticket purchase obligation as highlighted by the relevant UN Committee, should have an available seat close to the person they are accompanying, to provide immediate and timely support or assistance that the person with a disability may need, especially in case of an emergency.

· Determination of a specific timetable with defined deadlines to identify and record all existing barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities in football stadiums and to develop a plan for implementing necessary improvements within a specified timeframe.

The Commissioner’s Office made recommendations to the Cyprus Sports Organization (CSO), the Cyprus Football Association (CFA), and the Stadium Licensing Authority to take necessary actions so that people with disabilities can enjoy equal access to sports facilities, especially to football stadiums hosting First Division matches, on an equal basis with others.

The report highlights accessibility issues raised by the Cyprus Paraplegic Organization (CPO) regarding the new Limassol stadium, as well as other football stadiums where First Division matches are held.

“Access Denied: Websites of European Political Parties Inaccessible to People with Disabilities”

The serious deficiencies in the accessibility of the websites of major European political parties make it very difficult for people with disabilities to be informed about the European Elections.

“People with disabilities were almost completely ignored by political parties on their websites in view of the EU elections, according to a report compiled by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the independent non-profit Foundation Funka.”
“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“The report analyzed the websites of the seven main European political families – the European People’s Party, the Party of European Socialists, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European Conservatives and Reformists, the European Greens, the European Left, and Identity and Democracy.”

“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“According to the study, European political parties neglect their obligation to provide information to all voters, whether they have specific accessibility needs or not. In doing so, they create a barrier not only for people with disabilities but also for the democratic process itself. Our democratic systems and political procedures rely on citizens being informed when they vote. However, as this report shows, political parties seeking the votes of over 100 million Europeans with disabilities largely fail in their duty to provide accessible and reliable political information.”

“The results are very disappointing, but not surprising – they reflect the widespread lack of attention to information accessibility in the political world,” said Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the EDF and the ESAmeA, to Euronews.”

“These findings at the European level may also indicate that national political parties face similar challenges, according to the central body representing the rights of 100 million people with disabilities in the EU, the EDF.”

“Political parties must ensure that their communication is accessible to every voter – including voters with disabilities,” added Mr. Vardakastanis.

“The party with the worst performance was the far-right Identity and Democracy, passing only four out of the seven criteria used for evaluating the websites. All the tested websites passed the test for automatic subtitles for deaf or hard of hearing users.”

“The EDF calls on the political parties of the EU and all political actors:”

  • “Website administrators need to be trained in the basic skills for accessible digital information.”
  • “They should use the European standard for accessible ICT (EN301549) in the procurement, design, and development of digital interfaces. The standard is free.”
  • “Users with disabilities should participate in the design, development, and testing of digital interfaces to ensure they work for everyone.”

“Finally, they encourage all political actors to actively involve organizations of people with disabilities in accordance with the updated motto of the disability movement: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.'”
 

“The technology ‘ally’ of blind pregnant women: How they were able to ‘see’ their unborn babies”

An unexpected “gift of life” was provided by technology to a 44-year-old mother with vision problems. She managed to “see” her unborn baby through the sense of touch. The new type of ultrasound has a relief form and even combines Braille writing, so blind mothers can experience this milestone in their pregnancy.

Karen Tripp passes her fingers over the relief ultrasound of her baby. Unlike her previous pregnancy, this time she is able to feel all the characteristics of the fetus she is carrying.

Born with a rare eye condition, 44-year-old Karen from England never believed she could experience this touching moment for all future mothers.

“When I was pregnant ten years ago, it was very difficult. Ultrasounds were not a pleasant experience. Because the staff didn’t have the time to explain it to me,” she said.

In the 8th month of her pregnancy, technology, as well as her doctor, gave her the unique “gift” of feeling the image of her unborn baby, beyond just hearing its heartbeat.

Photos of Karen’s baby are included in the “Invisible World” exhibition, hosted for a few days in London, featuring a series of photographs taken by world-renowned photographers, some of whom also have vision problems.

Visitors will thus be able to have a unique tactile experience, designed entirely for people with little or no vision, including relief prints, audio descriptions, and incorporating Braille code.

Edited by Athena Korovesi

Increase of 115% in kidney patients undergoing dialysis, says the Nephrology Society

“Increase of 115% in kidney patients undergoing dialysis,” says the Nephrological Society – On the occasion of the second Thursday of March, which has been established globally as World Kidney Day.

An increase of 115% in the number of our fellow citizens undergoing hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis is observed in our country during this period, according to the Nephrological Society of Cyprus.

In a statement issued on the occasion of the second Thursday of March, which is globally established as World Kidney Day, the Nephrological Society reports that kidney health problems are the 10th leading cause of mortality worldwide, while 1 in 10 people worldwide is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD), and it is estimated that this number will continue to increase over time.

It is noted that even if only a small percentage of these individuals will require support through methods such as dialysis – such as hemodialysis – or kidney transplantation, in our country, these individuals amount to over 200 per year, a rate of inclusion that remains among the two highest in Europe over the past 10 years.

These rates are almost double the average for Europe and other Mediterranean countries, so “we observe an increase of 115% in the number of our fellow citizens undergoing hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis in our country during this period. This continuous and prolonged increase in patients with serious kidney health problems is accompanied by a significant economic burden on the healthcare system, which, combined with inadequate planning and timely and proper management of CKD in its initial stages, has led to many shortages in specialized medical and nursing staff, areas that also face shortages globally.”

The message of this year’s World Kidney Day, “Kidney Health for Everyone Everywhere,” becomes even more important, it is noted. With the implementation of the General Healthcare System (GHS), it is added, access to healthcare services, both personal and specialist doctors, has become much easier for most residents of our island.

As stated, with more frequent and regular health checks, our primary goal of combating and timely addressing CKD, as well as other significant diseases that feed it – such as Diabetes Mellitus and Arterial Hypertension – becomes more feasible.

“A simple blood analysis to assess kidney function and glucose, a general urine examination to check for the presence of leukocytes (or albumin) or other signs of kidney damage, as well as blood pressure monitoring are often sufficient for the timely diagnosis and treatment of these diseases. As Diabetes Mellitus and Arterial Hypertension are contributory factors to the progression of CKD and affect more than 50% of the patients who are undergoing extrarenal dialysis therapies, it is also important to combat obesity and excessive salt consumption,” it is added.

In combination with what has already been implemented, the Nephrological Society of Cyprus (NSC) promotes and closely collaborates with the Health Insurance Organization (HIO) to adapt to Cypriot data and implement the guidance of the British National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the diagnosis and management of CKD.

This process, it is noted, is now at an advanced stage, and we have already committed as a scientific body to contribute to the training and education of healthcare professionals for their correct use and implementation. We also promote the integration of new drugs into the GHS, whose effectiveness in treating CKD is supported by numerous serious and large clinical studies. The evaluation process of these drugs, it is reported, by the HIO and the Drug Advisory Committee has already begun.

Finally, for those patients reaching the final stage of CKD, it is noted that kidney transplantation offers the best clinical outcomes as well as better survival and quality of life.

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Vision: Where is the suspected location on the body for eye conditions that lead to blindness

Could the health of the eyes be related to the functioning of the intestine? A recent study reveals a unique correlation and the role played by the gut microbiota

Recent findings create hope that antibiotics could potentially treat certain genetic diseases that can lead to blindness.

For genetic eye conditions that lead to blindness, according to a recent study published in Cell, bacteria that escape from the intestine and “travel” to the retina may also be implicated. Until recently, specialists estimated that the eyes are usually protected by a layer of tissue that bacteria cannot penetrate. Therefore, these results are “unexpected” according to Dr. Martin Kriegel, a microbiome researcher at the University of Münster in Germany, who was not involved in the study. “This is a major shift in the paradigm we knew until now,” he adds.

Inherited diseases of the retina, such as retinitis pigmentosa, affect about 5.5 million people worldwide. Mutations in the Crumbs homolog 1 (CRB1) gene are the primary cause of these diseases, some of which lead to blindness. Previous studies have shown that bacteria are not as rare in the eyes as ophthalmologists previously believed, leading the authors of the study to wonder if bacteria cause diseases of the retina, says co-author Dr. Richard Lee, an ophthalmologist then at University College London.

As Dr. Lee and his colleagues found, mutations in CRB1 weaken the bonds between the cells lining the intestine, in addition to the role they have long observed in weakening the protective barrier around the eye. This conclusion prompted the study’s co-author, Dr. Lai Wei, an ophthalmologist at Guangzhou Medical University in China, to create mice with CRB1 mutations with reduced levels of intestinal bacteria. These mice did not show signs of distortion of the cellular layers in the retina, unlike those with typical gut flora.