Monday, May 22, 2017

Pakistan has potential for renewable sources of energy: SSUET VC

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Vice-Chancellor Sir Syed University of Engineering and Tchnology (SSUET), Prof Dr Mohammad Afzal Haque, has said that the consumption of electricity was generally considered as an index of economic prosperity and technological progress of a country and Pakistan as a developing country was experiencing growing demand for electricity.

"Pakistan’s energy requirement is growing rapidly due to an increase in population and high energy intensive industrial sector", he observed and added that there is enormous shortfall in demand and supply of electricity in the country. 

He stated this in a message on the occasion of 2nd International Electrical Conference 2017 being held under the auspices of Institute of Engineers Pakistan (IEP). According to him the demand for electricity was nearly 24,000 MW. 

Due to weak transmission and distribution system there was a short fall of over 6000 to 7000 MW requiring long hours of load shedding. 

Dr Afzal pointed out that the mainstay of energy in Pakistan has always been fossil fuel using furnace oil which has to be imported using foreign exchange. 

He said the oil prices fluctuate with the passage of time, depending upon global economic conditions. With the rising fossil fuel prices, the cost of oil import is creating problem for foreign exchange reserves. 

The rising oil prices along with the rising demand for uninterrupted power, is an additional pressure on the already fragile energy grid of Pakistan. Our country, the SSUET's VC said, is yet to fully diversify our energy mix and reduce dependency upon use of furnace oil.

He said that Pakistan has potential for renewable sources of energy. Sindh-Balochistan coastal belt has wind corridor and can be utilized to produce abundant wind energy. Pakistan is one of those countries that have sunlight throughout 365 days and solar energy could be another option. 

"We are yet to fully utilize Thar coal reserves for energy generation, Northern part of country is rich for generation of hydro energy. We must develop renewable sources up to the optimal level". 

He was sure that experts at the seminar would come up with some do able, pragmatic and cost-effective solutions to address problems pertaining to the energy sector on long lasting basis. 

He appreciated that the Institute of Engineers Pakistan (IEP) in collaboration with various other institutions addressed an important national issue as our country is faced with acute challenge of energy shortfall. 

Adding, he said, as we all are aware, the phenomenon of climate change is a reality now and overall rise in global temperature is expected. There is a need to address energy crises as it has become so important as never in the past.

SSUET takes initiative for students exploring CPEC

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (SSUET) has launched a far-reaching academic initiative aimed at acquainting its students of the background and benefits of multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

In this regard a group of some 40 students, 10 faculty members and supporting staff of the university were taken to a visit to Gwadar through the Makran Coastal Highway to show them on the ground implementation of various projects being carried out under the auspices of the CPEC. 

The visit was organized in collaboration with the Pakistan Navy officials during which the students were taken around the Gwadar Port and the ongoing development sites. 

The trip was enriched with briefings from Army, Navy, Gwadar Port Authority and Gwadar Development Authority officials on CPEC progress, future plans and their impact on Pakistan. 

The tour was followed by report writing and presentations by students on what they had learnt and the outcome of the visit. 

In connection with more exposure to the CPEC the visiting SSUET students along with faculty members participated in number of events which included an International Conference on Economic, Business and Social Research organized by Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Science l at Uthal Campus; a seminar on CPEC Priorities and Challenges, organized by Express TRIBUNE at a local hotel and a seminar on CPEC Myths and Challenges, Organized by Institute of Engineering Pakistan.

Besides, the SSUET is planning to invite Vice Chancellors of both public and private universities from Sindh and Baluchistan to share the valuable information on current and future scenario of the CPEC and its impact on Pakistani youth.

Increased taxation on cigarettes demanded

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

At the emergency meeting, heath professionals belonging to National Alliance for Tobacco Control (NATC) Pakistan Chest Society (PCS), Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) and Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) raised serious concern on the recent news that Federal government is considering decrease in the taxation on cigarettes in the upcoming budget.

The health experts pressed the government to increase taxation on cigarettes in order to curb the growing tobacco epidemic in the country. It was also demanded that the ‘Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of non-smoker’s Health Ordinance of 2002’ be strictly enforced in order to protect the public health from tobacco which happens to be the single largest preventable cause of death in Pakistan. 

Pakistan is one of the countries where cigarette consumption is increasing with the passage of every year as according to a WHO report, every adult consumes 510 cigarettes on average every year which is alarming. 

Cigarette smoking kills 100,000 Pakistanis every year. This death toll is far greater than total deaths occurring as a result of suicidal bombings, traffic accidents and crime related killings in a given year. Significant increases in tobacco taxes are a highly effective tobacco control strategy and lead to significant improvements in public health.

The research conducted by International Agency for Research on Cancer last year has shown that 50% increase in inflation adjusted price reduces smoking prevalence by 20%. 

Prof Javaid Khan, Consultant Chest Physician from Aga Khan University and chairman NATC, said that the taxation on cigarette in Pakistan is lowest in the region. The low taxation rate encourages the public, especially youth. 

Quoting a research conducted by World Bank, he commented that increasing the tax by 10 percent can reduce the tobacco consumption by 8 percent in low income country like Pakistan. 

He also warned that tobacco in any form increases an already extensive risk of Heart disease in individuals suffering from hypertension and/or diabetes. Nicotine present in tobacco increases insulin resistance in the body and hampers good control of diabetes, he explained. 

Dr Khan also regretted the closure of Tobacco Control cell in Islamabad which was working under ministry of health. 

Prof. Nadeem A Rizvi. President, Chest Health and Education Society, and Head of the department of Chest Diseases JPMC, said that tobacco was responsible for almost 50% of all cancer cases in the country, yet smoking is still being advertised in the country at the point of sale and is portrayed through TV drama serials as a pleasurable, cool, glamorous and an adventurous act. He demanded a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship in the country. 

Dr Nisar Rao of Dow university of Health Sciences said that passive smoking is a serious health risk to a non-smoker. He necessitated that all public places and public transport should be made truly smoke free in order to protect the health of non-smokers. 

Addressing the doctors of Pakistan, he said that they should not only set a good example by not smoking themselves, but also work to make their clinics, health centers and hospitals smoke free. 

Dr Sohail Akhter, an office-bearer of PIMA, requested the lawyers to come forward and help in the litigations against the tobacco industry for its violations of anti-tobacco laws of the country. The tobacco industry should be held responsible for deaths that are taking place every year in the country as a result of tobacco use.

Research on new approaches to eradicate polio

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The threat of polio in conflict-hit areas of Pakistan can be reduced through a package of community-based strategies integrating maternal child health services and routine immunizations, according to a new study published in The Lancet Global Health.

The research conducted by health experts from the Aga Khan University in partnership with the Peshawar Medical College, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Canada’s Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, tested a range of interventions in 387 insecure areas of the country in Bajaur, 

Karachi and Kashmore where children are especially vulnerable to contracting polio: a disease that has been eradicated in all countries except for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. During the study, researchers identified a range of problems leading to new cases of polio being reported in the country every year. 

These challenges included children not being present at home during immunization drives, healthcare workers being denied access to particular areas or being unable to cover all homes in an area, distrust of vaccination activity among the population, and fatigue caused by recurrent polio-focused immunization drives. 

The researchers were able to expand coverage of the polio vaccine in insecure areas by deploying a wide range of approaches. 

These interventions included the introduction of pictorial health awareness campaigns, community mobilization and engagement through local volunteers, and the running of holistic health camps after national immunization drives that addressed the unmet need for mother and child health services in these areas. 

These steps enabled low cost, accurate health information as well as vaccinations to be provided to over 50,000 families, helped address the problem of children being missed in national drives and alleviated the potential hesitancy of those refusing polio vaccines delivered through frequent door to door immunization campaigns. 

Furthermore, by focusing each intervention in a distinct cluster, researchers were able to assess the effectiveness of each approach and to recommend which measures would help meet global and country polio eradication targets most effectively. 

“Ensuring that no child is missed in polio vaccination campaigns is especially challenging in areas in Bajaur and parts of Karachi where the law and order situation limits access to vaccinators. There is also widespread suspicion of immunization activity across the country which is why one of the approaches we tested involved building trust within communities,” Dr Sajid Soofi, associate professor in paediatrics and child health at AKU, remarked. 

Dr Saeed Anwar, associate professor in community health sciences at Peshawar Medical College, added that healthcare teams, consisting of community mobilisers from the area, were trained to deliver accurate information about immunization to parents and local healthcare providers. Focused sessions were also held with community leaders, religious figures, teachers and other prominent officials at the union council level. 

Speaking about the value of these approaches, Dr Anwar said: “By employing local influencers to manage projects and by focusing on personalised sessions with local stakeholders we were able to gain access to previously unreachable areas and thereby protect more children from this preventable disease.” 

The study also disproved a view that providing an anti-polio injection, the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), alongside polio drops, the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV), would result in opposition from the community. Researchers noted that data showed that eight out of ten families agreed to their child receiving the IPV when it was delivered as part of a comprehensive health package that provided vital hygiene, nutrition and antenatal services to mothers and children. 

“Since the eradication of polio is a national and global imperative, we worked closely with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as federal and provincial governments to generate evidence that can help achieve the objectives of the National Emergency Plan and the WHO’s Polio Eradication Initiative. Importantly the study’s findings also contribute to targets related to vaccine coverage and immunization against communicable diseases under Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals,” the senior author of the study Professor Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, founding director of AKU’s Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health and the Chair in Global Child Health at the Centre for Global Child Health in Toronto, observed. 

“Our package of interventions enabled us to boost coverage of the oral polio vaccine by 8.5 per cent in areas where there was previously fierce opposition to immunization campaigns. Our steps to organise temporary health camps providing broad-based health services ensured that we reached two-thirds of targeted children and families and helped us to provide booster injections to ensure that every child stayed on track with the four-dose schedule needed to eradicate polio,” he added. 

Previous research by the Aga Khan University, which was published in Science Direct in 2013, demonstrated that the use of booster doses of the IPV enhanced immunity in children and contributed to the eventual introduction of IPV in Pakistan’s routine immunization programme in late 2015. 

This study also generated evidence that strengthened the case made by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) for booster doses of IPV to be made a part of Routine Immunization programmes around the world. 

Dr Mohammad Assai, Pakistan Country Head for the WHO, said: “The eradication of polio worldwide requires global partnerships that combine medical expertise with strong community health research capabilities. Working in partnership with a range of universities and multilateral organisations has helped us generate the evidence to strengthen immunization systems and to expand vaccine coverage so that the world stays on track with targets under the global Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan which aims to eradicate the disease by 2018.” 

He added that initiatives focused on engaging communities and officials at the grassroots level were enabling people to get involved in local efforts to boost public health and well being which were translating into more effective polio campaigns in Pakistan. 

The study Community engagement and integrated health and polio immunisation campaigns in conflict-affected areas of Pakistan: a cluster randomised controlled trial was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was completed over a period of four years of planning and execution

AKUH teams up with provincial tuberculosis control programme

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Sindh Provincial Tuberculosis Control Programme (PTP) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) to establish it as a Treatment and Referral centre for patients suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

TB is a contagious disease and an untreated patient can infect up to 15 people over the course of a year. Although treatable, the disease is widespread across Pakistan due to factors including delays in its diagnosis, inappropriate and unsupervised use of medicines and an absence of social support programmes for high risk populations. 

These issues have not only failed to contain the disease but have also lead to the emergence of drug resistant forms of TB, as patients fail to the understand the importance of follow-up doctor visits and continued treatment. 

The TB Treatment and Referral Centre at the AKUH had been established to address this alarming health concern. 

The AKUH has the largest group of Infectious Diseases specialists in the country who will be working in collaboration with the Pharmacy Services at the AKUH, to dispense quality TB medicines. 

The TB Treatment and Referral Centre also plans to educate the public that TB is not a silent disease and can be recognized by its evident symptoms (persistent cough for more than three weeks, low grade fever, coughing up blood, night sweats, loss of appetite and weight and perpetual fatigue) and be treated with antibiotics over a course of 6 months. 

At the ceremony, AKU’s Professor and Service Line Chief, Dr Bushra Jamil commented on the importance of this Centre and said, “The AKUH is delivering high quality care utilizing established best practices for patients of all ages with all forms of tuberculosis according to international standards for tuberculosis care. 

The AKU Mycobacterial Laboratory is the only Supranational Reference Laboratory for TB in the country. The role of National and Provincial TB Control Programs in engaging private institutions through Public Private Mix (PPM) strategy is commendable”. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that most commonly affects the lungs. 

However, it can also affect any part of the body such as the kidneys, eyes, joints, spine, and brain. TB is a curable disease but can be fatal, if not detected and treated properly. TB poses a major public health challenge in Pakistan. 

In 2015 Pakistan was ranked fifth amongst TB high-burden countries worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accounted for 61% of the TB burden in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region.

Nationwide study to explore impact of maths and science teaching

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has granted funding for an innovative study designed to identify how different methods of teaching Mathematics and Science can improve children’s understanding of these key subjects.

The study will be conducted by researchers from the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (IED) over a period of at least three years. 

During this period, educational experts will analyse a demographically representative sample of children and teachers across the country to gather evidence on how educators perceive existing educational methods and to identify teaching approaches which give students the strongest grasp of concepts in these two areas. 

“Students who excel in Mathematics and Science possess the skills needed to innovate and to power Pakistan’s progress. By evaluating the value of teaching methods in these two subjects in classrooms across the nation, we will be able to recommend initiatives that will raise teaching and learning standards across the country,” Dr Sadia Bhutta, an assistant professor at IED and the principal investigator of the study, stated. 

“Through our findings, we also hope to support the government’s efforts to achieve commitments under Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relating to education. Achieving the targets set under the SDGs related to proficiency in mathematics and competency in technical skills will go a long way towards boosting the employment and entrepreneurship prospects of the next generation of Pakistanis,” she added. 

Commenting on the need for such a study, IED Assistant Professor Nusrat Fatima Rizvi added that there were still doubts among stakeholders in the education sector on how improvements in teaching methods translate to better learning outcomes for students. 

“An absence of evidence on which teaching approaches were the most effective meant that it’s difficult to encourage teachers to try new methods and to gain training in new educational techniques. This can lead to the persistence of teaching methods in classrooms that fail to engage students resulting in an aversion to these key subjects. Besides finding out which teaching approaches are the best for students, our project will also incorporate findings into professional development programmes for educators so that we can immediately realise the benefits of the research.” 

The study Assessing Teachers’ Pedagogical Practices and Students’ Learning Outcomes in Mathematics and Science across Primary and Secondary School Levels: A Nationwide Study is set to begin in November 2017 and will be conducted by faculty and students at AKU-IED, under the direction of Dr Sadia Bhutta and Dr Nusrat Fatima Rizvi.