Saturday, February 29, 2020

Entries close at National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition 2020

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The entries for the highly sought-after National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition 2020 have closed down as the final time for submission was 11.59 pm (GMT) on February 23. The event is being promoted by the London-based APL Media Limited. 

Although the entrants had to be residents of the UK or Ireland only, the iconic annual competition generated global interest, catching the imagination of the photographers as well as the travelers. 

In order to enter the competition, the entrants had to submit their photograph using the entry form available as online entries were acceptable only. The photographic entries had to be below 25MB and .jpg format. 

It was mandatory to have all submissions to be the entrant’s own work, and they had to own the copyright to the photographs entered. It was also essential to have the photographs clicked within two years before the date of entry. 

The competition, in an effort to find the best talent in the country, had invited photographers of all levels from across the UK and Ireland to submit their travel images taken in the past year in one of four categories of cities, landscapes, nature and people. 

Becky Redman, Art Director, National Geographic Traveller (UK), is the designated head judge of the competition. All entries will be moderated by him before compiling a shortlist of top entries in each category. 

The National Geographic Traveller (UK) team will be sending the shortlist of entries to each independent judge. The independent judges will in turn select their three top entries for each of the four categories, who will become the finalists. The judges’ finalists will be announced on April 13 at which point the finalists will be notified. 

The head judge, Becky Redman, will then collate the judge’s votes to determine the overall grand-prize winner, who can be selected from any of the four category winners. 

The winners will be notified by e-mail before April 30. The grand-prize winner will head to Mexico with National Geographic Journeys and the category winners will receive a Manfrotto tripod. The selected entrants will also be included as part of a global press and media campaign, and featured on the National Geographic UK website. It has been announced that the prizes must be taken by December 15.

Coronavirus may be transmitted from computer keyboard, cell phone

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Coronavirus has been hitting headlines the world over for all kind of reasons. All aspects relating to the virus are being deliberated at all levels and the experts are sharing whatever information they may be having with them in this regard. 

The fear factor has gripped literally the whole world, particularly those countries where the virus has been suspected to have found its way. While the authorities are in the process of taking preemptive measures, there are all sorts of warnings coming from different sources. 

The scientists in China, from where it all started, have reportedly detected the Coronavirus appearing in the outside environment. It’s a kind of information that should be followed with caution by the regular visitors to the the net shop for gaming. 

According to the Chinese scientists, the virus could be in door handles, cell phones, computer keyboards and water valves. So you should pay attention often clean your phone, computer keyboard offline. 

Reportedly, the scientists in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province in southeast China, on February 2 discovered the nucleic acid of the new strain of Corona virus (2019-nCoV) on a door handle at a patient's home, believed to have been infected with this new virus. 

The People's Daily claimed that this was the first time that the scientists in Guangzhou had discovered the new strain of Coronavirus in the outside environment. 

According to the findings, the nucleic acid of the new corona virus strain appeared on the door handle which showed that the houses must be cleaned and the hands must be washed regularly as the virus mainly transmitted through droplets and contact.

“But if the virus appears on the surface of an object, you can become infected by indirect exposure. That's when you touch the infected surface, then use your hands to eat or rub your eyes,” the report said. 

“In fact, having a computer keyboard or a phone with lots of viruses is something scientists have long proven. This is because we constantly touch them with our hands, while eating, typing or maybe sneezing into them and making them become the place to attach to different viruses for a long time,” it added. 

“The advice is to use alcohol solution to regularly clean your phone, computer keyboard and even wash your hands with alcohol solution to reduce the risk of infection with Coronavirus,” the report suggested.

New typhoid protecting vaccine found

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

An emergency vaccination campaign in Sindh following the outbreak of typhoid in the province has found the typhoid conjugate vaccine to be effective in preventing new cases of the disease. 

The researchers of a recent event at Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, revealed that over 10,000 cases of extensively drug resistant (XDR) typhoid, a strain of the disease resistant to an unprecedented range of antibiotics, have been reported since 2016 in Karachi and Hyderabad which led to the launch of an emergency vaccination campaign in January 2018 in the worst affected areas of Hyderabad which saw 207,000 children between 6 months and 10 years of age receive the new vaccine. 

At the same time as the campaign, researchers set up a surveillance system in the same area over an 18-month period to screen a cohort of over 20,000 children, who received the vaccine, to detect cases of typhoid. They found that 9 out of 10 children in the cohort, or 89 per cent, did not contract the disease. 

“The results of the vaccine’s effectiveness are in line with a study in Nepal. This strengthens the case for the national rollout of the vaccine,” Dr Farah Qamar, an associate professor in paediatrics and child health at AKU, remarked.

During the event, Dr Farah Qamar spoke about how lessons from the Hyderabad campaign had been applied in Lyari, Karachi, and during the Sindh-wide rollout, conducted in November 2018, which aimed to reach over 10 million children during a three-week period. 

A mop-up campaign is now being planned in Sindh in March 2020 to immunize children between the age of 9 months and 15 years missed during the previous drive. 

The researchers noted that parents, whose children haven’t receive the vaccine, are keen to participate in the forthcoming immunization campaign. 

The speakers at the event revealed that cases of typhoid were being reported in parts of the Punjab province such as Lahore and Multan. The province is yet to launch the vaccine. 

The Punjab EPI Director, Dr Muhammad Saeed Akhtar, informed that cases of XDR typhoid and multi-drug resistant typhoid had been noticed to date.

“The Punjab government plans to include the vaccine in its routine immunization programme between September and October 2020. We will study the lessons learned from the Sindh campaign in order to ensure the success of our drive,” he shared. 

Dr Anita Zaidi, director of vaccine development, surveillance, and enteric and diarrheal diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed her support for efforts to generate evidence of the efficacy for this vaccine against typhoid fever. 

She added that a strategy to combat typhoid requires an integrated approach that covers access to clean water, improved sanitation, and immunization. 

During the event, the researchers from the AKU explained how their collaboration with the health authorities in Hyderabad helped trace the cause of the outbreak. 

“Our research involved geographic mapping which highlighted how the majority of typhoid cases were reported around sewage lines. Household water samples also tested positive for contamination showing that the drinking of contaminated water was the most likely cause for the outbreak,” Dr Momin Kazi, an assistant professor (research) in paediatrics and child health at AKU, mentioned. 

The research and policy advocacy efforts supporting the vaccine’s launch were backed by a team at AKU including Professor Rumina Hasan, Professor Zahra Hasan and Dr Sadia Shakoor from the department of pathology and microbiology, Dr Farah Qamar, Dr Tahir Yousafzai and Dr Momin Kazi from the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU.  

The control and prevention of water-borne diseases such as typhoid is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for the eradication of such diseases by 2030.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Nisar Memon regrets lack of governance

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Senator Nisar Memon, a former federal minister, has regretted the lack of governance at the top, believing that it’s about time to let the youth take leadership of country which will also help achieve happiness with them taking ownership of challenges.

“Of course, we have governance. The Constitution of Pakistan and all state institutions govern the 219.4 million people. Is it effective, decisive and sustainable? Even if one wishes to look optimistically, it is difficult to give an affirmative answer,” he wrote in a recently published newspaper article. 

“If governance was effective by this multi-party conglomeration in Islamabad, it would be visible in all walks of life. The conduct of parliamentary affairs, the quality of debates, government response to private bills and answers to members questions, the handling of Ordinances for converting them to bills, the absence of relevant government ministers during debates, and the language used by government leaders provoking harsher response from opposition benches; all point to an ineffective governance,” he observed.

“Let’s see the governance effectiveness in its economic policies. It would have been visible in results of economic policies which in nineteen months have brought unprecedented hardships to all sections of society due to increasing prices, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reports the food and beverages prices increased by 23.6% in January 2020; non-availability of essential food items; reduction in earnings making goods and service out of their reach; the rising inflation of 14.56%; and the lack of jobs. All these confirm ineffective governance,” Senator Nisar Memon pointed out. 

“The effectiveness of governance could not have been out of sight of citizens if speedy and affordable justice was provided at the doorstep of citizens. The pending cases, 1.9 million according to Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, due to lack of enough courts is causing hardship to people. The free education committed in the Constitution is yet to be provided, the poor quality of education in government schools, and the inadequacy of curriculum to prepare them to participate and contribute to economy of the country is yet another consideration,” he explained. 

“The level of basic health facilities and the medical services is forcing citizens to go for private medical services at huge costs and burden, it is reported in November 2019, in private hospitals a normal delivery package costs Rs. 200,000-300,000 and average cost of a private room between Rs. 8000-15,000 per day without healthcare facilities. The utility service bills include innumerable and unclear taxes and these days the jacked up wrong bills are adding insult to injury,” he added. 

He didn’t mince words in stating that all the economic hardships have reportedly increased the societal pressures leading to suicides, crime rate and terrorism. 

"The effective governance requires unity in rank and file of all institutions, which too is wanting. The burden of which lies on government leadership which must plan meticulously by taking all pros and cons of policies before launching them and then have patience and firmness to see them through,” he reckoned. 

The former federal minister emphasized that governance can be effective and decisive if coupled with sustainability. “In 2016, we committed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of UN and government will be better advised to tune itself to achieve them in the interest of its own people. The government talks of mafias who must be defeated at all cost. The fast eroding value system can be addressed by the trust in capability and capacity of government and by isolating unprincipled corrupt interest groups from government. Even the perception will affect the governance with its far-reaching impact on lives of people,” he thought. 

“The government cannot be at war internally and externally all the time. Creating crises to cover up deficiencies leads to question: do we have governance? The internal strength of governance is likely to provide impetus in resolution of external issues,” he advised. 

“Our tremendous resources must be mobilized by developing indigenous economic systems and not by representatives of the outside forces. Our youth, with 49.2% being female population, is our strength if harnessed by human resource development and providing them the opportunities,” he continued. 

“It is time to let the youth take leadership of country; this will also help achieve happiness with them taking ownership of challenges. Are people happy? It can be measured not by economic indicators alone but by social indicators as practiced for years in a small country like Bhutan,” he reminded. 

“The drifting away from Quaid’s guiding principles is yet another challenge to governance. The independence and security can be assured if sovereignty in governance is kept in focus while framing all our policies like: foreign, defence, economic, social, judicial and we replace the colonial laws and colonial way of life in the interest of our country and its citizens. A sovereign Pakistan’s vision will be the one to unite the nation towards making the country and institutions strong by protecting, preserving and developing Pakistan for all its citizens,” he concluded.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sindh Minister vows to protect rights of minorities

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Sindh Minister for Information, Local Government, Housing, Town Planning, Religious Affairs, Forest and Wildlife, Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, vowed to protect the rights of the minorities.

Having participated in the ongoing religious festival in Swami Narayan temple in Karachi, the provincial minister expressed his solidarity with the religious minorities and categorically acknowledged that the role and contribution of the members of the minorities in the development and progress of the country was commendable. 

“Following the teachings of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has always remained committed towards protecting the rights of the minorities,” he remarked on the occasion. 

“The Sindh government would continue to do so under the guidance and leadership of the PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It was the government of the PPP which always reserved seats for the members of the minorities more than any other political party in the country,” Nasir Hussain Shah added. 

He recalled that the PPP, through plenty of legislations, had protected the rights of the minorities in the province with the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act being another example. The Minister vowed that the Sindh government would continue to introduce whatever legislation needed for the protection of the members of the minorities. 

Nasir Hussain Shah announced that the Sindh government would make available 10,000 copies of Bhagavad Gita for the members of Hindu community soon. 

A Hindu delegation led by Pandit Shayam Nand and Ram Yoga Das, who came from Australia to attend the festival, also met with Syed Nasir Hussain Shah and his delegation that included special coordinator to Sindh Chief Minister, Shahzad Memon, Dr Lal Chand Ukrani and Chairman DMC South Malik Fayaz.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Healthcare workers bring about meaningful reduction in blood pressure

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

A multi-country research study in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has found that a low-cost, multi-component intervention helped deliver a clinically meaningful reduction in blood pressure levels among patients living with high blood pressure, or hypertension, as well as better control of the condition.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the multi-country intervention trial, Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (COBRA-BPS), evaluated the effectiveness of a range of interventions consisting of home visits by community healthcare workers to monitor blood pressure (BP) and provide lifestyle coaching, coupled with physician training and coordination with the public health care infrastructure among 2,550 individuals with hypertension living in 30 rural communities in the three South Asian countries over two years.

At the end of the study, the decline in mean systolic BP was 5 mmHg greater in the intervention group versus the control group, which received the usual care. Reduction in mean diastolic BP and BP control (<140/90 mmHg) was also better in the intervention group. The intervention also increased adherence to anti-hypertensive medications and lipid-lowering medicines, and improved some aspects of self-reported health. Additionally, there was a suggestion of a reduction in deaths in the intervention group.

“A sustained 5 mm Hg reduction in systolic BP at a community level translates into about a 30 per cent reduction in death and disability from cardiovascular disease,” Professor Tazeen H. Jafar from Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, who is the principal investigator of the three-country study, remarked.

“Our study demonstrates that an intervention led by community health workers and delivered using the existing healthcare systems in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka can lead to clinically meaningful reductions in BP as well as confer additional benefits all at a low cost,” the professor added.

Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and a leading cause of premature death globally leading to adverse economic consequences.

In Pakistan one in three adults suffered from high blood pressure, according to a 2016 study by the Pakistan Health Research Council. The control and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for a one-third reduction in deaths caused by such diseases by 2030.

Hypertension is a lifestyle disease and can be prevented and controlled by changing dietary and living habits. Risk factors that can cause hypertension include an unhealthy diet, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, psychosocial stressors, and excess alcohol consumption.

Aga Khan University’s Dr Imtiaz Jehan, the study’s country principal investigator in Pakistan and a co-author, said: “Uncontrolled hypertension, a lack of public awareness of the disease and its contributing risk factors, as well as inadequate anti-hypertensive medicine use are alarmingly high in Pakistan.”

“Controlling BP through lifestyle modifications and antihypertensive therapy can be the single most important way to prevent rising rates of cardiovascular disease and deaths in Pakistan. This trial seems timely to furnish evidence regarding sustainable and low-cost pragmatic solutions for effective BP control that can be integrated into our public primary healthcare system of lady health workers as well as referrals to basic health units through standardised training and task shifting,” Dr Imtiaz Jehan added.

Aga Khan University’s Dr Aamir Hameed Khan, the study’s co-investigator in Pakistan and a co-author highlighted the need to create a mechanism for refresher trainings for public and private sector physicians in order to effectively manage and control hypertension. He noted that the trainings provided through the trial were well received by physicians and local authorities. 

“The public health implications of our findings are significant. A low-cost programme like ours could be adapted and scaled up in many other settings globally, using the existing healthcare infrastructure to reduce the growing burden of uncontrolled hypertension and potentially save millions of lives, as well as reduce suffering from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease,” Professor Jafar added.

A formal cost-effectiveness analysis is currently underway by Professor Eric Finkelstein, a health economist at Duke-NUS and the Duke Global Health Institute. Early estimates by the study group suggest that scaling up the COBRA-BPS intervention nationally in the three countries would cost less than US$11 per patient annually.

This is the first multi-country trial of its kind and a model of South-South collaboration. While there are differences in the health systems and some population characteristics in the countries involved, BP control rates are uniformly poor in all of them. Nonetheless, the study found that similar results were achieved in all three countries with the standardized strategies, suggesting that the intervention has validity in different settings.  

The COBRA-BPS study is led by Professor Tazeen Jafar and her team at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore in partnership with Dr Imtiaz Jehan from Aga Khan University, Pakistan; Dr Aliya Naheed from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh; and Prof Asita de Silva from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, leading the trial as country principal investigators in the three countries respectively. 

The study is funded by the Joint Global Health Trials scheme, which included the Medical Research Council, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and the Wellcome Trust.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

AKU Surgical Conference calls for systemic approach to reduce injury deaths

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The experts, while speaking at the inaugural session of the 5th AKU Annual Surgical Conference, having the theme Trauma: Striving for Change, reckoned that thousands of injury deaths every year in Pakistan could be averted by taking safety measures on one side and by adopting a systematic approach to improve trauma care on the other side. 

A systematic approach ensures that life-saving interventions are performed in a timely manner and that no life-threatening conditions are missed, the speakers at the event, organized by the Aga Khan University (AKU), noted. 

As per the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, such an approach could consist of emergency care in the form of first aid being provided by a trained bystander, who can also call an ambulance, equipped with necessary life support and at least two personnel, one to monitor and manage the patient and the other to drive. Ambulance personnel should be able to communicate to a relevant hospital prior to arrival, if needed. 

During the handover, the ambulance provider should share critical information with hospital personnel, who then triage patients to different areas based on the seriousness of their condition. 

Research from the conference was published in a special supplement of the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA). 

During the event, Professor Syed Ather Enam, chair of the Department of Surgery at AKU, referred to a case report of a two and half-year old boy, who sustained three gunshots at point-blank range. 

The child was unresponsive when the terrified family brought him to the emergency department of the Aga Khan University Hospital after trying two nearby hospitals. 

When the patient did not respond to initial resuscitation efforts, a team of paediatric, cardiothoracic and orthopaedic surgery, and paediatric anesthesiology specialists was taken on board and he was moved to the operating room immediately. 

“Today, he is a healthy four-and-a-half-year old schoolgoing child. There could be thousands of people who were not lucky like him. That’s because our hospitals lack multidisciplinary teams of specialists and the emergency care system as a whole is short of fully equipped ambulances and trained bystanders,” Professor Enam said. 

The AKU’s Annual Surgical Conference brought together national and international experts with expertise in pre-hospital care, mass casualty, rehabilitation, prevention and disaster management. 

“Since blood loss is the leading cause of preventable death following injury, rapid control of bleeding at the scene of an event can be lifesaving, especially if bystanders can step in to help before emergency responders arrive,” Eileen Bulger, a professor of surgery at the University of Washington, remarked. 

On the second day of the conference, the AKU’s upcoming Centre of Excellence for Trauma and Emergencies, and partners will launch a national life-saving initiative focused on bystander training in life support. Emergency care is essential to many targets of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Under SDG 3, good health and wellbeing: Post-crash emergency care and rehabilitation has been estimated to play a role in preventing 40 per cent of road traffic deaths. 

"Also, timely emergency care access is critical to effective universal health coverage. Emergency care can also contribute to efforts to achieve targets under 10 more SDGs by addressing non-communicable diseases, obstetric complications, child health issues, and injuries related to disasters and violence,"Hasan Badre Alam, a professor of surgery at the University of Michigan, informed.

The AKU Vice Provost Anjum Halai, Medical College, Dean, Adil Haider, and chair of the event’s organizing committee Hasnain Zafar also spoke at the conference. 

The Annual AKU Surgical Conference, organized by the Department of Surgery at the AKU in Karachi, offered unparalleled hands-on and didactic learning opportunities, timely discourse on the most relevant surgical practices and research and networking with peers. The last year’s conference had focused on the global surgery.

Idarae Ilm Dost making its presence felt

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi 
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Idarae Ilm Dost, a forum founded by Shabbir Ibne Adil and like-minded contemporaries, has started making its presence felt by holding programmes regularly. 

The latest event was organized at the KMC Officers Club, located at Kashmir Road, on February 14 in which the accomplishments and contributions of the legendary quartet of Hakim Muhammad Said, Mirza Ghalib, Ibne Insha and Josh Meleehabadi were recalled by various eminent personalities. 

Although none of the high ranking officials of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) was present on the occasion, there were quite a few worthy intellectuals brightening the premises of the KMC Officers Club. 

The initiatives of Shabbir Ibne Adil and his group of friends augur well for the literary minded community of the metropolis, which has witnessed a dearth of such activities over the years.

Shabbir Ibne Adil, who has had successful career at the Pakistan Television (PTV), deserves to be complimented for devoting his energies towards this cause and it’s being hoped that he will continue working towards goals despite the mixed response he’s likely to receive for the obvious reasons. 

In an era when reading books is on the way to extinction due a combination of factors, it’s incredibly gladdening to find the likes of Shabbir Ibne Adil trying their level best to remind people about its innumerable virtues. 

The intentions of Idarae Ilm Dost look absolutely inspirational and one hopes that the execution will also be generally right although the presence of a few individuals with dubious reputation makes people skeptical about it. 

It remains to be seen if Shabbir Ibne Adil and his team will be able to overcome the people with vested interests, who have been engaged in blocking healthy traditions.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

AKU surgery conference begins on Feb 14

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The 5th AKU (Aga Khan University) Annual Surgical Conference from February 14 to 16 in Karachi will focus on how these precious lives can be saved by following a systematic approach for improving trauma care, training and research. 

As injury kills more people every year than HIV, TB and malaria combined, and the overwhelming majority of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, the theme of this year’s conference is 'Trauma: Striving for Change' will enable the experts and participants to deliberate on those burning issues. 

The conference will bring together national and international experts with expertise in pre-hospital care, mass casualty, rehabilitation, prevention and disaster management. 

On the second day of the conference, the AKU’s upcoming Centre of Excellence for Trauma and Emergencies, and partners will launch a national life-saving initiative focused on trauma care.