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Showing posts with label AKU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AKU. Show all posts

Monday, October 14, 2019

Plea to empower volunteer nurses, physicians




By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The community-based palliative care can serve to be a cost-effective method to provide care to individuals undergoing serious illness. 

Training and empowering volunteer nurses and physicians can change how palliative care, a method of care and support of a patient’s well-being by ensuring their physical, social and psychological needs are met, is perceived in Pakistan, according to speakers at the 1st Palliative Care Symposium at Aga Khan University (AKU) which was held on the occasion of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. 

An estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care in the world and 78 percent of whom live in low and middle-income countries. In Pakistan, there are less 10 health facilities that deliver palliative care under the supervision of trained palliative specialists. 

The speakers at the symposium stressed the importance of palliative medicine and noted that it remains a low-priority issue in Pakistan 

They added that AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has taken the lead in this field by introducing an elective course on palliative care to meet gaps in the national nursing curriculum. There is a need for increasing public awareness and formalising training to establish palliative care opportunities for homes and at the community level, they added 

The patients who receive early palliative care in the course of treatment of disease have to be given less-aggressive care towards the end of their life and have a longer survival rate since it significantly improves their quality of life and mood, according to Dr Ali Haider, an assistant professor of palliative medicine at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center USA. 

Differentiating between hospice and community-based care, speakers noted that while a hospice is a paid practice world-wide, training and volunteering nurses and individuals can be an affordable practice for families to enable better living of patients. 

The speakers at the event also highlighted the role of family physicians in providing holistic palliative care to patients with life-limiting illnesses owing to their accessibility to communities. Due to a physician’s familiarity with patient’s health history, they are able to advice on a multidimensional care model for the family. 

They also spoke about how palliative care is associated with patients suffering from cancer when in reality both patients and families can benefit from it for any illness that may shorten life. Some people also believe that it should be practiced when a doctor has given up on a patient and there is no hope. 

Another myth the speakers tackled was about children’s palliative care that it can only be offered in high-resourced settings when in reality, it can be provided in community health centres and in homes too. 

“Palliative care, on the flipside, ensures living life as fully as possible through compassionate, patient-centred care,” Dr Nasreen Saleem, a senior instructor on palliative care at AKU, remarked. 

The symposium was held in collaboration between the University’s departments of oncology, family medicine, paediatrics and child health and AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

The one-day event marking the theme ‘My Care, My Right’ was attended by healthcare professionals, nursing leaders, social workers, health policy makers and medical education.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Pakistan’s unusual suicide issues highlighted


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Married women and single men under the age of 30 in Pakistan are among the groups most likely to commit suicide, according to speakers at a panel session Wellness in the Workplace at Aga Khan University. 

The event was part of a week of sessions and themed activities aimed at spreading awareness of the importance of suicide prevention: the theme for World Mental Health Day 2019. 

The speakers noted that research showed that Pakistan’s highest-risk groups for suicide were different to those in other parts of the world. 

In the West, single men between the age of 50 and 60 are most likely to take their own lives. But in Pakistan, youth of working age, under the age of 30, are most likely to commit suicide which suggested that employers had a role to play in tackling the public health threat of suicide, which claimed about 800,000 lives a year globally, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to global figures, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds with three out of four suicides occurring in low and middle income countries. 

The worthy speakers reckoned that companies needed to establish a culture where people could speak about their challenges and daily stresses without the fear of being judged. 

The forums where employees can openly share their concerns promote wellness in the workplace and reduce the threat of issues such as anxiety and burnout. 

Shagufta Hassan, interim CEO of Aga Khan University Hospital, added that companies should launch professional mentorship programmes so that vulnerable youth had someone they could seek advice from. 

She also highlighted the importance of offices having counselling services where employees facing challenges could access additional help or be referred to professionals. 

Speaking at the event, Atiya Naqvi, a clinical psychologist, noted the importance of friends and family in supporting those going through a difficult time, adding that the mere act of listening to a person’s problems helps reduce anxiety. She also spoke of the need to monitor one’s thought patterns and to communicate one’s concerns with those around them. 

Dr Ayesha Mian, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at AKU, noted that hopelessness and despair are feelings that often exist in people with suicidal ideation. 

She noted that being unable to cope with financial pressures, academic stresses, dysfunctional relationships and bullying were some of the determinants known to lead to passive or active thoughts of suicide. 

“There is a myth that only those patients with mental health disorders will commit suicide. While more often than not, patients who die of suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric illness, there may be those who do not have a mental health disorder. We know that for every one person who takes their life there are ten people actively planning suicide and a 100 with suicidal ideation, which is why prevention efforts are so vital,” Dr Ayesha remarked. 

She also spoke about how compassionate words and actions can help ease feelings of despondency that may lead to pervasive feelings of hopelessness and suicidality in those vulnerable. 

“Talking about suicide doesn’t promote suicide. We often underestimate the importance of listening and acting with compassion even though they help protect against a number of self-harming actions. It is important to listen with sincerity and without fear; if you don’t know what to do, ask the person how would you like me to help,” she advised. 

Over the course of the week, students and staff at the University participated in support group sessions and wellness camps designed to promote mental wellbeing. Students also held a Kindness Walk and organized a Wall of Compassion to showcase the importance of empathy and kindness in preventing harmful thoughts and actions.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Think-thank launched at AKU


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The health professionals at Aga Khan University have launched a new think tank, AKUPI-NCD, in partnership with experts from a variety of sectors, in order to recommend novel, integrated approaches to address the threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs): the leading cause of death in the country.

Approximately 80 million Pakistanis are living with one or more NCDs, a set of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, conditions caused by tobacco abuse, and mental disorders, that are predominantly caused by poor lifestyle choices and environmental risk factors such as pollution and urbanization. 

Despite being the country’s top cause of death and the leading cause of poor quality of life, the country continues to pursue a fragmented approach with little coordination among stakeholders, experts said. Pakistan is far from meeting the targets set by the WHO for the National Systems Response for NCDs. 

“NCDs aren’t a problem for the healthcare sector alone. These diseases have complex causes and long-lasting consequences and their costs to society extend far beyond lost productivity and stunted economic growth. That’s because of the cost of treating advanced cases of NCDs drive many families into poverty and makes them dependent on the government or other actors in society,” AKU’s Professor Zainab Samad, chair of the initiative, remarked.

The demographics of today’s Pakistan mean that NCDs are a particularly pressing problem. Speakers noted that the majority of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30 and warned that the coming decades could see a rising burden of these illnesses in an aging population. 

“NCDs are silent killers which continue to go unnoticed. The Airblue crash of 2010 claimed 125 lives and the public attention to the tragedy resulted in immediate regulatory action. NCDs cause 14 times as many deaths every day yet there is an absence of coordinated action from government and civil society on the issue,” Professor Wasay remarked. 

The think tank’s inaugural meeting brought together officials from the insurance, market research, non-profit, banking and public sector to discuss the creation of an integrated plan. The presence of this plan would demonstrate the think tank’s long-term vision and enable stakeholders to coordinate their efforts, speakers noted. 

AKU’s Professor Wasay, AKUPI-NCD co-chair, called on stakeholders to consider partnering on initiatives in three areas: education and training, policy advocacy and awareness, and research. 

“NCDs are preventable. Efforts to forestall their onset must begin at home at an early age. As a starting point, he noted that advocacy measures should revolve around lifestyle modification campaigns in which media organizations and schools can help disseminate information about the risks posed by tobacco use, a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits," he said.

The experts noted that education and training initiatives can make an immediate impact in the area hypertension as the condition often goes undiagnosed until it leads to life-threatening complications such as stroke. 

Commenting on research initiatives, Professor Wasay added that market research firms, insurance companies and public sector institutions all have information that can be analyzed to determine the most effective course of action for each type of NCD. 

Besides pooling together data, experts noted that the establishment of a central data point would advance the study of the public health impact of NCDs. 

There were a number of other experts at the event from the finance, insurance, public health and data science industries as well as representatives from the National Institute of Health and Ministry of National Health Services and Regulation.

Monday, August 5, 2019

AKU ranks among top global universities


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

In global rankings, the Aga Khan University (AKU) has been ranked among the top 100 universities for clinical medicine and among the top 200 for public health internationally in the latest Shanghai Ranking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2019 released by the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

The AKU is the only university in Pakistan ranked in clinical medicine and public health in the top 500 universities. 

In clinical medicine, the AKU is in the group of universities ranked between 76th and 100th, a marked improvement from its 2018 position in the 151–200 group. 

The university is ranked 151–200 in the public health group. 

“This international ranking is recognition of the AKU as a role model for health and education in the developing world. Even places where resources are scarce, we aim to meet the global quality standards and demonstrate that excellence is a powerful force for transformation,” Firoz Rasul, President, AKU, stated. 

The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy is a fully independent organization dedicated to research on higher education intelligence and consultation. It has been ARWU’s official publisher since 2009. 

This year, Shanghai Ranking published its third round of subject rankings covering 54 subject areas. The ranking draws from Web of Science bibliometric data, InCites, and considers performance in five categories: publications, citations, top journal presence, international collaboration in publications and awards. 

An increase in papers published and indexed in major citation indices has improved AKU's ranking over the last three years. 

“Our clinical investigations are closely linked to teaching to innovate for better healthcare and to research for creating new knowledge. We take great pride in this ranking not only for ourselves but for Pakistan, and will work to use it as an opportunity to enhance clinical care and access to life-saving treatments in the country,” Dr Adil Haider, Dean of AKU’s Medical College, observed.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sindh government rolls out typhoid conjugate vaccine


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The children in the Lyari neighbourhood of Karachi, one of the areas worst-hit by the typhoid outbreak in Sindh, are receiving their first dose of the typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV), the latest vaccine to be included in Pakistan’s routine immunization programme. 

The staff from Aga Khan University (AKU), working in partnership with the Sindh government, will inoculate over 100,000 infants and children between the ages of six months and 15 years by administering the vaccine at public and private sector schools and hospitals based in one of the city’s most densely populated towns. 

“This is the first step in a mass immunization campaign for Sindh. The vaccine is the most effective way to curb new cases and to protect children from a disease which is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to treat,” Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, Sindh Health minister, remarked. 

Pakistan is the first country among low-income nations eligible for funding from GAVI, a global, public-private partnership committed to increasing access to immunization to include TCV in its nationwide schedule of vaccines against 11 preventable diseases. 

The decision is in line with the country’s commitment to end outbreaks of water-borne and communicable diseases in its efforts to meet goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

“Deaths and complications from typhoid were rare over the past 15 years but the ongoing outbreak has put an unprecedented number of children at risk,” Farah Qamar, an associate professor in paediatrics and child health at AKU, stated. 

“Efforts are underway to address the root cause of the outbreak failings in our water and sanitation system but in the meantime this vaccine represents the best way to save lives,” she added. 

Researchers from the AKU will analyze the data from the Lyari drive to understand factors determining the acceptability and efficacy of the vaccine which, in turn, will enable its successful rollout across the country from October 2019. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that over 5,000 cases of XDR typhoid have been reported in the province to date. 

The scale of the outbreak led the Sindh government and private sector partners, such as the AKU and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, collaborating to launch an emergency vaccination drive in Hyderabad in January 2018. 

The faculty and staff at the AKU microbiology laboratory first detected the typhoid outbreak in blood culture tests from Hyderabad in October 2016. They collaborated with epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists from the University’s department of paediatrics to bring the matter to the attention of local government, the WHO, the US National Institutes of Health, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the UK-based Wellcome Sanger Institute. 

Since then, the university’s researchers and its partners have collaborated on a number of studies to understand the genetic make-up of the typhoid strain, to ascertain risk factors for its geographic spread and to assess the safety and efficacy of TCV in an emergency outbreak situation. 

Data and policy implications stemming from these studies were shared with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan and the federal government’s National Technical Advisory Group. 

This led to a successful application for funding from GAVI and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation resulting in the permanent inclusion of TCV in the country’s nationwide immunization programme, a win-win situation for stopping the spread of a preventable disease.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Policymakers commemorate breakthrough year for nursing, midwifery


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The government of Pakistan has designated 2019 as the year of nursing and is working to enhance the role and voices of nurses and midwives in health policymaking, in recognition of the vital part they play in promoting universal healthcare and in defending women’s rights, the speakers at Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery (SONAM) observed.

The school brought together policymakers, senior academics and nursing leaders at an event to celebrate International Nurses Day and the International Day of the Midwife. 

In a message submitted ahead of the event, Sindh Minister for Health and Population Dr Azra Pechuho said: “The government is taking necessary steps to recognize nurses as equal partners in the healthcare system.” 

The provincial minister noted that nurses and midwives are already playing their part in providing quality healthcare to communities across the country and called on stakeholders to encourage and facilitate efforts to deepen their impact on the healthcare system.

The learned speakers at the event discussed the launch of new initiatives following President Dr Arif Alvi’s declaration and in light of Pakistan joining the global Nursing Now initiative. 

In his keynote speech, Shabbir Hussain, Director General Nursing for Sindh, highlighted the crucial partnership between nursing schools, hospitals and regulatory bodies in Pakistan in raising the image, status and role of nurses. 

“Nursing is emerging as one of the best professions in the healthcare sector and we are collectively making efforts to improve working conditions for our nurses and midwives to ensure that they can continue to provide quality healthcare services,” he said. 

The speakers also noted that besides encouraging investment in the nursing workforce and recruiting more nurses into leadership roles, the focus has to shift to research, capacity building and the implementation of best-practice. 

Dr David Arthur, Dean of AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, reckoned that nurses now have a variety of career opportunities open to them. “Today’s nurses are seen as educators, researchers and counsellors in addition to working in different healthcare settings. They are also seeking specialization within nursing in various clinical areas, which further highlights their roles as front-line caregivers and strong patient advocates in all areas within a healthcare facility,” he remarked. 

Nurses have come a long way over the past few decades, are in a variety of leadership positions in the clinical and academic spheres, and stand ready to support the government’s efforts to achieve targets under the UN sustainable development goals, added Laila Cassum, a senior instructor at SONAM. 

The speeches were followed by a panel discussion on the challenges nurses and midwives face in public and private healthcare institutions. 

The panelists highlighted the need to increase the proportion of the healthcare budget allocated to the profession and called for more steps to recognize the contribution of nurses and midwives. 

Practicing nurses and midwives, students and nursing leaders from educational and healthcare institutions across Sindh were present at the event.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

National Quit Smoking Day on 1st Ramazan


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

The various health professionals’ organizations have voiced their concerns on the hazards of smoking cigarettes, which reportedly bring out the death of 166,000 people every year in Pakistan, on the eve of the National Quit Smoking Day to be observed on the upcoming first day of Ramazan. 

They have thrown light on the devastating tobacco epidemic rampant in the country and emphasized that the holy month of Ramadan provided a golden opportunity for people to quit smoking. 

“Cigarettes are killers that travel in packs. Tobacco consumption is the leading preventable cause of death, causing seven million deaths per year worldwide. Moreover, this death toll is expected to rise to 10 million per year by the year 2025 if the tobacco epidemic continues uncurbed. The horrifying impact of tobacco use in Pakistan is made apparent by the fact that smoking killed 166,000 Pakistanis in 2018 alone,” they warned. 

Prof Javaid Khan of the Aga Khan University (AKU) and Chair of the National Alliance for Tobacco Control, speaking at the Karachi Press Club, informed that every year, 1st Ramazan is commemorated all over the Muslim World as Quit Tobacco Day. 

“Ramazan presents a unique opportunity for Muslims to adopt a healthy lifestyle and quit tobacco use. Each puff of tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, including at least 70 known to cause cancer. Tobacco kills half of those who use it, with its victims dying, on average, 15 to 20 years prematurely,” he stated. 

Prof Javaid Khan also urged religious scholars of the country to use this holy month to disseminate information to the public about the hazards associated with tobacco use. 

Dr Qaisar Sajjad, Head and Neck Surgeon and Secretary General, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), added that smokeless tobacco in the form of Gutka, Naswar and manipuri was responsible for 90% of head and neck cancers in the country. 

Advising the government to increase the taxation on tobacco products, he regretted the delay in introduction of Sin Tax on cigarettes as announced by the Health Minister last year.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Global children’s research hospital teams up with specialist centres in Pakistan


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

80 per cent of the world’s paediatric cancer cases occur in low and middle income countries such as Pakistan and childhood cancer care in the country stands to improve as US-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a global leader in children’s cancer care and research, launches a series of partnerships aimed at enhancing the standard of oncology services in the country. 

St Jude’s Global has built a network of regional partnerships spanning over 50 countries to promote self-sufficiency and the sharing of knowledge, skills and best practices in paediatric cancer under a US$100 million initiative. 

A memorandum of understanding in Pakistan has been signed by Dr Carlos Rodriquez Galindo, executive director at St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and Dr Adil Haider, dean of AKU’s medical college, at a ceremony on April 23. 

“The majority of children in the developing world still lose their lives to cancers that can be effectively treated. No child should die in the prime of their life and our partnerships with institutions like AKU will play a crucial role in realising our goal of enhancing paediatric cancer survival rates around the world,” Dr Galindo remarked.

As a member of St. Jude Global’s alliance, AKU’s healthcare professionals and researchers will benefit from a range of capacity building, research and knowledge-sharing initiatives aimed at strengthening Pakistan’s child cancer health system and at developing patient-centered initiatives across the continuum of care.

The partnership will see nurses, paediatric oncology specialists and intensive care unit staff at AKU’s teaching hospital benefit from specialised courses as well as hands-on training at the Memphis-based research hospital.

The research faculty will also participate in initiatives to generate new knowledge in the field and to develop collaborative projects with partner institutions in the global network.

The staff at AKU will also work with the Pakistan Society of Paediatric Oncology to extend the benefits of the global partnership to public, private and charity hospitals with paediatric oncology units in the country.

Early partners in the alliance with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital include Indus Hospital and the National Institute of Child Health.

“This partnership is for all children in Pakistan. Our specialists see some of the most complicated late-stage cases of childhood cancer cases and we’re keen to collaborate on initiatives that will raise the standard of oncology services across Pakistan,” Professor Zehra Fadoo, head of oncology services at AKU’s teaching hospital, stated.

An estimated 80 per cent of the world’s paediatric cancer patients live in low and middle income countries and the MoU is in line with the University’s commitment to achieve targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals which seek a one-third reduction in cancer mortality and morbidity by 2030.

The university had entered into a similar agreement with Fred Hutch, another global leader in cancer research and care, in March 2019.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Monday fever in Pakistan’s largest export industry

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Monday morning sees many workers in Pakistan’s spinning and weaving factories complain of chest pain and shortness of breath. Commonly known as ‘Monday fever’, these symptoms are actually signs of respiratory disease which resurface as employees return to work and become exposed to cotton dust.

Cotton dust is a colourless, odourless, substance that is an unavoidable byproduct of the process that converts raw cotton into yarn or yarn into fabric. 

The exposure to this health hazard causes short-term irritation in the nose, eyes and chest; and long-term damage to the lungs leading to chronic respiratory diseases like bysinossis. 

In a previous study, researchers from Aga Khan University (AKU) found that 90 per cent of textile labourers had little knowledge of the risks posed by cotton dust. 

The same set of researchers are set to partner with 28 textile mills in Karachi’s industrial areas and prominent industry trade bodies on the MultiTex randomised controlled trial. 

The trial will assess the effectiveness of four convenient, low-cost measures in reducing cotton dust levels in the sector which employs 40 per cent of Pakistan’s industrial workforce. 

The initiatives include the provision of free, disposable face masks to workers, training sessions and refresher courses for both managers and employees on health and safety, and the formation of workplace committees tasked with implementing safety procedures. 

The study will see researchers evaluate whether these initiatives can reduce the presence of the harmful substance in the workplace and the extent to which these interventions are improving the health of the workforce. 

“Respiratory illnesses are one of the leading causes of death in Pakistan. This study has the potential to protect textile workers from a chronic disease and to raise awareness of the need for robust occupational health and safety programmes. Moreover, since the research is being done in partnership with mills and trade bodies we anticipate that findings will be quickly implemented by industry,” the WHO National Professional Officer, Shehzad Alam, remarked. 

The study’s objectives are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals which call for targeted efforts to reduce the burden of chronic respiratory disease (Goal 3.4.1) and to promote safe and secure workplace environments (Goal 8.8). 

“Our study brings together employees and managers to achieve a common good. We hope to demonstrate how such collaborations can boost employee health while delivering important secondary benefits in the form of productivity improvements, compliance with global health and safety protocols and industrial growth,” Dr Asaad Nafees, an assistant professor in community health sciences at AKU., added. 

 MultiTex has been funded by a grant from the UK’s Wellcome Trust which supports innovative ideas to improve health. The trial is being conducted in partnership with the Towel Manufacturers Association and talks are ongoing with other trade bodies. Co-investigators on the study include faculty from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Pakistan, US researchers launch artificial intelligence study


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The researchers at the Aga Khan University and the University of Virginia are collaborating on an innovative project that will harness the power of artificial intelligence to understand a particularly complex disorder of the intestine, Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED).

The EED, often referred to as a neglected disease of poverty, is widespread among children in low-income countries such as Pakistan where the population is exposed to contaminated water and poor sanitation. 

The EED hinders the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients compromising children’s growth potential and leaving them vulnerable to a range of diseases. 

The data scientists have already demonstrated how ‘intelligent’ computers can outperform experienced radiologists and pathologists in detecting signs of disease in x-rays and biopsies. 

Dr Sana Syed, an assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia and Dr Asad Ali, associate dean for research at Aga Khan University, are now applying ‘deep learning’, a type of artificial intelligence, to train a computer programme to analyse microscopic images of tissue located deep inside the small intestine.

The initiative, funded through an Engineering in Medicine grant from the University of Virginia (UVa), will be conducted in collaboration with the Data Science Institute at UVa. 

The project will see computers break down the size, shape and structure of images of the intestine’s cells into a matrix of numbers. 

Every number corresponds to a pixel, the smallest unit of an image, and as the programme scans more of these images, it becomes alert to abnormal patterns. 

Eventually, the computer will learn to compare images of healthy intestines to those affected with EED and to pinpoint the differences at the cellular level that trigger the disorder. 

The images of intestines affected by EED being studied come from work in SEEM, a USD $13m multi-country grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. SEEM is co-led by Dr Asad Ali, associate dean of research at Aga Khan University, and Dr Sean R Moore at the University of Virginia. 

Along with the images from SEEM, Dr Syed will also be analysing images held in the University of Virginia’s pathology archives as well as those provided by collaborators from the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine.

“Applying cutting edge data science methods on these images will help us decipher this complex, high-dimensional biomedical data, and yield insights that will improve the way we diagnose the disease,” Dr Sana Syed, assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia, remarked. 

“Advances in computing technology offer a neutral, systematic way to process huge amounts of data and this enables us to pursue a multiomics approach where we analyse information on proteins, chemical compounds and even microorganisms to study all the biological changes caused by EED. This knowledge could then be used to test nutritional or pharmacological interventions that can reduce the harmful health effects of EED.” 

In the longer-term, Dr Syed and Dr Ali believe that these insights could also transform the way doctors diagnose EED. At present, the only way to conclusively identify the disease is through a biopsy, an invasive procedure that involves extracting tissue samples from a person’s intestine. 

The researchers aim to use the insights from their work to create a comprehensive set of screening biomarkers, chemical warning signs, that would help future clinicians diagnose EED through a simple blood or urine test. 

“The EED is one of the drivers of chronic public health problems in the developing world such as malnutrition, stunting, and poor response to vaccines,” Dr Asad Ali said. 

“Addressing EED will help us unsettle the vicious cycle of poverty triggering poor health, and poor health leading to poverty,” he added. 

The SEEM is a multi-institutional partnership focused on the EED. The partners on the project include AKU, the University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Washington University.

Friday, May 18, 2018

AKU study reveals hypertension growth in rural Sindh


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

 A study exploring the risk posed by high blood pressure in rural areas of Sindh has found alarmingly low awareness of the disease, and numerous cases of uncontrolled blood pressure despite the use of medication.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often seen as a ‘lifestyle disease’ that is common in urban areas where risk factors such as stress, poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are common. 

However, findings from a baseline survey conducted by Aga Khan University in 10 rural areas of Thatta, released on May 17, World Hypertension Day, point to the disease being a public health threat in rural areas as well. 

One in three adults in Pakistan is already living with high blood pressure, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. The study noted a similar prevalence in rural areas with one in five adults over the age of 40 living with hypertension. 

Researchers also found low awareness of the disease with six out of ten people suffering from high blood pressure not knowing that they had the disease. Even those taking medication were at a high risk of health complications associated with hypertension since the survey found that more than seven out of ten people on anti-hypertensive drugs continued to suffer from uncontrolled blood pressure.

The baseline survey was part of an ongoing multi-country collaborative trial Primary Care Strategies to Reduce High Blood Pressure: A Cluster Randomized Trial in Rural Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  
One of the striking findings of the study was the prevalence of inadequate treatment for hypertension as nearly 90 per cent of individuals in the study were only taking a single blood pressure drug. 

However, effective control of blood pressure requires most patients to take more than one anti-hypertensive medication. 

Moreover, the study found that just under half of all patients (48 per cent) were not taking their medicines regularly which also increased their vulnerability to the disease. High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in Pakistan, and can also lead to the onset of other non-communicable diseases such diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. 

“Hypertension has reached epidemic levels in Pakistan and other South Asian countries,” Dr Imtiaz Jehan, associate professor at AKU and principal investigator of the study in Pakistan, remarked. 

“We must focus on how to prevent new cases and on ways to improve existing hypertension management care. We plan to use insights from our ongoing study to determine which solutions can be integrated into the public healthcare systems thereby saving the most lives.” 

The control and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCD) 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. 

“The growing burden of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan means that this trial will generate evidence that is likely to inform much needed NCD care program planning which will improve the performance of health systems,” Dr Sameen Siddiqui, chair of the department of community health sciences at AKU, observed. 

The study’s principal investigator Professor Tazeen Jafar from Duke National University of Singapore Medical School said: "The majority of individuals with treated hypertension have uncontrolled blood pressure in rural Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with significant disparities among and within countries. Urgent public health efforts are needed to improve access and adherence to anti-hypertensive medications in disadvantaged populations in rural South Asia.” 

The study in Pakistan is part of a multi-country research collaboration called COBRA-BPS (Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).