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Showing posts with label World Health Organization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Health Organization. Show all posts

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.

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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Harmful levels of lead and arsenic in common foods


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Unusually high levels of lead and arsenic, heavy metals most commonly associated with human poisoning, have been found in common foods. These are the findings of a research study, conducted by the Aga Khan University in collaboration with Japan’s Jichi Medical University, that were presented at a seminar Heavy Metals, Food Safety and Child Development at AKU on December 5.
Lead and arsenic are two chemicals deemed to be of major concern to public health, according to the World Health Organization’s International Programme on Chemical Safety, since both elements have toxic effects that can cause irreversible neurological damage and even trigger a wide range of chronic diseases. 

To determine the cause of lead and arsenic exposure, the AKU researchers looked at common sources of lead and arsenic exposure including petrol, foods, drinking water, house-dust, respirable dust and soil across urban and rural areas of Pakistan. 

In addition, blood samples from pregnant women, newborns and young children were taken to assess their health risk. Surprisingly, drinking water and surma (kohl) were not the main sources of lead exposure. 

For pregnant women, foods such as potatoes and boiled rice and for children, food and house-dust were found to be the most important contributors of lead exposure. The women and children who took part in the study had blood lead levels significantly higher than the 5 µg/dl (microgrammes per deciliter) used as a reference level for health risk by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Describing the findings of the study, Dr Ambreen Sahito, research coordinator for the study, stated that more than “60 per cent of newborns and about 90 per cent of children aged 1-3 years had blood lead levels that exceeded CDC guidelines, with grave lifelong consequences. Finding of the research are also relevant to Sustainable Development Goal 3 that calls for efforts to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.” 

Dr Zafar Fatmi, professor of Community Health Sciences at AKU, revealed that Pakistan’s population has a relatively higher exposure to lead than other countries. “Food contamination can occur during production (farming), processing (in industry or at home) or packaging (if materials are contaminated with lead) and this calls for food processes to be regulated and monitored at each stage. Policymakers will need to pay closer attention to how lead contaminants are entering food chain.” 

He said that the next step was a systematic investigation to reveal at which point in the cycle food is contaminated. Research is also needed into the most commonly contaminated food items, he added. 

Exposure to lead can be limited by simple home activities: hand hygiene, mothers and children washing their hands and washing well, as well as regular wet mopping. Poocha, swabbing, lessens house-dust, containing air pollutants and paint contaminants, reducing lead exposure among children substantially, Dr Shahla Naeem, a member of the AKU research team, remarked 

A second study looking into arsenic exposure had equally surprising findings. It is often thought that drinking water and ‘unsafe’ cookware determines arsenic exposure. 

The researchers looked deeper into the issue by cooking with water that had been boiled and in pans made of four different metals. What they found was that regardless of the type of cookware used, chicken had at least 15 times more arsenic than potatoes and up to 5 times more arsenic than lentils that had been cooked in identical water. 

Explaining the policy implications of the arsenic study, Dr Fatmi, Dr Sahito and Dr Ghani pointed out two areas of concern. “Water standards do need to be considered. The government needs to provide a safe drinking water supply for communities living along the riverbanks as groundwater is a well-known source of arsenic.” 

“Equally important is food standards. We suspect that chicken feed or vaccines given to poultry could be the source of arsenic in meat.” 

It was pointed out that the US Federal Drug Authority has banned an arsenic-based poultry vaccine in April 2015 and regulatory authorities should consider doing the same in Pakistan. However, speakers stressed that the public should not stop eating chicken for fear of arsenic exposure. 

Dr Fatmi said: “While more research is needed on this topic, it’s important to note that people shouldn’t stop eating chicken altogether as it is an important source of protein. For the public, health risks from arsenic exposure are not only determined by the amount of toxins found in food but also by the rate of consumption and the body mass (height and weight) of the consumer.” 

Epigenetic studies are underway, in collaboration with the Japanese that investigate how lead and arsenic exposure affect genes and could potentially lead to chronic diseases. Such research would help understand the long-term impact of heavy metals on public health, speakers added. 

The studies have been funded by Japan’s Ministry Of Health, Labour and Welfare with support from AKU’s University Research Council. Dr Abdul Ghani, Dr Ambreen Sahito and Dr Shahla Naeem from the Aga Khan University’s Community Health Sciences Department and Professor Fujio Kayama from the JICHI Medical University spoke at the event. 

Professor Asad Saeed from Karachi University, Amna Khatoon and Seema Ashraf from the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, M Yahya from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, Professor Masood Kadir from the AKU’s Community Health Sciences Department and Dr Ghazala Rafique from the AKU’s Human Development Programme were also present at the seminar.