Sunday, December 31, 2006

In name of Almighty, it’s time for charity


Published in Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age on Sunday, 31 Dec 2006:
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Bakrid or Id-ul-Adha is not just a festival of ritual
sacrifice. It is a festival of charity too.
Like the other grand Muslim festival of alms giving or Id-ul-Fitr, Bakrid
brings cheers to millions of poor people living across the globe and pours
in charity enough for several orphanages and madrasas to fend themselves
for a few months.
The tradition of sacrifice dates back to the grand prophet, Hazrat Ibrahim
(peace be upon him), known to Jews and Christians as Abraham. The meat of
sacrificial animals is divided into three parts. One part is distributed
among friends and relatives, the second part is meant for the poor and
needy and the third portion is for self consumption.
It has been a tradition among Muslims right from the times of the Holy
Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) to
donate the skin of the sacrificial animal. The skin or the proceeds from
its sale is to be donated to orphanages, madrasas or charitable
organisations.
Estimates show that over five million animal skins are distributed during
the Bakrid in India alone. The largest donation in the form of skin comes
from Mumbai, followed by Hyderabad by virtue of their large Muslim
population.
In Andhra Pradesh, skins worth Rs 30 crore are donated among charitable
institutions. If valued the meat portion distributed among the poor and
needy runs into Rs 400 crores. This figure for the whole of India means a
few thousand crores. According to Muhammad Saleem, former Andhra Pradesh
Wakf board chairman and vice-president of the All-India Jamiat-ul-Quraish,
about 20 lakh sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed on Bakrid and the
subsequent two days.
"The idea behind celebrating Islamic festivals is not just to rejoice but
to remember the pangs and troubles of the havenots. God Almighty has given
so much to us and it is our duty to remember the unfortunate ones at least
on the Id days. Besides the skin of animals, one-third of the meat is also
distributed among the poor. Mosques are not qualified to receive donation
of skins or the sale proceeds from them. Festivals are for people and the
poor have a greater right over the charity," observes Moulana Hafiz Syed
Shujath Hussain.
Besides individual sacrifices of animals, sacrifice is also
institutionalised in Hyderabad and other parts of the country. Several
charitable and Zakat organisations have been collecting the cost of the
animal for sacrifice from those who cannot do the same on their own. The
facility is being largely utilised by non-resident Indian Muslims,
particularly those living in the West.
The Hyderabad Zakat and Charitable Trust is collecting Rs 2,400 per sheep
for sacrifice on Bakrid.
There is also a provision for distribution of the entire meat among the
poor, in case the person is an NRI.
Moulana Shaik Najeeb Ahmad says the sacrifice of animals on the Bakrid is
more than just a ritual. The Almighty tests the person sacrificing the
animal whether it is being done with pure intentions or as a show or pomp.
"The Almighty makes it clear in the Holy Quran that neither the blood nor
the flesh of sacrificial animals reach Him. It is the piety and pure
intentions and the spirit behind the sacrifice that counts with the
Almighty," he says.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kolleru back to its prestine glory


December 27,2006
Environment: Looking Back at 2006
By Syed Akbar
The year 2006 will go down the history as the "year of environment" as far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned. The State witnessed the biggest-ever environment restoration operation in the country in the form of removal of age-old encroachments from Kolleru, Asia's largest fresh water lake.
The YSR government took up the "Operation Kolleru Clean up", a daunting ecological task which no other government in the past dared to even think it of. Most of those who encroached upon the lake and converted it into small fish ponds are influential persons with political affiliations. Leaders belonging to the ruling Congress, main Opposition Telugu Desam and other political parties including the BJP had been enjoying the rights over the lake, albeit illegally. Dislodging them was nothing short of stirring the hornet's nest.
But with the intervention of Supreme Court, the State government mustered enough courage to throw away the encroachers and restore the lake to its original pristine glory. The result are for everyone to see: No floods in Khammam, Krishna and West Godavari districts this rainy season and migratory birds from Siberia have flocked the lake for the first time in two decades this winter.
The State government completed such a massive restoration work in a record six months time after it launched it in January. Kolleru, spread over 900 sq km between Krishna and Godavari districts, is the largest fresh water body in Asia. The only other lake that matches Kolleru in the continent in terms of its grandeur and beauty is Chilka lake, but then Chilka is a brackish water body and not a fresh water one.
With the Kolleru lake being restored, Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy has recommended West Godavari district collector Luv Agarwal for Padmasri award. The district collector restored the lake unmindful of the strong protests from farmers and politicians.
Thousands of acres of rich agricultural land in Krishna and Godavari deltas used to be submerged every rainy season causing heavy damage to standing crops. Kolleru is a natural lake which is fed by as many as a dozen streams and channels and is emptied by a channel, Upputeru, into the Bay of Bengal. As the fish ponds had been obstructing the flows into and out of the lake, thousands of acres of land and hundreds of residential areas used to get submerged after every heavy downpour.
For the first time in three decades there were no floods in the catchment area
of the lake. Kolleru is bird sanctuary and a protected forest area and yet the
government could not remove the encroachments all these years. The lake attracts more than 185 bird species and new species continue to be discovered. The lake also boasts of four rare bird species and 12 endangered ones. Kolleru is a protected area for pelicans and some come from as far away as Siberia.
Since the lake has 10 contours, some parts of the lake dry up during summer.
The erstwhile British government granted pattas to local people to cultivate
paddy during summer. The State government introduced co-operative farming in 1954. This led to gradual encroachment of the lake and by 1969 almost the entire lake had been encroached. As much as 21 lakh acres of the lake bed had been encroached up by paddy fields which were later converted into fish ponds upsetting the delicate ecological balance.
The economic boom led to construction of pucca roads and bridges obstructing the free flow of water.
Pressure on the lake led to proliferation of weeds leading to reduction in the
catchment area. A major ecological problem called, eutrophication, resulted in the lake. Fish production came down drastically.
The water spread in Kolleru varies from 135 sq km at plus 3 mean sea level to 901 sq km at plus 10 msl.
According to a report prepared by the Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, about a dozen major industries release 7.2 million litres of effluents into the lake daily. Moreover 17,000 tonnes of fertilisers are also emptied into the water body.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

World AIDS Day – AIDS emerges as the leading cause of death


(December 1, 2006)
By Syed Akbar
As the world observes the AIDS Day on December 1, the World Health Organisation
projects AIDS as the leading cause of death, followed by depression, heart diseases
and road accidents.
The WHO’s updated ‘burden of disease’ projections released this month gain
significance in the backdrop of India emerging as one of the few countries with
projected large population suffering from AIDS/HIV infection. India at present has
3.5 million people afflicted with the disease and the number is fast increasing.
Andhra Pradesh leads the States in the country.
The WHO’s projections also assume importance as India accounts for 16 per cent of
the world’s population and 21 per cent f the world’s global burden of disease,
including AIDS. The WHO’s projection is for the year 2030 and its statistics are
based on the 2002 figures.
The WHO revised this November its projection on global burden of diseases giving
AIDS the status of the Killer No. 1. With fast paced life, depression, particularly
of the unipolar (single mood) variety has emerged as the second leading cause of
death. Depression includes trouble sleeping, loss of weight and agitated and
irritable behaviour. One of the characteristic features of unipolar depression is
that people who suffer from it put on a "happy face" in front of others, while deep
down they feel quite depressed and disinterested in life.
Cardiac diseases particularly of the ischaemic type and road accidents occupy the
third and the fourth slot in the updated projections of global mortality and burden
of diseases, 2002-2030 released by the WHO a few days ago.
According to the WHO report, global HIV/AIDS deaths may rise from 2.8 million in
2002 to 6.5 million in 2030 if the anti-retroviral drugs reach 80 per cent of people
by 2012. In the most optimistic scenario with increased prevention activity,
HIV/AIDS deaths may drop to 3.7 million by the projected year.
Another disturbing factor is the emergence of tobacco-related deaths. The WHO
projects total tobacco-attributable deaths to 6.4 million in 2015 and 8.3 million in
2030 from the present 5.4 million. Tobacco is projected to kill 50 per cent more
people in 2015 than HIV/AIDS, and to be responsible for 10 per cent of all deaths
worldwide.
Eminent sexologist Dr K Swayam Prakash says that the regulatory mechanism has to be
strengthened to a great extent to detect and stop malpractices in blood banking.
“Greater coordination between national/ state blood transfusion councils and drug
control authorities is needed. Training and orientation of drug inspection in the
field needs to be speeded up and made more effective in fulfilling their regularly
functions,” he pointed out.
The latest UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic estimates that 65 million
people have been infected with HIV, of whom some 25 million have died since the
start of the epidemic 25 years ago. The rate of new HIV infections continues to
climb every year, with an estimated 4.1 million people having been infected in the
twelve months ending December 2005. Globally, the total number of people living with
the virus also continues to grow, reaching 38.6 million at the end of 2005 and
trends indicate that left unchecked the epidemic will continue to increase.
In other words, at this stage of the global AIDS epidemic there are more HIV
infections every year than AIDS-related deaths.
With the WHO projecting an alarming scenario for AIDS, the National AIDS Control
Organisation has increased its efforts to move towards centralizing blood
transfusion services and to reduce fragmentation in management, especially in urban
areas. In rural and difficult to access areas, stand alone or small blood banks will
be encouraged. It will also continue to have quality management in blood banking.
“All aspects like processes, products, equipment, consumables etc. would
increasingly be subjected to quality assurance procedures, so that a safe and
reliable transfusion services can be provided,” says a NACO strategy report.

Psycho-social counselling to form part of disaster management


(October 30, 2006)
By Syed Akbar
The National Disaster Management Authority has now made a provision for
psycho-social counselling of victims of natural calamities. The NDMA,
which has been entrusted with the task of framing India's first-ever National
Disaster Management Policy, feels that psycho-social counselling of victims
will reduce their mental trauma and bring them back to normal life at a faster
pace.
The National Disaster Management Policy, which is likely to be in place by
New Year, lays emphasis on mental relief as much as on physical succour.
The NDMA is all set to submit its draft policy to Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh in a couple of week for Cabinet approval and necessary legislation.
Addressing trauma or psychological injury in natural or man-made calamities
has always been a Herculean task. Governments and social workers
worldwide encounter the delicate situation of supplying relief to victims vis-
à-vis consoling them to reduce the untold mental trauma or shock they had
undergone.
But the case had been quite different in India all these years. Central and
State governments as also humanitarian aid groups simply concentrated on
providing relief and rehabilitation. They did not focus on psychological
counselling to reduce mental and physical trauma. Consequently, the victims
continued to suffer mentally for many years despite being rehabilitated
physically. The tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean two years ago had opened
the eyes of policy makers and planners in India forcing them to come out
with a disaster management policy with a thrust on psycho-social
counselling.
"Management of trauma, both mental and physical, is an important issue in
case of natural calamities. We can reduce the physical trauma but managing
the mental trauma is not an easy task. We are going in for a comprehensive
approach with regard to psycho-social support and trauma counselling. One
of the suggestions we have received is to involve the victims in relief works
so that it could lessen their mental shock," National Disaster Management
Authority member Lt. Gen (rtd) Dr JR Bhardwaj said.
Dr Bhardwaj, who was in Hyderabad recently along with NDMA vice-
chairman Gen NC Vij and other members for a feedback from intellectuals
and scientists on the draft National Disaster Management Policy, admitted
that India was not well equipped to tackle trauma cases in major disasters or
calamities. The NDM policy will lay down certain guidelines on this issue.
Unfortunately in India trauma care is yet to receive its due importance as an
emergency medical service. Even in big cities trauma care does not form part
of the regular medical service.
Internationally renowned trauma care expert David Romig of the Emergency
Medical Care Service, San Francisco, USA, feels that lack of basic trauma
care in India was one of the main reasons for the escalation in the number of
deaths, be it in accidents or natural calamities. "Doctors alone cannot do it.
There should be proper awareness among people too," Romig, who was in
the country recently, pointed out.
This is precisely the reason why the NDMA has plans to involve the local
community in relief and rehabilitation programmes. It also aims at creating
awareness, providing the infrastructure and ensuring access to the
infrastructure in emergency situations.
The major task the NDMA is going to put on the shoulders of the Central and
the State governments is upgradation of the existing medical services
including state-of-the-art ambulance facilities. The country need to train
paramedical staff to deal with natural calamities, which warrant mandatory
trauma care during what health experts call the "golden hour" (the crucial
period immediately after the tragedy).
"Victims of natural disasters or major man-made accidents require
professional psychological care to reduce the emotional injuries or mental
trauma. After every calamity, people live in a state of shock and their
emotional recovery could take years. We cannot fill up the loss, but we can
certain reduce their suffering through psycho-social counselling," Fr P
Balaswamy, director of Social Service Centre, Vijayawada, observed.
The Social Service Centre and the Indian Red Cross Society experimented
with what they called "community-based disaster management programme"
in areas affected by Tsunami in Krishna district. They adopted a two-pronged
strategy - built houses for the victims and took up community interaction, a
simple psychological technique but with greater soothing effect. This concept
is novel to India and NDMA has collected tips from these two organisations
for adoption on a larger level in the country.
"In natural calamities many victims suffer from psychosomatic symptoms of
trauma including listlessness, headaches, nightmares, chest pain and anxiety.
If we do not attend to them, some of them may turn to destructive behaviours,
like alcoholism, domestic violence or crime. There will always be a sufficient
number of cases of mentally debility life. Feelings such as empathy and
compassion can make a difference for hopeless and confused people," says
senior psychiatrist Dr Indla Ramasubba Reddy.
Health and community workers, who participated in relief works in cyclones
and floods, suggest that communities must to taught how to get those affected
to speak on the calamity. Special care should be taken of children and they
must be encouraged to act out their feelings and fears through paintings,
sports, competitions and theatre activities. "Otherwise, we could be looking
at a lost generation," Dr Ramasubba Reddy warns.
According to Dr Bhardwaj, the most common psychological reaction among
disaster survivors are symptoms of acute stress and even psychological
trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. Crisis intervention is also needed.
"Soon after natural calamities, we should not only focus on individual needs
but also concentrate on community-based interventions to enhance the
capacity of the community to provide appropriate support to people,"
suggests Fr Balaswamy.

Obesity emerges as major cause of infertility in men


(December 13, 2006)
By Syed Akbar
Smoking, pollution and sexually transmitted diseases have long been linked to
infertility. But obesity has now emerged as the major cause of sterility in men.
Health surveys carried out in different parts of the world including Hyderabad
reveal that overweight men tend to produce less quantity of sperm which leads of
infertility in them. Even the World Health Organisation in its latest report points
out obesity as one of the three main factors for infertility, coupled with smoking
and sexually transmitted diseases, particular AIDS.
A team of embryologists from Cambridge, UK, are presently in Hyderabad exploring the
reasons why obesity is leading to defective sperm and explaining to local doctors
the steps one should take to improve the fertility levels. The Centre for
infertility Management is coordinating with the UK embryologists at a camp on
assisted reproductive technologies on intracytoplasic sperm injection, blastocyst
culture, assisted hatching and cryopreservation and vitrification of ovarian tissue
and oocyte. The camp which begins on December 14 will continue till December 17.
In India one out of every 200 men are infertile. “Most men are not aware of the
dangers of delaying treatment. While before 36 years is the best age to treat the
problem, most men prefer to go for semen analysis, which in most cases turned out to
be useless. Though, once or twice is enough, most men go for it at least 10 times
the issue of male infertility was about being viewed lightly by many while truth was
that in 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the cases dealt daily, problem was with men
alone,” says fertility expert Dr Roya Rozati.
According to Dr Markku Sallmen of Institute of Occupational Health, it was found in
a research study carried out by them that a 10 kgs increase in a man's weight may
increase the chance of infertility by about 10 per cent. A BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 is
considered normal while a BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight. A person is
considered obese if the BMI is greater than 30 and morbidly obese if the BMI is 40
or greater.
The average chance to conceive for a normally fertile couple having regular,
unprotected intercourse is about 25 per cent during each menstrual cycle. In most
couples, conception occurs within a year. However, infertility affects about 12 per
cent of couples of childbearing age. Husbands are a contributing cause of
infertility in about 40 per cent of infertile couples.
The WHO report (2006) points out that there are more than 186 million infertile
couples in developing countries excluding China. In worst affected countries, 25 per
cent of couples are infertile.
Surveys reveal that obesity accounts for 6 per cent of primary infertility in the
United States. Infertility can be corrected by restoring body weight to within
normal established limits.
Research carried out by the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science, Australia
reveals that even obese women tend to be infertile. Women who are fatter are at risk
of losing their fertility levels than women who are slim.
Physiology researcher Siew Lim point out that such women also suffer from
miscarriages and have irregular menstrual cycles. “Two thirds of Australians are now
either overweight or obese and there is no sign of it levelling off. Metabolic
diseases and obesity-related reproductive disorders are going to increase if nothing
is done,” she says.
Like men obese women are about three times more likely to be infertile compared to
normal women. Obesity rates have doubled in many parts of the world including India
in the last 20 years. Even children studying in schools are increasingly turning
fatter.
Health experts warn that childhood obesity in adolescence and young adulthood needs
to be targeted early so that women enter their reproductive years without carrying
excess weight. This is because, obese women are more likely to give birth to
overweight babies and this creates a vicious cycle. “We need to break this cycle
now, otherwise we will have a higher incidence of infertility and reproductive
disorders,” they point out.

US Looks to India for Research on Medicinal Plants for Cancer Treatment


November 15, 2006
By Syed Akbar
With more and more health-conscious Americans turning to plant products
for their daily needs, the United States is now looking towards the ancient
Indian systems of herbal medicine to unravel the secrets of cure hidden in
herbs native to sub-continent.
A team of American researchers visited Hyderabad early this week to chalk
out a strategy with local scientists to develop new medicinal products from
natural sources like plants and herbs. America does not have traditional
medicine while India has a heritage of natural medicinal products that trace
back in history to more than 5000 years.
The American scientists will utilise the traditional knowledge of herb-based
Indian medicinal systems like Ayurveda, Unani and Sidda and explore their
curative properties as part of their project to validate the medicinal properties
of the herbs grown on Indian soil. The emphasis will be on new herbal drugs
for cancer, malaria and other life-threatening diseases, besides natural
pesticides for agricultural use.
The demand for consumer products derived from plants, herbal products,
botanicals, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals,
dramatically increased in the US in the past five years. But, the quality of the
products that are on the marketplace is highly variable and neither the
consumer nor the healthcare professional is able to distinguish between high
and low quality products.
"India has a rich tradition of herbs and herbal products. But many of them
lack scientific validation. Our research collaboration with the Americans will
help us understand these natural products in a more scientific way," says Dr
JS Yadav, director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.
The IICT and the National Centre for Natural Products Research, University
of Mississippi, have tied-up to discover new drugs from natural sources.
While India provides its rich and varied herbarium to the Americans, the
latter will revalidate the medicinal properties of Indian herbs for effective use
for the benefit of humanity at large.
Over the years, natural products have been the mainstay of drug discovery
programme. Although several other systems have come into being, desired
results could not be obtained. Hence the focus is again shifted to natural
products, says Prof Larry Walker, director of NCNPR, USA.
Natural products are currently used across the world as herbal drugs, dietary
supplements and neutraceuticals. With increase in demand for the natural
products, big pharma companies from across the globe have once again
shifted their attention towards natural products and increased their efforts
towards finding new bioactive molecules from them.
According to Prof Ikhlas Khan, director, FDA programme, USA, natural
products offer a vast and virtually unlimited source of new agents for both
pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. "As part of the MoU signed
between IICT (CSIR) and NCNPR, we are conducting basic and applied
multidisciplinary research to discover and develop natural products for use as
pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and agrochemicals, and to understand
the biological and chemical properties of medicinal plants," he points out.
The Indo-US research focus will be on discovering new drugs for unmet
therapeutic needs such as cancer and infectious diseases, improving the
quality and safety of botanical dietary supplements, and discovering new,
effective agrochemicals that will not harm the environment. It will also target
on discovering bioactive natural products, developing novel technologies and
processes that facilitate the discovery of bioactive natural products and
providing research based information on plant-derived products with
medicinal or agricultural applications.
Prof Walker says that emphasis will be on agents that control certain
infectious diseases, cancer and immune disorders. Chemical constituents
responsible for biological effects are identified and then either isolated and
purified in the search for new single entity pharmaceutical ingredients, or
characterised and standardised in the search for new multicomponent
botanical products.
Current products include the discovery and development of antifungal agents
for life-threatening infections, anti-cancer agents that target specific critical
processes in the cancer cell, antibiotics effective against bacteria that are
resistant to many current antibiotics, new drugs for tuberculosis, malaria and
other tropical parasitic diseases, antioxidants for cancer prevention,
immunostimulatory botanicals, anti-inflammatory botanicals, and the
development of Dronabinol Hemisuccinate suppositories to control nausea
due to chemotherapy and for pain management.
"Our goal is to identify botanical products with the potential to improve
human health and to conduct applied research that will enhance the safe and
proper use of botanical products by heatlhcare professionals and consumers,"
says Prof Khan.
Although the science of pharmacognosy is enjoying a vigorous renaissance
due to the widespread use of herbal medicine and natural products as
supplements, Dr Yadav feels that challenges are being faced to authenticate
and standardise these products.
On the other hand re-emerging diseases require new approaches and
solutions. As history indicates, the best source for new chemical entities is
the natural source. "In order to explore full potential of natural products the
collaborative research is needed," he says.
"Our natural products research effort is a broad, multidisciplinary, integrated
programme with three major emphasis areas: the discovery and early
development of potential new drugs and agrochemicals from natural
products; the understanding and science-based characterisation of botanical
products used as dietary supplements; and research on medicinal plants, the
production and processing of their pharmaceutical actives, and their potential
for the development of alternative crops", observes Prof Walker.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

And now Magnetic Cure for Cancer?

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 7: Indian scientists are now busy developing a "magnetic cure" for cancer.
Using nanomagnetic particles cancerous cells in a human body can be killed without affecting the healthy cells in the neighbourhood, says Dr Prahlada, chief controller of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory.
Dr Prahlada, who is also one of the top defence scientists in the country, points out that the magnetic therapy will not allow cancer cells to grow by inhibiting the cell division mechanism. "This is one of the safest mechanisms to treat cancer. The healthy cells in the neighbourhood are left untouched while only the cancerous ones are targeted. This technology allows normal cells to grow but prevents cancerous cells to stop. The treatment is localised," he observes.
Indian scientists as also those in other countries are carrying out research on nanomagnetic particles as part of non-destructive evaluation which is fast emerging as a major field in medicine, aerospace, transport, industry and defence sectors.
According to Prahlada, scientists are also looking out the possibility of enhancing bone age in view of increased life span of human beings. "We have technology to improve heart efficiency which will increase the life span. But the problem is with regard to bones which become weak as a person grows in age. Non-destructive technology will help in identifying the problems if any with bones at an early stage so that the life span of bones is increased to prolong the overall life span of an individual," he adds.
The nanotechnology using magnets focuses on developing uniform particles with a Curie temperature. Nanomagnetic particles will self-regulate the temperature of the tumour during magnetic hyperthermia and thus avoid the use of temperature controls.
In this method there is a defined transfer of power onto magnetic nanoparticles in an alternate magnetic field determined by the frequency, magnetic field strength, materials and the size of particles, which results in local generation of heat. This heat will either destroy the tumour cells directly or result in a synergic reinforcement of radiation efficacy, depending on the equilibrium temperature set in the tumour tissue.
Some of the materials currently being investigated for nanomagnetic therapy include Gadolinium-Zinc ferrite, Caesium, Erbium and magnesium ferrous oxide ferrite.
Earlier, Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy inaugurated a national seminar on non-destructive evaluation - 2006 in which scientists from over a dozen countries participated. Hyderabad has been leading the country in the field of non-destructive evaluation with ECIL, University of Hyderabad and DRDO taking part along with BARC. Non-destructive testing is going to play a major role in security checks in the next five years with terrahertz technology being used to detect weapons and IEDs hidden in vehicles or underground. ND testing is also being used in cancer treatment and in treatment of bone problems.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

And now bio-fertilisers using bacterial culture

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 5: With farmers suffering heavily due to increased use of chemical fertilisers, the State government has decided to promote bio-fertilisers using bacterial culture to boost farm production and prevent decline of soil health.
Farmers in the State have the dubious distinction of using the largest quantity of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the country. More than half of the farm inputs consumed in the country goes into agricultural fields in Andhra Pradesh. Lakhs of acres of prime agricultural land has turned either saline or alkaline thanks to indiscriminate application of complex fertilisers and pesticides.
The State government has now come out with well thoughtout plan to wean away farmers from harmful fertilisers by encouraging them to go in for bio-fertilisers developed from bacterial culture. It has also come out with specific guidelines for manufacturers and traders on the quality of bio-fertilisers to prevent spurious culture.
The bacteria proposed for bio-fertiliser development include Rhizobium inoculants, Azotobacter chroococcum inoculants, Azospirillum inocculants and phosphate solubilising bacterial inoculant.
The government has made registration of manufacturers mandatory to maintain quality of bio-fertilisers supplied in the State market. Adulteration of bio-fertilisers also invites penal action including a prison term extending up to one year or and fine of Rs 50,000.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Monkey Business: South Indian monkeys are civilised and cultured


November 17, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 16: South Indian monkeys are more "civilised" and "cultured" than their counterparts in north India and maintain a closely knit family relationship within their groups.
According to Dr Leonard A Rosemblum, professor in the department of psychiatry, State University of New York, scientific research on and close behavioural observations of Indian monkeys for the past 50 years reveal that simians down the Vindhyas are "smart" primates and resemble human beings in certain family customs like adopting orphan babies.
"When a mother monkey dies leaving her feeding infant, other monkeys in the group adopt the baby. This practice is seen in monkeys in South India. But the monkeys in north India simply abandon such orphans leaving them to fend for themselves," says Dr Leonard, who is also an expert on sexual and family behaviour of non-human primates.
He is currently in the city in connection with arrangements for an international conference on sex, its myths and traditions scheduled for January.
Dr Leonard told this correspondent that south Indian monkeys are more "caring" and look after the needs of other members in the group. But in the case of north Indian monkeys such a trait is wanting. "A possible explanation for this unique difference is that while monkeys in south India bred among the groups, the male members in north Indian monkeys leave the group after attaining maturity to breed outside the
group. Thus, monkeys in a group in south India are related to one another. Since male monkeys in north India leave the group, the group members are not related," he points out.
South Indian monkeys take care of the orphans in the group as they are uncles or aunts or first or second cousins. Moreover, female monkeys in the south are shy in nature while those in the north take the sexual initiative during the breeding season.
Dr Leonard has been carrying out experiments on Indian Rhesus monkeys, Bonnet Macaque and other species both in India and at his laboratory in the USA for over five decades. "The Indian monkeys teach us (humans) the sexual function and dysfunction. Almost every form of sexual and marital behaviour found in humans is noticed in monkeys. The Indian monkeys with a gestation period of five months
and 15 days plan pregnancy in such a way that the delivery period falls during monsoon, when the trees are lush green with lot of fruits for extra nutritious diet for mother and good milk for the infant," he said.
Interestingly, the south Indian monkeys are relatively "moral" with less incidence of unnatural sexual behaviour. "Like human beings, monkeys generally have female-female, male-male and male-female relationship.
They also have oral sex and masturbation. But this is not widespread in the south," Dr Leonard observed. While north Indian monkeys have a prolonged intercourse, ejaculation in south Indian monkeys takes place with a single entry. In Bonabo
species (north Indian monkey) sex is not always for pregnancy but quite often for calming down the hot tempers. In south Indian monkeys intercourse is mainly for procreation. Males in north Indian monkeys are highly ambitious and competitive while those in the south adopt a high social structure.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Satvik Food: Ancient Indian Diet Keeps Heart Problems Away


October 30, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 30: Intake of Vedic diet comprising fresh uncooked vegetables and raw sprouts will stabilise the heart beat and prevent arrhythmias, which often lead to death.
Arrhythmia is a health problem affecting the electrical system of the cardiac muscle and causes the heart to beat slowly or pump blood less effectively. A research study on various diets mentioned in the ancient Indian texts revealed that those who take a diet comprising vegetables, grains, sprouts, minimum quantity of oil and raw foods showed a rhythmic heart beat.
The study, conducted by Dr P Ravi Shankar and others at the Russian Medical Academy, showed that cells of the same tissue would exist with different resting potentials depending on the dietary intake as prescribed in the Indian system of medicine.
As many as 75 male Wistar rats were used in the study. They were divided into five groups each comprising 15 rats. Three groups of rats were fed with different types of diets referred to in the ancient Indian Scriptures. The other two groups were taken as control groups. The researchers used the action potentials in the heart muscle as a reference parameter. The action potentials showed an average resting potential of about - 84.5 milli volts. At the end of the study, the rats were killed and action potentials were measured from their intact hearts.
The values of action potentials in the rats fed with a diet made up of raw vegetables and grains were very close to the resting potential. The action potentials of those fed with spicy foods had varied between 86.5 milli volts and 93.5 milli volts. The third group which received cooked foods with lot of oil and sweets had action potentials between 105.28 milli volts and 112.28 milli volts.
"The findings prove that the more the resting potential, the lesser the external
stimulus needed to excite and generate an action potential which gives a greater understanding of arrhythmias in cardiac muscles and various nervous and other disorders," the study pointed out

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hepatitis C virus -- the new time bomb


By Syed Akbar
Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on October 26, 2006
Hyderabad, Oct 25: As scientists and health experts rededicated themselves on World Hepatitis Day on October 1 fighting the disease, latest health data reveals that a highly asymptomatic liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is fast spreading in India.
A World Health Organisation report says that HCV, often described as a "viral time bomb", has recouped vigorously to strike at rates up to two times more than that of the human immuno-deficiency virus or HIV.
WHO lists India along with Egypt, Italy and Japan where HCV is rampant. The number of HCV patients in India equals if not exceeds the total number of HCV patients in Europe and the USA.
WHO reports that as against 5.1 million Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS, around 12 million carry HCV. About 30 per cent of HIV patients simultaneously suffer from HCV.
The Indian Journal of Gastroenterology reports that about three per cent of people in Andhra Pradesh carry the HCV. The number could be higher as the data was collected based on medical screening at laboratories.
The undetected HCV population might be large because the virus does not show symptoms straightaway.
There is no vaccine to prevent HCV unlike the other Hepatitis varieties; vaccination for other types of Hepatitis may slow or prevent HCV infection. The best way to avoid HCV infection is to follow prevention and precaution steps.
"Did you receive a blood transfusion, haemodialysis, angiogram, tatooing, prolong injections or syringes? If yes, get tested for HCV. The cure rate is high if it is detected early," says senior gastroenterologist Dr Dharmesh Kapoor.
The HCV does not spread by air. Transmission is through skin or mucous membrane and one has to be careful while sharing tooth brushes, nail cutters, razors, syringes and tattoo needles.
Those who have multiple sex partners are at high risk of contacting the disease.
The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HCV is unknown. Doctors feel that proper use of condoms may reduce the transmission risk, though it will not totally eliminate it.
According to Dr Dinesh Kini, consultant gastroenterologist of Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, "HCV has a tendency to develop into long term liver disease and can cause liver cirrhosis and even cancer of the liver. The infection has an initial phase which is often asymptomatic and lasts up to six months".
Like HIV, the HCV virus remains in the infected patients for years together. Unlike HIV, it does not invade the immune system but replicates using the liver's resource cells.
The patient does not know that he is carrying the virus; he experiences fatigue and discomfort in the upper abdominal area. HCV can remain undetected for as long as 10 years.
In up to 85 per cent cases, the virus fights the body immune system. Patients develop long term or chronic infection and transmit the disease.
About half the HCV cases do not show symptoms even though the virus is fairly active.
While 20 per cent of patients recover fully the remaining develop some form of chronicity.
Five per cent of chronic patients develop liver cell cancer and an equal number suffer from decompensated cirrhosis.
"If untreated the liver will be damaged. The only treatment then remains is to replace the damaged liver by a new one. Early detection and prompt treatment can save lives," observes Dr Samir R Shah, specialist in hepatobiliary diseases, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre and Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai.
"PEGylated interferon can effect a cure in a good number of patients," says gastroenterologist Dr Kapoor. PEGylation is the coupling a polyethylene glycol structure to a larger molecule, for example, a therapeutic protein. Interferons are a class of natural proteins produced by the cells of the immune systems in response to challenges by viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumour cells.
The PEGylation of the interferon slows down the body's ability to break down the interferon molecule.
The interferon gets absorbed more slowly and constant amounts of interferon are present in the body which constantly attacks the virus.
Pegylated interferon alfa-2a (40KD) suppresses the virus in more than 50 per cent of patients. Ribavirin is also found effective against this disease.
Eleven Hepatitis C virus genotypes with several distinct subtypes have been identified throughout the world.
The WHO report notes that "Although different strains have not been shown to differ dramatically in their virulence or pathogenicity, different genotypes vary in their responsiveness to interferon/ribavirin combination therapy."
"Such heterogeneity hinders the development of vaccines, since vaccine antigens from multiple serotypes will probably be necessary for global protection," the report states.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Targeted therapy to treat cancer


October 25, 2006
By Syed Akbar
As October, the national breast cancer awareness month, draws to a close, oncologists and health experts suggest “targeted therapy” to treat the fast increasing menace. Of late, the incidence of breast cancer in India has been going up on par with developed countries mainly because of lifestyle changes including early menarche, lack of exercises and fatty diet.
Breast cancer has now become the commonest cancer in women in urban areas in India. It has emerged as the leading cause of death in women aged 35–55 years and the second leading cause of death in women of all ages. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organisation unit, about a lakh new breast cancer cases are reported every year in India.
Oncologists, doctors who deal with cancers, observe that breast cancer has certain patterns in its incidence. That it depends on the lifestyle of people. The incidence is higher in urban areas than in rural areas with National Capital Delhi leading the Indian chart. Delhi is followed by Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
An increasing number of cancer specialists are now prescribing targeted therapy or therapies to control breast cancer. Targeted therapy is nothing but a therapy with a specific molecular target. This method of treating cancer is efficient in more than one ways.
“In targeted therapy the biological processes that drive the cancer are understood and treatment is targeted at the biological process. In this process only cancer cells are targeted and the normal cells are spared,” says senior medical oncologist Dr SVSN Prasad. Targeted therapy is better than other traditional therapies. In chemotherapy or radiotherapy the normal tissue is also affected. Moreover, side-effects are minimal in the case of targeted therapy or therapies.
Targeted therapy is now increasingly being used for treatment of breast cancer, particularly in fighting HER2 or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2 is a gene that helps control how cells grow, divide and repair themselves. It directs the production of special proteins called HER2 receptors. Each healthy breast cell contains two copies of the HER2 gene, which helps normal cells grow. Sometimes a cell may have too many copies of the HER2 gene, which may lead to too much HER2 protein. This may play an important role in turning a normal cell into a cancer cell. The targeted therapy helps in prevention of recurrence and spread of the disease. Dr Prasad suggests that for more effective results targeted therapy can be combined with chemotherapy.
Dr Vijay Anand Reddy, radiation oncologist at Apollo Cancer Hospital, relates alarming increase in breast cancer to fast changing lifestyle of people, particularly in urban areas. Lifestyle changes like early menarche, lack of exercises and fatty diet are also the contributory factors.
“Today, breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women in urban population. India is fast catching up developed countries in terms of number breast cancer patients. Molecular therapies are referred as anti-bodies against HER2 antigens have really made a significant impact on the management of breast cancer patients,” he points out. One out of five women in advanced stage of breast cancer is HER2 positive.
Around nine per cent of women develop breast cancer during their lifetime, making it the second most common cancer in the world. In India, breast cancer accounts for 20 per cent of the total cancer-related diseases. According to WHO health statistics, breast cancer occurs at a younger age in India as compared to developed countries. HER2 type of breast cancer has greater risk of spread with faster growth of tumor. There are greater chances of the tumor coming back.
“Targeted therapies have emerged as the latest treatment option for people suffering from cancers. The therapy terminates the cancerous cells without affecting the quality of life of the patient. Indian oncologists prefer Herceptin, a unique biologic targeted therapy, for women with HER2-positive breast cancer,” says Dr Vijay Anand.
Since Herceptin targets mostly tumor cells that over-express the HER2 protein, it does not affect normal healthy cells. Patients on this therapy alone may be less likely to experience the side effects typical of other types of treatments, such as hair loss, fatigue, or a decline in certain blood counts.
Doctors observe that the best protection against cancer is awareness. Timely detection of cancer helps towards early treatment and prevents further progression of the disease.
The World Cancer Report states that action on smoking, diet and infections can prevent one third of cancers while another one third can be cured.
The World Health Organisation is of the view that cancer rates could further increase by 50 per cent to 15 million new cases in the next 14 years.
India has one of the high cancer mortality rates. There has been an increase in the incidence of breast cancer cases in Indian cities, points out Dr J Bandana, consultant gynaecologist.
“Lifestyle changes, smoking, usage of oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, postponement of childbirth, obesity etc increase the risk of breast cancer,” she says. Dr Bandana suggests regular self breast examination for women and those over 40 should also undergo mammography once a year to nip breast cancer at an early stage.
Women with a history of first-degree relatives (mother, sister) suffering from breast cancer should be more cautious and regularly self examine their breasts, undergo mammography once a year, she observes.

Ramadan crescent: State to have moon panel


October 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 24: With Muslim religious scholars divided once again on the
‘sighting’ of the Id moon, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, an umbrella body of Imams of
mosques, has decided to set up a State-level moon-sighting panel to ensure that the
major Muslim festival is celebrated uniformly all over the country.
While Muslims in the entire country on Tuesday celebrated the Id-ul-Fitr (the
festival of alms-giving which marks the end of the month-long fasting during
Ramazan), those in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh will celebrate it on Wednesday.
Even within Andhra Pradesh, Muslims in Nalgonda, Guntur and other districts
celebrated the Id on Tuesday.
‘The problem is mainly because of lack of coordination among our moon-sighting
panels in different States. In Andhra Pradesh there is only one moon-sighting or
Ruhiyat Hilal committee and its operations are limited to twin cities of Hyderabad
and Secunderabad. We do not have a panel at the State level to coordinate with
Muslims scholars in various districts of Andhra Pradesh on one hand and with Hilal
committees of other States on the other,” Jamiat Ulema State president Hafiz Peer
Shabbir Ahmad told this correspondent.
The Hyderabad Hilal committee on Monday evening wound up its sitting quite early
without waiting for reports from other States. It simply announced that the Id would
be celebrated on Wednesday but as reports of moon sighting poured in from other
States including national Capital Delhi, the Hyderabad panel met once again late in
the night. The meeting which lasted till 12.20 am on Tuesday decided against
following observations of Hilal committees of other States. “Several Muslim families
all over the State had to remain awake till late in the night to know the fate of
the new moon. This is something not good. We have modern technology and gadgets. The
Hyderabad panel should have utilized them to take the decision fast without having
to wait for that long. By 9.00 pm the Shahi Imams of Delhi and Fatehpuri mosques
have announced their decisions,” senior religious scholar Hafiz Syed Shujath Hussain
said.
Muslim scholars blame the Hyderabad Hilal committee for the “paux pas”. The city
panel is controlled by a group of Muslim scholars following a particular school of
Islamic jurisprudence. There is no representation to Muslim scholars of other sects
or religious schools of thought. The decision on Id for Wednesday was taken
reportedly on the insistence of 135-year-old Islamic institution Jamia Nizamia’s
chief Mufti Khaleel Ahmad. Sources said the decision on Id for Wednesday was taken
to avoid confusion in the community at the eleventh hour.
“Our new State-level Hilal committee will have representation to all sects including
Shias. We will have the committee with Muslim scholars of different schools of
Islamic jurisprudence. Henceforth, the new panel will ensure that the Id is
celebrated uniformly throughout the country or at least in the State,” Jamiat State
secretary Sabir Ahmad pointed out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Drugs under watch list

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 16: The Central government has put 11 drugs under watch for their reported side-effects as part of its pharmacovigilance programme.
According to Rajesh Bhushan, director, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the government will take a decision on banning or otherwise of these drugs after gathering feedback from stake-holders. He said these drugs include pain-killers, cardio-muscular and anti-pyretic.
"We have already banned Rofecoxib and Valdecoxib after it was established that the are not good for the health of our people," he said.
Rajesh Bhushan told reporters at the National Institute of Nutrition here that the MHFW had sought the cooperation of healthcare professionals
in collecting data of adverse events related to drugs marketed in India. The submitted data will be collated and evaluated by the National Pharmacovigilance Centre operating at the department of pharmacology,
All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.
Referring to the drug sector scenario in the country, Rajesh Bhushan said laboratories required urgent upgradation for increasing capacity and competency. He regretted that all imported drug batches were not tested. A large number of vacancies in Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and Central and State laboratories were coming in the way of effective implementation.
He agreed that there were constraints in existing testing capabilities and capacities especially for contaminants and microbiological parameters.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ultra violet radiation: Hyderabad fast turning into a radiation city

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 13: Hyderabad is fast turning into a "radiation city" 
with harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays hitting the city at "extreme" levels.
UV forecasts for Hyderabad show that the radiation falling down on the 
city from the sun for most part of the year is on the higher side, which 
is an indication that all is not well with the ozone layer above and the 
city's atmosphere.
Hyderabad is bracketed with concrete jungles like Mumbai, Kolkata, 
Bangalore and Chennai as these cities record "extreme" UV radiation 
for more than three days a week. However, Delhi appears to be slightly 
better as the UV radiation levels there are generally "high" to "very 
high" but rarely "extreme".
Ultraviolet rays falling on the earth are classified into various 
categories based on the intensity of the radiation and the harm they 
cause to human beings and animals. The World Meteorological 
Organisation, a WHO body, has standardised the UV radiation levels 
with its "UV Index" which is a simple measure of the UV radiation 
level at the earth's surface. Hyderabad's UV Index shows a measure of 
11, the highest point in the UV scale.
No wonder then that there has been a spurt in skin diseases in 
Hyderabad may be because of extreme levels of UV radiation. "Most of 
the cases relate to photo-ageing and skin cancer due to penetration of 
the rays into the skin. Even if one is in a car the rays can penetrate the 
glass and impact the skin. The most common skin allergy cases that 
come to us are related to  UV radiation called polymorphic light 
eruption," senior dermatologist Dr Anup Lahari pointed out.
The values of the UV Index range from zero to 11 and the higher the 
Index value, the greater the potential for damage to the human body 
and the less time it takes for harm to occur. On the higher side is the 
"extreme" and on the lower side is the "very low". In between UV 
Index is categorised as "low", "medium", "high" and "very high".
The WMO and the World Climate Research Programme as also the 
India Meteorological Department regularly issue UV forecasts for 
different cities around the world and in India respectively. The IMD 
monitors UV levels at its 45 radiation observatories spread across the 
country.
The UV Index up to October 18 is 11 i.e. "extreme" for Hyderabad, 
Chennai and Mumbai, while it is 8 (very high) for Delhi, 7 (high) for 
Chandigarh and 10 (very high) for Kolkata. The Index last week was 
also "extreme" for most part of the week for Hyderabad and other cities 
except Delhi.
The main reason given for the high intensity of UV radiation in 
Hyderabad is rapid urbanisation and high levels of pollution.
"As UV radiation can neither be seen nor felt, the UV Index is an 
important tool to raise awareness of the problem and alert people on a 
daily basis to take prompt, appropriate and protective action. That 
Hyderabad has high UV Index is an indication that the ozone layer is 
not properly filtering the sunlight. If the ozone does its job properly, 
the harmful radiation are filtered out. The high UV Index shows that 
the ozone layer has become thin," says Prof OSRU Bhanu Kumar, head 
of the department of environmental sciences, Andhra University.
Health experts and environmentalists warn that damage from the 
exposure to the UV rays is cumulative and over a period of time it will 
lead to serious diseases of the eye, including cataract and macular 
degeneration.
Consultant radiologist of Care Hospital Dr B Murali suggested that one 
should go in for massive tree plantation and keep off the sun to the 
extent possible to avoid UV radiation. "UV radiation exposures are 
largely preventable. The best protection is achieved by practising a 
combination of recommended safe behaviours. Limit exposures to sun 
rays when they are the strongest i.e. between 10 am and 4 pm. Seek 
shades such as trees or umbrella whenever possible. Use a broad-
spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor of at least 15. Sunglasses 
can provide 100 per cent protection," he said.
Children are at high risk as on an average they get three times more sun 
exposure and thus are subject to damaging cumulative effects of UV. It 
is estimated that 80 per cent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before 18 
years of age.
"With the UV rays being equally extreme even in a "garden city" like 
Bangalore, there has been an increase in eye related problems there. Dr 
NM Sudha, senior ophthalmologist from Bangalore, pointed out that 
ultra violet light is as a causative factor in several eye problems such as 
cataract, retinal degeneration and surface problems such as pterigyum. 

Friday, October 6, 2006

Andhra Pradesh government new initiative: Screening for children with heart ailments

2006
By Syed Akbar
Andhra Pradesh is going to add yet another feather in its cap. This time for taking up the gigantic task of providing medicare and conducting heart surgeries free of cost to around 5000 children, mostly from the lower strata of society.
The second phase screening of heart diseases in children, under an innovative scheme launched by the State government in August 2004, is currently on in the State. Already 3,200 children have been identified for surgery in medical camps held in September. Another round of medical camps is scheduled for October 8 at 44 centres across the State. Once the screening process is completed, heart surgeries will be performed on these children in about 50 corporate, private and government hospitals.
In the first phase screening held in 2004, over 5500 children were identified for surgeries and of them 4700 underwent heart operations. The remaining 700 children could not make their way to the operation theatre for want of infrastructure. These children will now be included in the list of fresh beneficiaries in the second phase.
Andhra Pradesh is the first and so far the only State in the country where children under 12 years of age are provided free heart treatment in the state-of-the-art corporate hospitals. They are also provided with free follow up treatment. Only the neighbouring Karnataka State has a health insurance scheme for children belonging to below the poverty families. Unlike the cardiac programme in Andhra Pradesh, the scheme in Karnataka provides for general health problems. A CM’s Children Relief Fund was exclusively set up for the purpose.

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How the Scheme Began:
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It was August 7, 2004. The new Congress government was just settling down. Hundreds of children suffering from heart diseases gathered in Hyderabad to press for their demand for free medical treatment. The Mahajana Sangarshna Samithi had organised the demonstration by mobilising poor children and their parents from all most all the rural areas of the State.
Tragedy struck the demonstration. One of the children, T Sobhan (12), of Shanigaram of Karimnagar district, collapsed on the Lower Tank Bund road apparently unable to bear the stress of walking and standing for long under the hot sun. A couple of days later, two more children, Rajasekhar from Prakasam district and Konda Saidulu from Nalgonda district succumbed to heart ailments. Incidentally, these two children too had participated in the demonstration.
This moved the new Congress government and Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy announced a special package for children suffering from cardiac ailments which includes free heart surgery. Andhra Pradesh thus became the first State in the country to introduce free heart treatment for children below 12 years of age.
In the first year the government conducted screening tests for 5500 children and of them about 2000 children underwent surgeries. Another 2700 children were operated upon in 2005. The government has initially allocated Rs 8 crore for the project and announced that it would be a continuous programme. Keeping its assurance, the government has now called for the second phase of screening tests in all the 23 districts to identify new patients.
The government has also taken up an ambitious programme to strengthen facilities in government hospitals so that state-of-the-art medicare is provided to poor children. The government has also roped in children specialists to perform surgeries.
Now buoyed by the success of the cardiac programme, the government has decided to introduce a universal health insurance scheme to take care of the health needs of children suffering from various ailments. Children below 12 years and belonging to below poverty line families will be covered under the proposed scheme. According to a rough estimate, two lakh children under 12 years are suffering from heart problems in the State and about 20,000 children add to this number every year.

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How It Works:
--------

Unlike in other States where free treatment is provided to the poor only in government hospitals, the Andhra Pradesh government has made a provision for treatment of poor children even in corporate and top class hospitals. The provides financial aid to corporate hospitals towards these surgeries and other follow up treatment if any.
These private hospitals charge 20 per cent less than the rates fixed by the State-controlled Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences. The payment is made by the Director of Medical Education to the hospital concerned after getting scrutiny of bills by a committee constituted for the purpose.
The State government has divided heart diseases into various categories for purpose of treatment. The category I covers PDA interruption pericardiectomy, closed mitral valvotomy and PA banding, while category II covers BT shunt coarctaion of aorta repair. Under category II, surgeries like ASD closure, VSD closure and AP window repair.
The other categories are: category IV: Intracardiac repair of TOF, intracardiac repair of TAPVC; Category V: Intracardiac repair of TGA, DORV, tricuspid atresia, trunkus arteriosus etc., and other surgeries needing special conduits like pulmonary atresia; Category VI: Valve repair, mitrial valve repair, tricuspid valve repair; Category VII: Mitral valve replacements,
aortic valve replacements, tricuspid valve replacements; Category VIII: double valve replacements (mitral valve replacement and aotric valve replacement); Category IX: Interventional procedures like percutaneous
balloon valvuloplasties, balloon septostomy including cardiac catheterization and cine angiograms.
Initially there was no provision for permanent pacemaker implantation (PPI) but now the government has included this category also. A new category - Category X - has been included to provide for permanent pacemaker implantation. Other cardiac problems not included in the above categories, whenever they come up would be examined and put in appropriate category on a case to case basis by the central cell at Gandhi Hospital in consultation with the Director of Medical Education.

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Special Cardiac Cells
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Moreover, special cardiac cells have been created in seven government teaching hospitals, which will treat, operate or refer patients to other hospitals. These cells are located at Osmania General Hospital, Hyderabad, King George Hospital, Visakhapatnam, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Warangal, Gandhi Hospital, Secunderabad, Government General Hospital, Kurnool, Government General Hospital, Guntur and Government General Hospital, Kakinada.
On being approached by a child cardiac patient, the cardiac cell in the Teaching Hospital will conduct necessary screening and render advice to the child patients and his/her parents/attendants. The cardiac cell will undertake treatment of the paediatric cardiac ailments at the same teaching hospital including surgeries.
If the surgeries for which facilities are not available or the required expert cardiac surgeon personnel are not available in the teaching hospital, then the cardiac cell of the teaching hospital will first enquire with the other government teaching hospitals as to whether they can handle the required type of surgeries.
If any of the other teaching hospitals in the State have such spare capacity, the case will be referred to there. If not, it will be referred to the nearest private hospital that can perform such surgery. An identification card is issued to the patient for this purpose, by the government cardiac cell of the teaching hospital.
In case, the patient comes back to the hospital concerned at a later date, where surgery is performed, the hospital should have to take proper care of the patient. It should not insist reference from the cardiac cell.
Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao demands that the Central government bear the cost of operations. "Thousands of children are in a critical condition for lack of medical facilities. The State government does not have the resources to fund the critical heart operations of children who are waiting for months for heart operations. Many children are also dying while they wait for heart operations in Andhra Pradesh. The Central government should pay attention to this critical problem," he pointed out.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Hepatitis C strike rate double that of HIV incidence in India

2006
By Syed Akbar
As scientists and health experts the world over rededicated themselves on the World Hepatitis Day on October 1 to the complex research on finding a vaccine for Hepatitis C, latest health reports reveal that this highly asymptomatic liver disease is fast spreading in India.
A World Health Organisation report points out that Hepatitis C virus, often described as a "viral time bomb", has recouped with strength to strike vigorously, two times more than that of the human immuno-deficiency virus or HIV. It has emerged as a silent killer in the country. The WHO lists India along with Egypt, Italy and Japan, where the HCV cases is rampant. The number of Hepatitis C patients in India equals if not exceeds the total number of HCV patients in Europe and the USA.
What worries health planners in developing countries, particularly India, is that there is no vaccine as yet to prevent Hepatitis C. Other Hepatitis virus like A and B have vaccines to prevent the spread of the disease. In the absence of a vaccine, the best way to keep off Hepatitis C virus, is by simply following certain "prevention and precaution" steps.
Another worrying factor that came to light during the World Hepatitis Day on October 1 was that the Hepatitis C virus could not be prevented totally through the use of condom. This virus can be spread by sex. But the efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with Hepatitis C virus is unknown. Doctors, however, feel that proper use of condoms may reduce the transmission risk, though it will not totally eliminate it.
Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B may help in prevention of Hepatitis C to a large extent.
"Did you receive a blood transfusion, hemodialysis, angiogram, tatooing, prolong injections or syringes? If yes, get tested for Hepatitis C. Remember the cure rate is high if the infection is detected early. Pegylated interferon can affect a cure in good number of patients," says senior gastroenterologist Dr Dharmesh Kapoor.
WHO health reports indicated that as against 5.1 million Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS, around 12 million Indians are suffering from Hepatitis C. That the disease is poised to spread fast in developing countries is evident from the fact that eight out of 10 people do not have access to safe blood. Moreover, about 30 per cent of HIV patients also simultaneously suffer from Hepatitis C.
The Indian Journal of Gastroenterology reports that about three per cent of people in Andhra Pradesh are infected by Hepatitis C. The number could actually be higher than reported as the data was collected based on medical screenings at laboratories. The undetected Hepatitis C population might be large for the simple reason that the disease is not manifested by any symptoms.
According to Dr Dinesh Kini, consultant gastroenterologist of Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, "Hepatitis C has a tendency to develop into long term liver disease and can cause liver cirrhosis and even cancer of the liver. The infection involves an initial phase of infection, which is often asymptomatic and lasts up to six months".
In a majority of patients (up to 85 per cent cases), the virus successfully fights the body immune system. The patients develop long term or chronic infection. They are now ready to transmit the disease to healthy people.
Like the HIV, the Hepatitis C virus remains in the infected patients for years together undetected. But unlike HIV, it does not invade the immune system but replicates successfully using the liver's resource cells.
Many times the patient does not know that he is carrying the virus except for some troubles like fatigue and discomfort in the upper abdominal area. It remains undetected for as long as 10 years and this is the main reason why scientists have so far failed in their attempts to develop a vaccine for this virus.
The WHO report on Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response refers to Hepatitis C virus as "highly heterogeneous". Eleven Hepatitis C virus genotypes with several distinct subtypes have been identified throughout the world.
The only good thing about Hepatitis C is that the virus does not spread by air. Since the mode of transmission is through skin or mucous membrane, one has to be careful while using tooth brushes, nail cutters, razors, injections and drug and tattoo needles. Those who are sexually active with multiple partners are at high risk of contacting the disease.
"If untreated the liver will be damaged. The only treatment then remains is to replace the damaged liver by a new one. Early detection and prompt treatment can save life," observes Dr Samir R Shah, specialist in Hepatobiliary diseases, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre and Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai.
Pegylated interferon alfa-2a (40KD) is a new generation Hepatitis C therapy and it offers sustained improvement in liver function and suppresses the virus in more than 50 per cent of patients. Ribavirin is the other drug found effective against this disease.
The pegylation of the interferon slows down the body’s ability to break down the interferon molecule. The interferon gets absorbed more slowly in the body and over a longer period of time. Thus constant amounts of the interferon are present in the body and because of this, the virus is under constant attack.
The WHO report, however, notes that "The diversities in the genotype of the virus have distinct consequences. Although different strains have not been shown to differ dramatically in their virulence or pathogenicity, different genotypes vary in their responsiveness to interferon/ribavirin combination therapy. Moreover, such heterogeneity hinders the development of vaccines, since vaccine antigens from multiple serotypes will probably be necessary for global protection".
About half of the Hepatitis C cases do not have any symptoms of the disease even though the virus is fairly active in the body. While 20 per cent of patients recover fully the remaining develop some form of chronicity. Five per cent of chronic patients develop liver cell cancer and an equal number suffer from decompensated cirrhosis.

Heart diseases are responsible for about one-third of all deaths in rural India

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 3: Heart diseases are responsible for about one-third of all deaths in rural India while only 13 per cent of deaths are related to accidents including suicide.
An international research study conducted jointly by the George Institute for International Health and the University of Queensland revealed that heart related problems constituted the "major killer" of human beings in the countryside. The findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and the research was carried out in East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. The study emphasised the need for India to improve its health services besides creating new health avenues to fight against chronic ailments.
While the incidence of diseases related to heart are on the rise in the country, interestingly enough cases of infectious diseases are on the decline. This, according to the study, is the result of change in social and economic scenario in villages.
The study pointed out that death from injury, both accidents and self-inflicted as in suicide, was the second most common cause of death in rural India contributing to 13 per cent of total deaths. Infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, intestinal infections and HIV/AIDS, are responsible for 12 per cent of deaths, while cancer is contributing to 7 per cent of deaths.
According to Dr Rohina Joshi, the data on the causes of death is an indicator of the health problems now facing the rural India. The spurt in heart related diseases is linked to high rate of smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure among villagers.
The study was conducted in 45 villages spread over East and West Godavari districts covering a total population of 1.80 lakh.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Prophet's Medicine: Herbal And Spiritual Cure For All Problems


September 27, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 16: Young Rubina is on a diet regulation eating figs and dates to shed that extra fat in her body. Middle-aged Abdul Kareem takes black cumin seeds to keep his blood cholesterol under check. Septuagenarian Zaheeruddin gulps a syrup of pure honey to fight his abdominal trouble while his daughter-in-law Fathima gives vapours of incense to her son to beat throat infection.
All these Hyderabadis are on a prescription of Tibbe Nabawi or the Prophet's Medicine, which is fast taking its roots in the city as an alternative system of curative and preventive medical practice. People suffering from common ailments and patients with chronic diseases including those with obesity are increasingly turning to Tibbe Nabawi. Giving a modern touch to this 1500-year-old Islamic system of medicine, some pharmaceutical companies are marketing facial masks, beauty creams, hail oil, massage oil and ointments based on the Prophet's prescriptions. And they are in good demand.
At least a dozen Tibbe Nabawi clinics have been opened in Hyderabad and other parts of the State to cater to the vast clientele. As many as eight different books on the Prophet's Medicine are now available in city book shops.
Says eminent physician Dr Fakhruddin Muhammad, "the efficacy of the pharmacopoeia of the Prophet's Medicine is scientifically proved by dozens of research organisations including the Food and Drugs Administration. It is based on natural herbs and food products without any addition of chemicals. It is a lifestyle management system to prevent health problems and cure diseases".
Practitioners of the Prophet's Medicine prescribe commonly available herbs and fruits (raw or extracts) like grapes, pomegranates, citrus, honey, henna, dates (specially of the ajwa variety), olive, methi (fenugreek), aloe vera, rosewater, hibiscus, miswak, black cumin (kalonji), sweet basil (myrtle), ginger, Indian incense (Ud-al-Hind), truffles, watercress, squash, melons and figs.
The treatment ranges from cardiac problems to pleurisy, obesity to malnourishment, respiratory troubles to anaemia and renal obstructions, improvement of eyesight and mental agility to toning up skin texture and deworming to healing of wounds, both internal and external. As many as 30 products are available in the city market based on Kalonji combinations alone. People who have had a heart attack and have survived are prescribed the combination of honey, sana maki and ajwaa dates to speed up recovery.
Dr Fatemeh Mojtahedi, an MBBS doctor, has switched over to the Prophet's Medicine in her Avicenna Clinic to treat obesity. She has formulated "slim capsules" based on the herbs and fruits mentioned in ancient Islamic medical literature inspired by Tibbe Nabawi.
"The important thing we can learn from prophetic nutrition is moderation. Treatment of obesity is quite simple in the Prophet's medicine: eating simple and wholesome natural foods and herbs, and drinking plenty of water. Since the Prophet's Medicine normalises the metabolism and curbs the appetite, patients, who shed excess weight, continue to maintain their slim and trim figure even after the treatment is over," explains Dr Fatemeh. She has treated about 8000 patients and one of them has reportedly lost 58.5 kgs in nine months and 15 days. Dr Fatemeh is approaching the Guinness Book of World Records with a claim of reducing obesity in the shortest time.
The interest in Prophet's Medicine increased in the local populace after the International Institute of Islamic Medicine and the Islamic Medical Association of North America jointly held a conference a few years ago on the scientific validity of the medical prescriptions given by the Holy Prophet.
Following the conference, many have abandoned their toothpaste and toothbrushes in favour of Miswak stick, which the practitioners of the Prophet's Medicine point out strengthens the gums and prevents tooth decay, improves the sense of taste and assists in digestion.
Dr Qudratullah Hussami, whose Islamic Research Academy has done pioneering research in the Prophet's Medicine, points out that "Tibbe Nabawi is a nothing but a collection of Hadith that instruct Muslims on the subject of sickness or medical treatment. Most of the products used in this system of medicine are prescribed by the Prophet himself or utilised by him. Over 200 university research papers have proved the efficacy of the medicine, particularly the black cumin seeds".
Hakeem Muhammad Zaheer Ahmad prescribes black cumin (Kalonji or
Nigella sativa) to his patients to treat asthma, control of sugar in blood and urine, psoriasis, hypertension, hypotension and skin diseases. He is also working on the efficacy of black cumin seeds in the treatment of cancer.
Dr Syed Jaleel Hussain, former director of the Central Research Institute in Unani Medicine, says the Prophet has prescribed olive oil for treatment of haemorrhoids (piles). Kalonji extract removes obstructions in body, expels gases and strengthens the stomach.
"Kalonji oil has improved my hair growth. It has successfully controlled falling of hair due to alopecia. The drug has also improved my skin texture," says Rafique Ahmad, a resident of Charminar. According to inter student Zareena Almas, the facial mask and beauty cream prepared from Kalonji has been quite effective in controlling pimples and blackheads. "Unlike common creams which are heavily loaded with chemicals, the Tibbe Nabawi creams do not cause any skin rashes or irritants. There's no need for even a skin patch test," she observes.
Dr Ghousuddin, consultant pharmacologist, refers to medical reports in support of his claim that the Prophet's Medicine has been useful in paralysis, facial palsy, migraine, amnesia and palpitation.
Islamic scholar Moulana Hasanul Hashmi is of the view that Tibbe Nabawi is not only a curative and preventive system of medicine but it also gives a "rewarding experience". The Prophet's Medicine is based on Sunnah and it is a good thing (Nek Kaam) for Muslims to follow it, he says.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Majority of people in India suffer from common nutrition problems

September 24, 2006

Syed Akbar

A majority of Indians are malnourished. Even those who consume sufficient quantity of food suffer from malnutrition because they don not get well-balanced food. Nationwide surveys by Central government agencies over the years reveal that Indians, including those living in urban areas, suffer from common nutrition problems like protein energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, iodine and vitamin B-complex).
Keeping this in view, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition has come out with a Nutrition Manual containing dietary guidelines for Indians, particularly adolescent girls and pregnant women. The guidelines give a broad perspective on the present nutritional scenario in the country, besides suggesting the type of food one should take for healthy, long and happy life. The nutrition quota differs from person to person depending on the amount and type of work he or she undertakes. It also varies depending on age and sex.
The nutrition guidelines assume importance in the backdrop of the poor health scenario in several parts of the country. About one-third of infants born are low in weight i.e. less than 2.5 kgs. This is as against less than 10 per cent of low birth weights recorded in developed countries including small nations like Israel. It was also noticed that two per cent of nursery school children in the country suffer from severe and florid forms of protein energy malnutrition leading to health problems like Kwashiorkor and marasmus.
Health surveys reveal that children below five years suffer from sub-clinical under-nutrition resulting in low weight for age. This is less than 75 per cent of median weight for age as fixed by the National Centre for Health Statistics. About 65 per cent of these children are stunted (low height for age). Under-nutrition if continued throughout the growing phase of childhood leads to short stature in adults. Half of the adults in the country have body mass index below 18.5, which in other words means chronic energy deficiency.
The dietary goals as envisaged by the NIN include maintenance of a state of positive health and optimal performance in populations at large, ensuring adequate nutritional status for pregnant women and lactating mothers, improving birth weights and promoting growth of infants, children and adolescents to achieve their full genetic potential and preventing chronic diet-related disorders.
The dietary guidelines are: consuming nutritionally adequate diet through a wise choice from a variety of foods; additional food and extra care during pregnancy and lactation; food supplements for infants by four to six months; consumption of green leafy vegetables, other vegetables and fruits in large quantities; moderate use of oils, sugar and salt; avoidance of processed and ready-to-eat foods; and adequate amounts of water.
According to NIN, a balanced diet should provide around 60 to 70 per cent of total calories from carbohydrates, preferably starch, about 10-12 per cent from proteins and 20-25 per cent from fat.
Nutrient dense low fat foods are recommended for old people for being physically active and healthy. Nutritionally adequate diet with extra food for child bearing/rearing women for maintenance of health productivity and prevention of diet-related disease and to support pregnancy/lactation.
Body-building and protective foods are recommended for adolescents for growth spurt, maturation and bone development. For children's growth, development and to fight infections, energy, body-building and protective food (milk, vegetables and fruits) are recommended. And for infants, breast milk and energy rich foods (fats and sugar) are needed for growth and appropriate milestones.
The balanced diet recommended for an adult man (sedentary) per day is: 20 grams of oil/fats; 25 grams of sugar, 300 grams of milk and milk products, 60 grams of pulses (for vegetarians), 30 grams of pulses, egg/meat/chicken/fish (for non vegetarians), 400 grams of vegetables, 100 grams of fruits and 420 grams of cereals and millets. Elderly people may reduce 90 grams of cereals and millets and add an extra serving of fruit.
In case of women, 300 grams of vegetables, 300 grams of cereals and millets and 20 grams of sugar, besides the other dosage recommended for men.
Half of the people suffer from nutritional anaemia and this is more pronounced in women as 70 to 90 per cent of them are found to be anaemic. Health statistics indicate that anaemia caused due to malnutrition kills over a lakh pregnant women. Coming to iodine deficiency, about 300 million people live in areas where iodine is in short supply. Iodine deficiency leads to problems like goitre, neonatal hypothyroidism, mental retardation, delayed motor development, stunting, deaf-mutism and neuromuscular disorders. Around one lakh still-birth and neonatal deaths occur every year because of deficiency of iodine in mothers.
Studies by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau show that the daily intake of most foods, except cereals and millets (470 grams) is much below the recommended dietary allowances. The diets provide negligible amounts of protective foods like pulses (29 grams) and vegetables.
Consumption of green leafy vegetables and other vegetables (70-80 grams), which are rich sources of micronutrients like beta-carotene, folate, calcium, riboflavin and iron, is woefully inadequate. Intake of visible fat is less than 60 per cent of the RDA.
"The proportion of households with energy inadequacy is 48 per cent while that with protein inadequacy is 20 per cent. Thus, in the cereal/millet-based Indian dietaries, the primary bottleneck is energy and not protein, as was earlier believed. This dietary energy gap can be easily overcome by increasing the quantities of habitually eaten foods by the poor," the study points out.