Sunday, 26 November 2006

World Aids Day: AIDS emerges as the leading cause of death in WHO updated projections of global mortality

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.

Friday, 17 November 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.

Wonders of Nature: Do cyclonic rains silence dengue virus?

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 30: The cyclonic rains might have left a trail of misery for 
many, but they also heralded good news for people living in dengue-hit 
areas.
The cyclone, which crossed the sea coast on Monday evening, has silenced 
the powerful dengue virus. The sudden drop in temperature followed by 
washing away of stagnant water due to heavy rains has turned the dengue 
virus dormant and its vector, mosquito, ineffective.
The rains also proved beneficial to standing crop spread over lakhs of 
hectares, particularly cotton and other commercial crops in the coastal belt. 
The rains provided the much-needed moisture to the drying up crops and 
brought smile back on the faces of farmers.
Health officials in Visakhapatnam heaved a sigh of relief as the dengue 
incidence came down in the city. "There is a sudden drop in the temperature 
from 37 degrees C to 24 degrees C. This has led to dengue virus going 
dormant. At such temperatures, the virus becomes incapable of spreading," 
Visakhapatnam municipal chief medical officer Dr M S  Raju said.
According to him, many communicable diseases turn dormant normally 
during December. But the inclement weather has advanced the dormancy 
mode. The weather came in handy for us to control further outbreaks of  
dengue, he added.
Senior health officials in Hyderabad, however, do not agree with Dr Raju. 
"The explanation is unscientific," says Dr IV Rao, director of medical 
education.
However, both Raju and Rao agree that the rains may cause water borne 
diseases like diarrhoea. No fresh cases of dengue have been reported from
Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and rural areas of Visakhapatnam following the 
rains.
The rains have come in as a blessing in disguise for cotton farmers in 
Guntur district. Since cotton crop is in budding stage, the rains have 
stabilised the inflorescence. The flowering was about to wither away but the   
rains stabilised them. This may give a yield of four to five quintals per acre.
Farmer activist Dr Yalamanchili Sivaji said the rains had helped plantation 
of tobacco. Crops like Bengal gram and chilli have also stabilised thanks to 
the timely rains.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Shariah Adalats in Hyderabad: Muslim women clerics deliver justice


November 12, 2006
By Syed Akbar
A young burka clad woman with a babe in her arms stands silently before a panel of Muftis. Though she appears to be calm, her anxiety is writ large on her face. The woman from Fateh Darwaza in the old city of Hyderabad awaits a verdict from the Muftis that may make or mar her marital life.
After a breathed silence, the panel of Muftis, which include three women, delivers the verdict in her favour. Her complaint was that her husband, a "lazy person", stays most of the time at home and does not go to work. They have a little daughter and she finds it hard even to purchase milk for her.
The woman is one of the scores of complainants seeking justice from the Shariah Adalat, the first of its kind private civil court in the country, functioning on the principles of Muslim Personal Law. The Shariah Adalat, located in one of the narrow lanes of Moghalpura in the walled city of Hyderabad, issues notices to the woman's husband and asks him to appear before it. The Muftis, constituting the bench, curtly tell the man that it is his duty and obligation (farz) to take care of the family. A recital of a few verses from the Quran and the threat of Allah's grave punishment (Azab) in the Akhirat (on Day of Resurrection) work well with the man.
The Shariah Adalat, a parallel Islamic civil court, is turning out to be quite popular in the principal minority community, what with Muslims from different parts of the State taking its help to resolve cases connected with the personal law.
The Adalat is the first Islamic civil court in the country to be presided over among others by women Muftis. Three women Muftis along with their two male counterparts settle about half a dozen cases every Saturday, when the Shariah Adalat meets for its weekly session. It works between 4.00 pm and 8.00 pm on Saturdays.
Set up recently with an objective to prevent Muslims from engaging in prolonged legal battles in civil courts, the Shariah Adalat has been receiving complaints even from outside Hyderabad. Of the 200 cases the Adalat has settled so far, about 20 cases are from the districts. They are mostly related to marital discord, divorce, property disputes, maintenance, inheritance and women rights.
The nascent Adalat, has come across many interesting but simple cases, which if referred to civil courts would take many years for settlement.
"We are adopting the regular procedure followed in civil courts. We accept both oral and written complaints. Our office then send letters to both the petitioners and the respondents asking them to be present on the hearing day. The Muftis will hear both the parties and give their verdict in the light of Islamic jurisprudence," says Mufti Muhammad Mastan Ali Quadri, one of the five Muftis on the bench.
In one of its hearings, the Shariah Adalat decreed that it is the duty of children to take care of their parents. The case was that a man from Paloncha in Khammam district has two sons, who have deserted him. Unable to fend himself, the poor man approached the Shariah Adalat which after referring to the Quran and the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) held that the sons had sinned by not looking after their father. The sons agreed and the father is taken back to their house.
In about 90 per cent of the cases both the parties agree to the verdict delivered by the Shariah Adalat while 10 per cent refuse to budge and prefer to settle the scores in a general civil court. Mufti Muhammad Hasnuddin and Muftiya Nazima Azeez are head muftis of men and women Darul Ifta (department of decrees) respectively. Other members on the bench are Muftiya Rizwana Zareen and Muftiya Sayeeda Fatima
A woman, whose husband did not agree to the idea of abandoning joint family and living separately, lodged a complaint with the police that he had been harassing her for more dowry. The police registered a case and were about to arrest him when he sought the help of the Shariah Adalat. The woman and her parents were asked to appear before the Adalat which after a series of counselling succeeded in bringing rapprochement. The woman withdrew the complaint.
In another interesting case, a man from Chittoor town pronounced single talaq in a fit of rage and deserted his wife and two grown-up daughters. The woman knocked the doors of the Adalat. The Muftis told the husband that since he had pronounced talaq only once, the marriage is valid and he can live with his wife. The parties agreed to the verdict.

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Food For Thought: India finally upgrades its food strandards


November 11, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 10: India has finally upgraded food standards to those of international specifications as part of the two-pronged strategy to protect the
health of citizens and effectively compete in the world market.
Under the new food standards, the Central government has fixed permissible limits for pesticide and pharmacological residues in food items including processed foods, fruits and vegetables. The new rules now in place stipulate that no food item should contain any contaminant, naturally occurring toxic substances, toxins, hormones, heavy metals, anti-biotics residues or myco-toxins beyond a permissible limit.
Manufacturers violating the new Rules will attract a prison term up to six months and a penalty ranging up to Rs 5 lakh. There is also compensation for the kin of the victims of contaminated food. In case of death, the compensation is Rs 5 lakh. For serious injuries (health hazards) the compensation fixed is Rs 3 lakh and Rs 1 lakh for other health hazards.
"Thus far, India has been following its own food standards. Now it has upgraded its standards to those of Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body jointly set up by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations. This will ensure protection of human life and health as well as consumers' interests," says Dr V Sudarshan Rao, senior scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition here.
Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organisation are currently in the city to discuss with local health scientists and nutrition experts the importance of Codex standards and the benefits India and its citizens would accrue from upgrading the local food standards. With Indian falling in line, the food standards of edible items right from apple juice to almonds, from ice cream to canned fish and from salted peanuts to cheese and infant milk products will be on international health specifications and food safety norms.
According to Biplab K Nandi, FAO senior food and nutrition officer, the purpose of Codex standards are to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade and promote coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations.
To ensure that the new food standards are implemented all over the country effectively, the Centre has proposed a Food Safety and Standards Authority of India at the national level. There will also be similar bodies at the State level. Scientific panels and food panels have also been proposed to monitor food additives, flavourings, processing aids, pesticides and anti-biotic residues, genetically modified organisms and foods, dietetic products, biological hazards, crop contaminants, heavy metals, pharmacological active substances and irradiation of foods.
It has also imposed restriction on import of any unsafe, misbranded or substandard food or food containing extraneous matter.

Friday, 10 November 2006

India finally upgrades food standards to those of international specifications as part of the two-pronged strategy to protect the health of citizens and effectively compete in the world market

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 10: India has finally upgraded food standards to those of 
international specifications as part of the two-pronged strategy to protect the 
health of citizens and effectively compete in the world market.
Under the new food standards, the Central government has fixed permissible 
limits for pesticide and pharmacological residues in food items including 
processed foods, fruits and vegetables. The new rules now in place stipulate 
that no food item should contain any contaminant, naturally occurring toxic 
substances, toxins, hormones, heavy metals, anti-biotics residues or myco-
toxins beyond a permissible limit.
Manufacturers violating the new Rules will attract a prison term up to six 
months and a penalty ranging up to Rs 5 lakh. There is also compensation for 
the kin of the victims of contaminated food. In case of death, the 
compensation is Rs 5 lakh. For serious injuries (health hazards) the 
compensation fixed is Rs 3 lakh and Rs 1 lakh for other health hazards.
"Thus far, India has been following its own food standards. Now it has 
upgraded its standards to those of Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body 
jointly set up by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture 
Organisation of United Nations. This will ensure protection of human life 
and health as well as consumers' interests," says Dr V Sudarshan Rao, senior 
scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition here.
Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organisation are currently in the 
city to discuss with local health scientists and nutrition experts the 
importance of Codex standards and the benefits India and its citizens would 
accrue from upgrading the local food standards. With Indian falling in line, 
the food standards of edible items right from apple juice to almonds, from ice 
cream to canned fish and from salted peanuts to cheese and infant milk 
products will be on international health specifications and food safety norms.
According to Biplab K Nandi, FAO senior food and nutrition officer, the 
purpose of Codex standards are to protect the health of consumers and ensure 
fair practices in the food trade and promote coordination of all food standards 
work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental 
organisations.
To ensure that the new food standards are implemented all over the country 
effectively, the Centre has proposed a Food Safety and Standards Authority 
of India at the national level. There will also be similar bodies at the State 
level. Scientific panels and food panels have also been proposed to monitor 
food additives, flavourings, processing aids, pesticides and anti-biotic 
residues, genetically modified organisms and foods, dietetic products, 
biological hazards, crop contaminants, heavy metals, pharmacological active 
substances and irradiation of foods.
It has also imposed restriction on import of any unsafe, misbranded or 
substandard food or food containing extraneous matter.

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