Thursday, 30 August 2007

Midnight madrasa raid irks AP clergy


August 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug. 30: Madrasas have accused the Congress government of being anti-Muslim after police raided a well-known Islamic seminary in Hyderabad late on Wednesday night.
Two more madrasas, including a girls̢۪ seminary, were raided on Thursday afternoon. The police, however, described the raids as verification exercises undertaken as part of the investigation into the twin blasts.
A police team swooped on the 25-year-old Darul Uloom Hyderabad, managed by eminent Islamic scholar Maulana Hameeduddin Aquil Hussami, in the dead of night and conducted a virtual identification parade of students and teachers. Most of the students in the madrasas are below 14 years old and several are orphans.
The midnight swoop angered the Muslim clergy, who said the police was "terrorising Muslims and branding them as terrorists". The police returned to the madrasa on Thursday morning for verification of records.
Maulana Aquil had campaigned for the Congress during the last Assembly elections and had shared a dais with senior Congress leaders, including Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy.
"A madrasa is an educational institution," said Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, general secretary of the Deeni Madaris Board. "It is open to all. Raiding a madrasa in the dead of night will send wrong signals and create communal frenzy."
The Madaris Board, the umbrella body of madrasas in Andhra Pradesh, held an emergency meeting on Thursday evening to denounce the police action as highhanded. It said several young students were traumatised by the presence of the police late in the night.
The board, comprising senior Islamic clergy, wondered what had forced the police to raid madrasas during the night when they could visit them without trouble in the morning.
Representatives of over three dozen top madrasas participated in the meeting and decided to call on chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy after Friday prayers to lodge their protest. They also warned of a severe Muslim backlash if the Congress government did not desist from such actions.
"Madrasas create responsible and God-fearing citizens," said Maulana Hameeduddin Aquil, who chaired the meeting. "No terrorist has ever been rounded up from a madrasa in India. Even senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani gave them a clean chit. If we come across any anti-national element, we will be the first ones to hand them over to the police."
Meanwhile, the police on Thursday afternoon raided Darul Uloom Anwarul Huda at Kishanbagh and Jamia Ayesha Siddiqa Lil Banat, a girls̢۪ religious school at Misriganj, further angering the Islamic clergy.

Mecca masjid blast: IB warning taken as routine

2007
By Syed Akbar
The Intelligence Bureau alerted the State government on the possible bomb blasts in Hyderabad a few days before the Mecca Masjid and the Lumbini Park terror incidents. But internal squabbles among senior police officials and lack of coordination between the State police's Intelligence and Enforcement wings came in the way of preventing the terror attacks.
The IB issued alerts not once but twice. Incidentally both the alerts came just a couple of days before the blast at the historic Mecca Masjid on May 18 and the twin blasts at Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar on August 25.
The police blamed the local Intelligence department of not properly interpreting the IB's alert to enable it to act against terror suspects. On the other hand, the Intelligence wing had complained to the Chief Minister that the police or the Enforcement department had taken the IB alert as yet another routine caution.
In the blame game between the Intelligence and the police wings, more than 50 people lost their lives in bomb blasts at Mecca Masjid, Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar.
The blasts also brought to the fore the internal chinks among the top brass of the police.
According to police sources, the IB has particularly mentioned that terror elements would strike to create communal disturbances in Hyderabad hinting at possible attacks on places of worship. The State police failed to track the suspects and this led to the bomb blast at Mecca Masjid.
The police did not pull up its socks the second time it received the IB alert, just two days before the twin blasts. The IB alert said Hyderabad and Bangalore were going to be the prime targets of cross border terrorist groups.
The IB sent copies of the alert to the State Counter Intelligence wing which in turn informed the Hyderabad CP's office. The IB also alerted the police on fake currency. The police had acted immediately on the fake currency case as they had specific clues from the IB. But there was no follow up on the blast alert as the top brass in the State and the city police took it as a "routine" message, police sources point out.
Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, however, said there was no failure on the Intelligence department.
Ironically, the top police brass began the blame game soon after the incident of twin explosions. Differences among the top officials of the State police department were exposed. That Director General of Police M A Basit and City Commissioner of Police Balwinder Singh are at the loggerheads became clear. The lack of communication between both the cops highlighted the ongoing struggle between two lobbies of IPS officials.
The lethargy in the department on the terrorist front was further affected by infighting in the cops. The department is ill equipped and facing sever staff crunch and strategy. Only after twin explosions Chief Minister of the State announced a separate cell for dealing with terrorism. Counter Intelligence supposed to collect information on terror modules have become more ineffective.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tablighi Jamaat has many enemies


August 2007
By SYED AKBAR
Guntur in 2000. Malegaon in 2006. Hyderabad 2007. Coincidentally or otherwise, a bomb always goes off around the time the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) holds its ijtema (congregation). The TJ, an Islamic movement for the reawakening of Muslims, has enemies among Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
The TJ drew attention in the recent past because of its many high-profile followers in the Pakistan cricket team led by former captain Inzamam-ul Haq. The TJ group in the team was accused of trying to convert players and spending much of its time in prayer.
Founded in the 1920s by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi of the Deoband school of Islamic thought, the TJ functions in two ways. In India it concentrates on Muslims but in the West where it has spread in the last three decades it takes up proselytising among non-Muslims.
Because of its missionary style, right-wing groups like the VHP and the RSS have always opposed the TJ and have even issued "stern warnings".
Senior educationist Yaser Amri points out, "The emergence of Tablighi Jamaat was a direct response to the rise of aggressive Hindu proselytising movements as Shuddhi and Sangathan, which launched massive efforts in the early 20th century to reconvert Hindus who had converted to Islam in the past. The Jamaat founder believed that only a grassroots Islamic religious movement could counter it."
Many Muslim organisations do not see eye to eye with the TJ not because of ideological differences but because of their one-upmanship.
TJ activists are not allowed into mosques by many mosque communities and this has forced the organisation to have its own mosques or Markaz.
A notable feature of the TJ is its regular congregations around the world. The Bangladesh ijtema is the biggest gathering with a turnout of more than 40 lakh people. The last ijtema in Hyderabad was held in 1994. It is now holding another international conference after a gap of 13 years.
Andhra Pradesh is one of the important states for the TJ, where it has a strong following in Hyderabad, Kurnool, Kadapa and Guntur. Unlike other Muslim religious organisations, the TJ believes in reawakening of faith and purification of the self and community.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Pollution Now Reaches The Sea

August 13, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 12: After playing havoc on land, pollution has now extended its fangs to the sea, killing scores of oceanic species including fish. Water quality in the entire sea coast in the State from Srikakulam to Nellore districts, particularly between Visakhapatnam and Kakinada, is badly affected upsetting the delicate marine ecology.
According to a study by the National Institute of Oceanography and a report by the city-based Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, the impact of anthropogenic or human interference, agricultural effluents and industrial wastes have led to deterioration of water quality, causing mass mortality of fish due to asphyxiation. It has also caused harmful plankton to grow in large numbers reducing the oxygen content in sea water.
"The coastal environment is being altered at ever-increasing rates, often without looking ahead at future consequences. This is due to a multitude of human activities. The coastal zone receives a vast quantity of sewage waste, dredge spoils, industrial effluents and river runoff. These markedly affect the composition and quality of coastal environment, causing marine pollution," points out the EPTRI report.
Bay of Bengal has a unique feature in that its water is always balanced. But pollution along the coast has affected even this well-balanced system. The total precipitation over the bay which exceeds evaporation by about 1500 cubic metres and the discharge of over 2000 cubic km of fresh water per annum from major river systems from the adjoining countries lead to a positive water balance in the Bay of Bengal.
Visakhapatnam harbour and Kakinada Bay are emerging as hotspot areas in the Andhra coast. Besides industrial and domestic wastes, port-related operations in Visakhapatnam and Kakinada and intensive aqua culture along the coast are the potential sources of coastal pollution.
Industrial units discharge effluents to the extent of 77.76 crore metres cube per day into inner harbour in Visakhaptnam along with a part of the domestic sewage (2.43 crore metres cube per day).
The land-locked nature of inner harbour its connection to the open sea through entrance channel and the outer harbour, inhibits to a significant extent, the circulation and tidal flushing of anthropogenic inputs into the open sea.
Some of the important observations in the studies include mass mortality of fish believed to be due to asphyxiation, periodic outbursts of blooms (harmful plankton) and near eutrophication conditions due to accumulation of high levels of nutrients and organic matter compiled with inadequate tidal flushing.
In addition, high levels of chlorophyll, primary production, particulate organic carbon, dissolved and particulate trace metals were observed in inner Vizag harbour. Rapid changes in composition and taxonomic diversity of phytoplankton, species diversity and zoonplankton and benthic fauna abundance, high pollution load indices were also reported in the inner harbour.
There were periodic outbursts of phytoplakton, notably Skelatonama Costatum and other species, leading to high values of chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen. Benthic conditions have also changed and only certain pollution tolerant species (Capitalla capitata) inhabited the bottom sediments that contained a heavy load of organic matter.
According to the report, increased pollution in the harbour led to the disappearance of stenoecious species and their replacement with other forms known for their tolerance to pollution.
Pollution load index in terms of trace metals in the inner channels of Visakhapatnam harbour are considered to be highly polluted while Kakinada bay is considered to be moderately polluted zone. Visakhaptnam region is dominated by industrial and domestic discharges while the Godavari and Kalingapatnam regions are influenced by agriculture and anthropogenic inputs from the adjacent river runoff.

And now pollution extends to seas

August 13, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 12: After playing havoc on land, pollution has now extended its fangs to the sea, killing scores of oceanic species including fish. Water quality in the entire sea coast in the State from Srikakulam to Nellore districts, particularly between Visakhapatnam and Kakinada, is badly affected upsetting the delicate marine ecology.
According to a study by the National Institute of Oceanography and a report by the city-based Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, the impact of anthropogenic or human interference, agricultural effluents and industrial wastes have led to deterioration of water quality, causing mass mortality of fish due to asphyxiation. It has also caused harmful plankton to grow in large numbers reducing the oxygen content in sea water.
"The coastal environment is being altered at ever-increasing rates, often without looking ahead at future consequences. This is due to a multitude of human activities. The coastal zone receives a vast quantity of sewage waste, dredge spoils, industrial effluents and river runoff. These markedly affect the composition and quality of coastal environment, causing marine pollution," points out the EPTRI report.
Bay of Bengal has a unique feature in that its water is always balanced. But pollution along the coast has affected even this well-balanced system. The total precipitation over the bay which exceeds evaporation by about 1500 cubic metres and the discharge of over 2000 cubic km of fresh water per annum from major river systems from the adjoining countries lead to a positive water balance in the Bay of Bengal.
Visakhapatnam harbour and Kakinada Bay are emerging as hotspot areas in the Andhra coast. Besides industrial and domestic wastes, port-related operations in Visakhapatnam and Kakinada and intensive aqua culture along the coast are the potential sources of coastal pollution.
Industrial units discharge effluents to the extent of 77.76 crore metres cube per day into inner harbour in Visakhaptnam along with a part of the domestic sewage (2.43 crore metres cube per day).
The land-locked nature of inner harbour its connection to the open sea through entrance channel and the outer harbour, inhibits to a significant extent, the circulation and tidal flushing of anthropogenic inputs into the open sea.
Some of the important observations in the studies include mass mortality of fish believed to be due to asphyxiation, periodic outbursts of blooms (harmful plankton) and near eutrophication conditions due to accumulation of high levels of nutrients and organic matter compiled with inadequate tidal flushing.
In addition, high levels of chlorophyll, primary production, particulate organic carbon, dissolved and particulate trace metals were observed in inner Vizag harbour. Rapid changes in composition and taxonomic diversity of phytoplankton, species diversity and zoonplankton and benthic fauna abundance, high pollution load indices were also reported in the inner harbour.
There were periodic outbursts of phytoplakton, notably Skelatonama Costatum and other species, leading to high values of chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen. Benthic conditions have also changed and only certain pollution tolerant species (Capitalla capitata) inhabited the bottom sediments that contained a heavy load of organic matter.
According to the report, increased pollution in the harbour led to the disappearance of stenoecious species and their replacement with other forms known for their tolerance to pollution.
Pollution load index in terms of trace metals in the inner channels of Visakhapatnam harbour are considered to be highly polluted while Kakinada bay is considered to be moderately polluted zone. Visakhaptnam region is dominated by industrial and domestic discharges while the Godavari and Kalingapatnam regions are influenced by agriculture and anthropogenic inputs from the adjacent river runoff.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Dalita Govindam introduced by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam

2007
Syed Akbar
As the sun starts rising above the horizon, dozens of senior priests and officials carrying the idols of Lord Sri Venkateswara and His two Consorts Sri Padmavathi and Sri Lakshmi Devi enter a sleepy Dalitwada amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. A specially decorated chariot with the idols of the presiding deity of the Tirumala-Tirupati Hills also enters the village.
The idols are placed on a raised platform in the middle of the Dalitwada, the segregated habitation of so-called lower castes, and the Vedic priests fan out inviting Dalits for a "darshan" of Lord Sri Venkateswara, the richest Hindu deity in the world.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, which controls the Lord Venkateswara temple atop the Tirumala Hills, has embarked upon a novel programme to take the processional idols of various Hindu deities to the doorsteps of Dalits to enable them to worship the Almighty. Aptly named, the Dalita Govindam, has been a success thus far and the TTD plans to extend it to all the Dalitwadas across the State in phases.
"This is just a symbolic gesture on the part of the TTD. The idea is to create spiritual awakening among the Dalits. They generally do not get the opportunity for darshan to their heart's content. Moreover, in some temples they are not allowed by the orthodox. We want to break it and provide the Dalits with an opportunity to participate in the regular traditional rituals and offerings the deities," says TTD chairman B Karunakar Reddy, the brain behind Dalita Govindam.
Once the Dalits gather at the village centre, three couples are selected from among them to sit in front of the idols and participate in the special rites (kalyanam). After the rituals are over, the priests and officials partake lunch and dinner in the Dalitwada. They also sleep in the village among Dalits before leaving for another Dalitwada the next morning.
The priests later give prasadam to Dalits. They are offer the Vedic "asirvachanams", normally an exclusive prerogative of VIPs.
The TTD started the novel programme in Vemuru village in Chittoor district. Normally the processional idols of Sri Venkateswara and His Consort are taken out for darshan in the traditional four Mada Streets of Tirumala. This is the first time that the replicas of processional idols are brought down the hill for the benefit of Dalits.
The Dalita Govindam, however, received flak from the CPM which termed the programme as a "modern form of untouchability". CPM State secretary BV Raghavulu demands that the TTD allow appointment of trained Dalits as archakas of the main temple at Tirumala and utilise their services in the traditional kitchen where the famous laddus are prepared.
Meanwhile, in a first of its kind move, Sri Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi Swami, head of Sri Visakha Sarada Peetham, plans to take more than 300 Dalits, who were reconverted to Hinduism from Christianity, on a pilgrimage of important temples spread across the State on May 26.
He will lead the entry of reconverted Dalits into the famous Hindu shrines in Srisailam (Sri Brahmaramba Mallikarjuna Swami), Tirupati (Sri Venkateswara Swami), Srikalahasti (Shiva), Vijayawada (Sri Durga Malleswara Swami) and Annavaram (Sri Satyanarayana Swami).
"The Agama Sastras do not prevent the entry of Dalits into temples or other religious places. The centuries-old Hindu tradition also does not prohibit it. It's only after the Britishers started ruling India that untouchability came into being and Dalits were barred entry into temples. We are simply reviving the ancient Hindu tradition and practising the Agama Sastras by taking Dalits on a pilgrimage of important temples," the Swamiji points out.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Medical colleges make business in Andhra Pradesh

2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 9: Private medical colleges have once again flouted admission rules by charging as high as Rs 60 lakh per MBBS seat this academic year.
Non-minority private medical colleges should collect a maximum of Rs 4 lakh towards tuition fee per year. This works out to Rs 20 lakh for the five-year MBBS course. But many colleges have charged students three times the maximum fee prescribed by the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee appointed by the State government.
Seventy per cent of seats in a private medical college, both minority and non-minority, are filled up by the convener of EAMCET through online counselling. The admissions for the remaining 30 per cent of the seats are left to the management but they have to follow the fee norms prescribed by the State government.
Students seeking admission into C category management seats need not qualify in EAMCET. The minimum qualification for admission is intermediate. Minority colleges have a total of 75 seats under management quota. Non-minority private medical colleges have about 500 seats under their control.
According to sources, some medical colleges sold the seats for as high as Rs 60 lakh. This is up by Rs 10 lakh over last year's price of Rs 50 lakh. Interestingly, the rates of medical seats in neighbouring Karnataka have come down to around Rs 32 lakh this year thanks to heavy competition there.
However, in the case of Andhra Pradesh there are a limited number of medical seats with virtually no competition among the private managements. PK Agarwal, member-secretary of the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee for medical and dental courses, issued orders on July 6 fixing maximum fee limits for the academic years 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10.
The order says "fee up to Rs 4 lakh per annum for each student for 30 per cent C category management seats has been fixed" till the academic year 2009-10 for non-minority medical colleges. The fee structure fixed for minority colleges is Rs 5 lakh.
In case of dental colleges, the fee fixed is Rs 2 lakh for management quota seats for non-minority colleges and Rs 2.5 lakh for minority seats.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Tackle the twin problem of iodine-iron deficiency

2007

Syed Akbar
As the Centre gears up for a nation-wide ban on non-iodised salt from Independence Day, nutrition experts warn that unless the twin problem of iodine and iron deficiency is tackled simultaneously, a vast section of population, particularly women and students, will continue to be at high health risk.
The Central government's decision, though belated, is welcome but it will solve only half of the major health problem facing the country. The Centre seems to be looking at only one side of the health coin when it presses for universal iodised salt. The problem of iron deficiency demands equal attention, if not more. A small change in government's outlook will bring a sea change in the health scenario of the country. It should popularise double fortified salt, containing both iron and iodine.
Thanks to pioneering research by Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition, both iodine and iron deficiencies can now be tackled by use of single dose of common salt. According to rough estimates, 300 million people suffer from iron deficiency as compared to 170 million people with iodine-related problems.
"Double fortified salt is good for people suffering from both iron and iodine deficiencies. In Andhra Pradesh many people, particularly women and children suffer from iron deficiency related problems. NIN's salt helps in both ways. The double fortified salt may cost a little more and the Centre may subsidise it through PDS", says NIN deputy director KVR Sarma.
Health records show that about 10 per cent of the population in rural Andhra Pradesh suffer from iodine deficiency while a whopping 40 per cent from low iron (haemoglobin) content in blood. What is worse is that whenever a fresh survey is conducted in the country, it exposes newer pockets. Official figures put the number of people with iodine deficiency at around 17 crore including 22 lakh people with goitre due to malfunction of thyroid gland.
It was also the National Institute of Nutrition that successfully fortified iodine with common salt. The NIN's method is a low cost approach to control the problem, since salt is used universally in the country in food items. Iodised salt is safe as there is no change in organoleptic properties of foods. Double fortification with iron is also found to be safe.
Noted dietician Sunita Sapur says salt with iron and iodine is an "excellent idea" to contain common health problems in women and children. Deficiency of iron and iodine is quite common in the country, both in urban and rural areas.
The Central government's decision to reimpose ban on non-iodised salt follows a five-year-long study by the National Institute of Nutrition that no State or union territory in the country is free from iodine deficiency. The latest survey carried out in 40 select districts revealed that people in 21 districts are endemic to health problems and diseases caused by iodine deficiency. Even people living near sea coast are also consuming less iodine.
Ban on non-iodised salt was imposed in the country in 1997 but the Centre lifted it in 2000. Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra went in for partial ban while other States preferred a complete ban on non-fortified salt. Last year, Supreme court held that State governments could not impose ban on non-iodised salt on a permanent basis and this forced the Centre to plan for a nation-wide prohibition on salt without iodine content.
Under pressure from dieticians and nutrition experts the Andhra Pradesh government now decided to encourage salt farmers to set up facilities for mixing of iodine. Assistant salt commissioner AK Sharma points out that the government has mooted the idea to discontinue sale of salt without iodine as people in many areas in the State are prone to goitre. "Pregnant women and children are badly hit due to iodine deficiency. We will train salt farmers in modern techniques to boost iodised salt production in the State", he said.
Consultant endocrinologist Ravi Mehrotra argues that if iodine is not taken in sufficient quantities it will cause permanent damage to foetus and retard mental growth in later part of life. Iron in salt will an added advantage to solve the problem of anaemia along with goitre.
Several studies in Andhra Pradesh showed that 55 per cent of people consumed iodised salt with less than 5 ppm, although the percentage of population consuming salt with 15 ppm and more iodine was only 18.5 per cent. The National Family and Health Survey-II revealed that 27.4% of population consumed salt with 15 ppm of iodine. People in the coastal districts of Nellore (80 per cent), Visakhapatnam (76 per cent) and Prakasam (83 per cent) were consuming salt with less than 5 ppm of iodine.
The NIN study noted that India's population consumes salt with some amount of iodine, but only 49 percent uses adequately iodised salt. This figure fell to 37 percent after the lifting of the ban on non-iodised salt.
The State government estimates that nutritional deficiency among school aged children include iron deficiency (10.4 per cent, vitamin A deficiency (six per cent), other vitamin deficiency (15 per cent), disease of teeth and gums (6.4 per cent) and upper respiratory tract infections (6.7 per cent).


----------------------------------------------
Problems related to deficiency of iodine:
----------------------------------------------
1. Damage to brain
2. Low IQ in children with 10 to 15 points lower than the average
3. The deficiency syndrome starts right from the womb and continues to adulthood
4. Causes cretinism, an irreversible form of mental retardation
5. Abortions
6. Still birth
7. Defect in speech and hearing
8. Stiffness in joints and limbs


----------------------------------------
Problems related to deficiency of iron
------------------------------------------

1. Tiredness and fatigue
2. Low digestion levels
3. Dullness
4. Low haemoglobin levels (anaemia)
5. Mood changes
6. Decreased cognitive function
7. Poor concentration
8. Light headedness, headaches and ringing in the ears
9. Irritability, pale skin and restless syndrome

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Artificial viruses have been developed to deliver nucleic acid to the targeted tumour in the body to kill the cancerous cells

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Artificial viruses have been developed to deliver nucleic acid to the targeted tumour in the body to kill the cancerous cells.
The development of artificial viruses through nanotechnology will bring about a sea change in the gene therapy research, which has thus far been in trouble due to a paucity of acceptable vector systems to deliver nucleic acids to patients for therapy.
According to Prof Andrew D Miller of Imperial College Genetic Therapies Centre, London, these improved synthetic non-viral vectors provide a solution to various infectious diseases and cancers of ovaries, cervix and lungs.
"Viral vectors are efficient but may be too dangerous. Synthetic non-viral vectors are inherently safer but are currently not efficient enough to be clinically viable. The solution for gene therapy lies with improved synthetic non-viral vectors systems," he pointed out.
Prof Miller is currently in Hyderabad interacting with scientists and researchers at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. The Genetic Therapies Centre has developed an alternative virus-like nanoparticle non-viral vector system.
"In doing this, we hope to develop a single non-viral vector platform technology system wherein all the fundamental problems could be solved simultaneously. Gratifyingly, the goal of a real non-viral vector platform technology system was recently achieved with the successful development of liposome:mu:DNA (LMD) systems," he pointed out.
These LMD systems offer the opportunity to derive tailor-made non-viral delivery systems by a process of systematic modular upgrading. Fundamentally, such systems have many potential advantages compared with virus-based vector systems including significantly lower toxicity/immunogenicity and potential for oncogenicity, size independent delivery of nucleic acids, significantly simpler quality control, and substantially easier pharmaceutical and regulatory requirements, according to Prof Miller.
He said pre-clinical trials are on and clinical trials are expected to begin from the new year.

Friday, 3 August 2007

US embassy in Baghdad: Illegal workers from Andhra Pradesh labour it out to build world's largest US Embassy

August 3, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 2: Scores of illegal workers from Andhra Pradesh are racing against time in Baghdad to complete what is being projected as the world's largest and most expensive US embassy in the world.
The US plans to open its diplomatic enclave in Baghdad, Iraq, by September and the task of meeting the deadline lies on the shoulders of workers from Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nizamabad districts. Illegal workers from Andhra Pradesh constitute a large labour force engaged in the construction of the new US embassy on a 42-hectare compound on the banks of the river Tigris. The US and Iraqi authorities have also employed workers from the Philippines and Bangladesh.
According to unofficial estimates, around 40,000 workers from Jagtyal and Sircilla in Karimnagar, Armoor in Nizamabad and Nirmal in Adilabad districts are employed by American and Iraqi forces in Iraq. Many of them are illegal and have made their entry into Iraq without the Iraqi visas. They are mainly engaged to work in military bunkers supplying food and taking care of the petty needs of the military forces. About a hundred are said to be working on the new US embassy site, about the size of the Vatican. The US is spending 592 million US dollars on the project.
The State government's NRI cell does not have a record on the AP workers in Iraq since 90 per cent of those employed there are illegal. The Andhra workers are picked up from Kuwait and UAE. Poor and unskilled workers from these backward districts of Telangana visit the Gulf countries on a visit or tourist visa and approach the local recruiting agents, who in turn hand them over to the US military officials for employment. Illegal Andhra workers are in great demand in the Arab world as they are considered a cheap labour source.
The Indian government has imposed restrictions on unskilled workers leaving for Iraq and this is the reason why they travel to the Gulf to be picked up by local recruiting agents to leave for Iraq.
"The major trouble we face is the risk of attacks by locals fighting against the presence of the US forces on Iraqi soil. We stay in bunkers but the money they pay us is quite good. In Karimnagar we can never earn so much money," says middle aged Tirupati Reddy of Laxmipur village in Jagtyal mandal. Tirupati Reddy worked in Baghdad for a couple of months.
With UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf tightening their immigration rules, unskilled labourers from backward Telangana districts are now preferring the strife-torn Iraq for employment. Since the workers are taken by US military aircraft, the visa and immigration rules are relaxed. The workers are free to stay as long as they wish and there's no immigration restriction on their stay. The return is also as smooth as their entry, those who worked in Iraq told this correspondent.
"I returned early as life was really hard for me in the bunker. Many from my village have been working there for the last two years. It is the question of adjusting to the hard life. Once we reached Iraq we were trained in wearing bullet proof jacket and hiding in bunkers," K Mahesh of Kondagutta village in Karimnagar pointed out.
The salary offered to them, however, is relatively high, but workers are often subjected to abuse. While unskilled labour from the State get about Rs 5000 a month on an average in UAE and other Gulf countries, those employed in Iraq are paid between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.
Ramana Reddy from Malial mandal in Karimnagar returned after working at the US embassy site for some time. He said working at the 21-building complex, that will house the new US diplomatic enclave, was quite hard.
"We do not know what happens the next moment in Baghdad. Though we are protected by the US forces, working in Iraq is really difficult. But we risk life for the sake of big money. We get three to six times more pay in Iraq than in Dubai. I was paid 1000 US dollars around Rs 41,000 a month," he said.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

ICAAP8: Biz Enterprises by HIV Women In India


August 22, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Colombo, Aug 21: Women suffering from HIV/AIDS in India will soon be able to set up their own business enterprises so that they could lead an economically independent life.
The UNDP's Regional HIV and Development Programme launched an economic programme exclusively for women suffering from HIV/AIDS in India, Cambodia and China, at the ongoing 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific here on Tuesday.
The economic programme named Women and Wealth Project will enable groups of women living with HIV run small, market-savvy social enterprises, with technical and marketing support from United National Development Programme, Population and Community Development Association of Thailand, international agencies, and the private sector. The Population and Community Development Association will provide the HIV positive women with business management training to assist them in developing business plans before establishing their specific enterprises.
“Access to credit is a human right, as is the right for women living with HIV to be economically secure and independent. The beauty of this project is the economic empowerment it provides for the women, individually and collectively, and using a new and fresh approach through the strategy of business to provide them with business skills that they can use in overcoming the barriers associated with living with HIV,” said Mechai Viravaidya, founder and chairman of PDA, Thailand.
“As I have often said, to combat the issue of HIV we all must think out of
the box.”
Besides providing regular income and greater economic security for women living with HIV, this project is also focused on establishing a sustainable socially focused business. The Women Wealth Project also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, improving self-esteem and camaraderie among the women, and ensuring ARV adherence. For example, in India and Cambodia, HIV/AIDS infected women employees are on anti-retroviral therapy and the new safe working environment allows them to support each other and take their ARV together.
When each business is generating sufficient revenue, the net profits will be pooled into initiating a micro-credit program specifically designed for people living with HIV and based on PDA’s “Positive Partnership Project.
The PPP was devised by PDA and has been highly successful in Thailand in providing economic opportunities for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. This project is now being replicated in India and China on a massive scale to help HIV positive women. It is economic empowerment as a means to reducing stigma and discrimination.
“In a rapidly feminising epidemic, the socio-economic independence of women is essential – it enables women to cope with the devastating impact of the epidemic on their family life and sources of livelihood. Smart skills and regular incomes can reduce situations of HIV-vulnerability and helps positive women live with dignity and security,” said Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, regional HIV/AIDS team leader and programme coordinator, UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme.
Indian HIV positive women will follow in the footsteps of their Cambodian ounterparts who have set up a garment manufacturing business called “Modern Dress Sewing Factory” employing 30 HIV positive women. In India, the Positive Women Network has already established a conceptual design and printing business called “Social Light Communications” employing two HIV positive women and two men.
Each business will be marketed under the common “WE” brand (Women Empowered), with the aim to gaining market access for their products and services both locally and internationally.
“This project is a demonstration that we can be economically independent if given a level playing field and a little support. We would request private sector companies to extend preferential trade offers with us,” said Ms. Srim Phan of MDSF. “Our main appeal is to garment exporters and importers, and apparel industries,” she adds.
“We are not looking for charity, but partnerships for empowerment. If we can access even a miniscule fraction of the market, it can make a big difference to our lives,” said P Kousalya, client services manager for SLC, Chennai.
“The process of learning news skills and working together with groups of HIV positive women in other countries is very powerful and empowering. WWP has helped us regain self-confidence and dignity, which were shattered after the diagnosis of HIV infection,” said Ms. Li of Colorful Clouds Yunnan.

ICAAP8: UNAIDS for more funds to battle HIV


August 21, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Colombo, Aug 20: Asia-Pacific nations will face a serious challenge in sustaining their response to AIDS unless they become less reliant on external donors and commit more national funds and human resources to AIDS programmes, feels the United Nations programme on AIDS.
UNAIDS Asia-Pacific regional director JVR Prasada Rao told the opening plenary of the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in this capital city of Sri Lanka on Monday that resources for national AIDS programs in Asia, while increasing, are insufficient for a durable response to AIDS.
National governments' budgets for AIDS programmes in the region account for only 30 per cent of the US$ 1.2 billion of allocated funds for AIDS. With the exception of Thailand, international donors fund the balance.
Although prevalence rates remain low across the region, rates of new infections are rising in a number of countries such as Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh.
"We need continued vigilance to ensure that HIV prevention and treatment are reaching people most at risk and most in need," he said,warning against complacency.
The UNAIDS official pointed out that achieving regional targets of Universal Access to HIV prevention treatment and care demands a sharply defined multi-sectored government response and a revitalized civil society to confront legal and social barriers that hinder access to HIV prevention and treatment services.
While applauding harm reduction policies in Malaysia, China and India, revived prevention efforts in Thailand, and outreach to men who have sex with men in Cambodia, Rao stressed that stigma and discriminatory laws still poses serious obstacles in the region and demanded that national policies focus on the "forgotten faces of the AIDS epidemic."
Prasada Rao also expressed concern about the rise in political instability and conflict in many Asia Pacific countries which thwarts access to HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
"Apart from the direct toll of human lives, conflict also exacerbates existing problems of poverty and displaces thousands, making them more vulnerable to health related problems."
The UNAIDS called upon civil society groups including people living with HIV, to continue and to increase pressure on governments to deliver concrete AIDS programmes.

ICAAP8: Women, inheritance and HIV


August 20, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Colombo, Aug 19: Depriving women of their rightful access to inheritance and property deepens their vulnerabilities to HIV and hence urgent steps should be initiated by legislative and judicial systems to protect them.
The 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which got off to a colourful start on Sunday evening in this picturesque capital city of Sri Lanka, expressed concern that neglect of women suffering from AIDS on property inheritance would have a devastating impact on the AIDS/HIV control programmes around the world.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha inaugurated the five-day Congress being held at a crucial period when AIDS combined with tuberculosis and malaria is threatening to emerge as a major health nuisance in the Asia-Pacific region.
Earlier in the day, at the “Asia Pacific Court of Women on Inheritance and Property Rights: From Dispossession to Livelihoods,” organized by UNDP and Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, health and scientific experts felt that “there is a crucial link between women’s rights to housing, property and inheritance and the right to be protected from HIV.”
Discriminatory practices increase poverty, reduce livelihood options and reinforce inadequate housing, raising women’s risk to HIV and decreasing their ability to proper treatment and care.
The experts or the “Eminent Jury,” which comprised leading development practitioners, judges, human rights activists and community leaders, included Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing; Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane (Sri Lanka), Justice Kalyan Shrestha (Nepal), Cherie Honkala (United States) and Lawrence Liang (India).
After listening to the powerful testimonials by 24 women from nine countries on the denial of inheritance and property rights and their dispossessions by families and societies because of their HIV status, they said countries in the region needed to adopt specific legislation to protect basic human rights of people living with HIV including their rights to housing, properties and livelihoods.
The Court of Women is the first regional summit on the issue of inheritance and property rights of women in the context of HIV in Asia Pacific. It was a creative platform to give visibility to the lives and voices of those who are increasingly being pushed to the margins of societies and policy because of their HIV status and poor living conditions. More than 350 women from across the region, including a large number of women from Sri Lanka, participated.
The day was dominated by thought-provoking real life stories of women infected and impacted by HIV, narrated in first person, and informed analyses by “Expert Witnesses” in a unique format based on the feminist methodology of weaving together the personal with the political. The subjective testimonies of the “testifiers” were presented under four categories such as Poverty, Violence and HIV; Culture, Marginalisation and HIV; Evaluating State Responses; and Voices of Resistance and Hope. The objective realities came from the statements by Expert Witnesses.
In her testimony of betrayal, HIV, violation and finally, determination; Nguyen Thai Hai Yen, a young HIV positive widow from Vietnam said how powerless she had become at her husband’s house since his death in 2004.
The properties that belonged to him had been taken back by his father and she had been living the life of a bonded labourer. Though she had been asked to leave the house by her father in law, she had been fighting back by staying on. She, however, had to pay a price for her grit in the form of all her earnings. She said there were countless women who were in her condition. “Let’s care and act to protect the inheritance and property rights of women living with HIV because their rights are easily violated by their own people and community.”
Kamalamma from India narrated the inter-generational impact of the epidemic. After losing her daughter and grand-daughters, she is now struggling hard to keep her HIV positive grand daughter alive against discrimination, eviction from landlords and exclusion within family. The other testifiers from Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, PNG and South Africa also had similar stories to tell, stories of dispossession and disinheritance, sometimes even the access to their children, because of their HIV status.
The story of a widow from Sri Lanka was equally compelling and found resonance in the voices of several others. Upon the death of her husband, who committed suicide on knowing he was positive, her house was burned down by a mob led by her brother in law. From a happy and protected wife and mother, overnight she was thrown into sheer destitution. However, with the support of some civil society organizations and other people living with HIV, she had managed to gain her life back. “To reclaim my house,
which was legally registered in our name, I would need to go to the Court.
I would need legal support. Who is there to advise me? Who is there to take up my case? Who is there to deliver justice to me?” she asked.
Opening the Court, Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, leading civil rights activist in Sri Lanka said the strong inequality women face in the region was at the root of the problem of the denial of rights. She called for steps that could bring about fundamental changes so that the status of women in society is improved and their vulnerability to HIV is reduced.
Mr. Neil Buhne, UN Resident Coordinator, Sri Lanka, said women were being shunned exactly at the time when they needed help the most. Women were very important to the progress of the region and their protection would enhance it further, he said. Too many women were vulnerable to exploitative practices. In her address, Ms. Deborah Landey, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS, said the ability of women to access property was directly linked to their ability to protect themselves. HIV was
showing up the unequal status of women. There should be legislative measures to protect them, she added.
Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader, stressed the need to address the increasingly dangerous nexus between HIV and the inequalities in women’s access to inheritance and property rights to contain the spread of the epidemic. When women were denied their rights to property and inheritance, they were robbed of the social and economic empowerment needed to reduce vulnerability to HIV and cope with its impact on families and communities, she said. Access to these rights would empower women to cope with the multiple burdens of the epidemic.
Madhu Bhushan, Coordinator, AWHRC, India, ever since the first Court held in Lahore, Pakistan in 1992-93, the Women’s Court had moved across the world covering critical issues. The courts had also provided the perspectives of women on issues such as wars, racism, development, globalization and “fundamentalisation” of faiths.

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