Study: Homosexual Community at Increased Risk for HIV

Study: Homosexual Community at Increased Risk for HIV

Study: Homosexual Community at Increased Risk for HIV

Study: Homosexual Community at Increased Risk for HIV

One of the challenges of fighting HIV around the world is the difficulty of reaching those at risk. A new study from South Africa indicates that the homosexual community is at increased risk for HIV, and that widespread homophobia may keep these men from receiving the information and care that they need.

Gay men in Africa face extreme homophobia and violence within their communities, and in many African nations, men who have sex with other men may be imprisoned, or even sentenced to death. Because of this stigma, they are a hidden population, with many keeping their sexual orientation secret.

A new anonymous survey of 1,700 men in South Africa indicates that one out of every 20 has had consensual sex with another man.

“The number of men in South Africa who have had consensual experiences with other men is pretty much on par with every other country in the world,” said Kristin Dunkle. “Looking at the findings, pretty much everything had me nodding my head and saying, ‘Actually, that makes a lot of sense.’”

But Emory University professor Kristin Dunkle, the lead author of the report, says she was surprised by the violence that the survey revealed.

“About 1 in 10 men have been sexually assaulted. That’s, I think, a higher number than anyone was really expecting,” said Dunkle.

The extent of anti-gay pressures – both social and legal – confronting men in Africa makes it difficult for these victims of sexual violence to seek help. Homosexual men in Africa are at increased risk of contracting HIV, and their access to life-saving HIV prevention and care may be limited. Rachel Jewkes of the Medical Research Council in South Africa led this research.

“It’s very difficult for men who have sex with men to come forward and try and engage healthcare [providers] around HIV-related issues, and so tackling the stigma associated with male-male sexual behavior is absolutely critical,” said Jewkes.

The researchers say that these men need more accessible HIV education and aid, especially since they may be putting others at risk.

“A very high proportion, more than two-thirds of the men who’d ever had sex with men, currently have a female partner,” she said.

In their report, published in PLOS Medicine, the researchers call for increased HIV education and outreach for the African gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. They also stress the need to counter wide-spread homophobia, both to enable public health efforts, and to reduce the high incidence of anti-gay violence in Africa.

US Marks 10th Anniversary of Emergency AIDS Funding

US Marks 10th Anniversary of Emergency AIDS Funding

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to speak at the 10th anniversary celebration for the President's Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief, June 18, 2013, at the State Department in Washington

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to speak at the 10th anniversary celebration for the President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief, June 18, 2013, at the State Department in Washington

STATE DEPARTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced new anti-AIDS funding to mark the 10th anniversary of the primary U.S. program to combat the disease.

Kerry said it is worth remembering how bleak things looked 10 years ago. With nearly 30-million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS, he said an entire generation looked lost.

“When this disease appeared to be unstoppable, history will show that humanity and individual humans rose to the challenge,” he said.” Action was taken. Innovations were discovered. Hope was kindled.  And generations were saved.”

Kerry said this “victory for the human spirit” shows what can happen when people overcome ideologies and politics. Signed into law by George W. Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, is the world’s largest and one of the most successful foreign assistance programs.

New HIV infections are down nearly 20 percent during the past decade. In Sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. officials say the number of new infections and AIDS-related deaths are down by almost one-third.

In Namibia, for example, one-in-four pregnant women were HIV positive in 2002.  The country’s Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr. Richard Kamwi, said PEPFAR has helped turn that around.

“We have developed and implemented policies, programs, and services that have enabled us to prevent the further spread of HIV, treat those who are infected, and care for those who are affected,” he said.

Also at a State Department ceremony marking the PEPFAR anniversary was Tanzanian nurse Tatu Msangi, who eight years ago gave birth to an HIV-negative daughter, Faith.

“When the first HIV test is carried out on a baby and it is negative, it is amazing to see the relief and joy on a mother’s face,” said Msangi. “I remember that feeling so many years ago, fighting so hard to keep my daughter healthy and free of HIV.  Today Faith and I have a bright future ahead of us.”

Kerry said this month the one-millionth baby will be born HIV-free because of PEPFAR’s support.

“Where we once saw a situation spiraling out of control, today we see a virtuous cycle beginning to form: more people receiving treatment and fewer people passing on the virus,” he said. “Fewer infections means it is now easier to actually focus treatment efforts. And with fewer people sick and dying we are seeing healthier, more productive populations.”

Kerry announced additional PEPFAR funding for Cambodia, Ghana, Nepal, Senegal, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe to strengthen sustainable programs in partnership with host governments and civil society groups.

MERS Coronavirus Kills Four More in Saudi Arabia

MERS Coronavirus Kills Four More in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI — Four more people have died and three more have fallen ill in Saudi Arabia from the new SARS-like coronavirus MERS-CoV, the Saudi Health Ministry said on Monday.

The ministry said the four deaths were among previously registered cases. The new infections were in Eastern Province, in the capital Riyadh and in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia has been the country most affected by the respiratory-system virus, with 49 confirmed cases, of whom 32 have died, according to data from the ministry.

The worldwide death toll released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 15 stood at 34.

The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Gulf to France, Britain and Germany. The WHO has called it the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

It is a distant relative of the virus that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that swept the world in late 2003 and killed 775 people.

The origin of the MERS virus is still unclear. So far, it appears to spread between people only when there is close, prolonged contact.

US Supreme Court Gene Ruling Benefits Biotech, Breast Cancer Research

US Supreme Court Gene Ruling Benefits Biotech, Breast Cancer Research

A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics

A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics

Everyone has BRCA genes in their cells. If you are a woman and one of your BRCA gene copies has a mutation, your risk of developing breast cancer is very high – up to 87 percent in some cases.

A biotechnology company called Myriad Genetics Inc. was the first to discover the healthy, normal code of BRCA. Because a mutation is an error in that code, the normal sequence can be used to test for the breast cancer-causing BRCA mutation. Myriad developed the test, and won patent protection for it and the original BRCA gene.

Thursday, in a case against Myriad by the ACLU, the Supreme Court decreed that genes can no longer be patented, invalidating Myriad’s intellectual claim to the BRCA code. Yet both sides came away claiming victory.

So what happened, and what does this decision mean for cancer patients, medical researchers and biotechnology?

A patent is issued to give an inventor or developer intellectual and property rights to whatever has been made. The patent on the BRCA gene initially was granted for isolated DNA: the gene removed from the human body so that it may be worked with in the lab.

But the federal Patent Act states that an inventor may not claim intellectual property rights for “laws of nature” or “natural phenomena.”

The question was whether the isolated BRCA gene constituted a new invention, having been removed from the body. The Supreme Court unanimously decided that isolated DNA, though isolated, is still natural, and not a human invention.

According to Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder and president of Breastcancer.org,this could mean new research, cures and testing for women with BRCA mutations, and for cancer patients. Until now, researchers have had to pay for the isolated BRCA genetic code, which they need to have to understand how BRCA functions both on its own and in concert with other genes.

BRCA repairs errors in the DNA of breast tissue cells, and prevents unrestrained growth. So, if BRCA is damaged, breast tissue growth can go haywire, leading to cancer.

Five to 10 percent of all breast cancers are caused by BRCA mutation, and it also leads to a greatly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Freeing the isolated BRCA gene from its patent could allow researchers to develop more, cheaper tests for BRCA mutation, which could give more women at increased risk of developing cancer a chance to know their status earlier.

Women with BRCA mutations are advised to monitor their health with frequent breast MRIs, according to Dr. Weiss. They also may choose to undergo preventive mastectomies and removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes to avoid cancer.

With the early awareness provided by BRCA mutation testing, women may even choose to have children earlier to prepare for these surgeries.

American actress Angelina Jolie’s recent decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy was a result of having discovered a mutation in one of her BRCA genes.

Myriad Genetics Inc. is not deprived by this decision, however, said Jennifer L. Swize, a lawyer who represented the biotech company. In fact, she said, “to Myriad, this decision is a win.” While the court overturned patents on isolated DNA, it made a point to uphold patents on cDNA (complementary DNA), or synthetic copies of the genetic sequence with useless “junk” segments removed.

CDNA is what Myriad uses in most of its BRCA research anyway, not unmodified isolated DNA. Patents on research and designs like the BRCA mutation test also were upheld. Myriad’s stock rose following the decision.

Common Chemical May Damage Teeth (Listen to audio report)

Common Chemical May Damage Teeth (Listen to audio report)

Plastic Bottles are a major source of pollution. (Photo: Groundwork Anacostia River DC)

Plastic Bottles are a major source of pollution. (Photo: Groundwork Anacostia River DC)

Listen to audio report

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A chemical compound that’s been linked to a number of health problems in animal studies may also damage tooth enamel in humans. BPA is found in many resins and plastics that people use everyday, such as water and baby bottles and food containers.

BPA, or Bisphenol A, can leach from the plastic and into food, water or snacks – and from there into us. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control survey in 2003/2004 found detectable levels of the chemical in 93 percent of more than 2,500 urine samples tested. It can also contaminate the environment, with countless plastic bottles littering many landscapes and waterways.

The NIH, the National Institutes of Health, says, “Animal studies indicate BPA may cause adverse effects, such as obesity, behavioral changes, diabetes, early onset puberty, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, reproductive disorders and development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer.”

It adds there is “reason for concern, especially for parents, because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.” There’s ongoing research on whether BPA does indeed affect people the way it can animals.

French researcher Sylvie Babajko is the lead author of an article on BPA appearing in the American Journal of Pathology. She said that BPA is an endocrine disruptor.

“An endocrine disruptor is a substance that disturbs the endocrine system. That means hormones in humans, as well as in progeny.”

The endocrine system is a series of glands, such as the thyroid pituitary and adrenal, which release hormones affecting sexual development, growth and metabolism. And these hormones go everywhere in the body. Some chemicals can make their levels go up and down.

Babajko and fellow researchers are now trying to confirm that BPA can damage tooth enamel. She said they were notified about the possible link by others studying the effects of endocrine disruptors on lab animals’ reproductive systems.

“They found that the rats exposed to low doses of endocrine disruptors presented white spots on incisors. They called us and we studied these white spots and found that there was an enamel hypomineralization due to endocrine disruptors exposure,” she said.

In other words, BPA, circulating in the body, can adversely affect cells that produce tooth enamel, making it fragile or brittle. The question is: Are those white marks now showing up on human teeth as well?

“It is probably a problem,” she said, “because things and food contain BPA and we are probably all exposed to BPA. And it has been shown, at least with experiments on animals, that BPA can cause a lot of defects and teeth are one additional target of BPA.”

Analysis of the rats’ teeth show similar characteristics found in about 18 percent of children between the ages six and eight. These kids may have teeth that are extra sensitive to pain or more liable to get cavities. It’s believed humans are most sensitive to BPA in the first years of life. Further study is needed, but those white streaks may be an indication of early exposure to the chemical.

Since BPA can disrupt estrogen levels in animals, there’s concern that could affect men’s reproductive health. Men do produce estrogen, but usually in much lower levels than women. However, Babajko said that’s not been confirmed and is difficult to prove.

“It is possible, but not demonstrated in humans, of course, because we are all subjected to many endocrine disruptors. And it is difficult to be sure that BPA is the only one that is responsible for the reproductive defects. It is difficult to know precisely if BPA is the only one or if it is acting in combination with other molecules,” she said.

Concerns about BPA have led to the production of BPA-free plastic products. Europe banned baby bottles containing the chemical in January 2011. The U.S. took similar action in July of last year. While the Food and Drug Administration began voicing concerns about BPA in 2010, it has not officially reversed its 2008 decision declaring BPA safe.

France intends to extend the BPA ban to all food containers in July 2015.

Thailand-US Study Concludes Effectiveness of Daily HIV Medication

Thailand-US Study Concludes Effectiveness of Daily HIV Medication

Anti-retroviral drug Tenofovir could cut the risk of HIV in half among injected drug user

Anti-retroviral drug Tenofovir could cut the risk of HIV in half among injected drug user

BANGKOK — A clinical trial in Thailand has concluded a medication used to treat patients infected with HIV can also act as an effective prevention for all groups at high risk of acquiring the virus that causes AIDS.  The United States-supported study showed the anti-retroviral drug Tenofovir cut the risk of HIV in half among injected drug users, the last high risk group to be tested.

Researchers from the United States and Thailand said a clinical trial of a medicine to prevent the spread of HIV showed a 49 percent reduction in risk among injected drug users.

Cinical trial

The study of the antiretroviral Tenofovir began in 2005 and involved more than 2,400 men and women who inject drugs but were not infected with HIV.

Half were given Tenofovir and half a placebo. Both groups received counseling on drug abuse and HIV prevention.  They were then monitored to see how many acquired the virus.

There were 33 HIV infections among those taking the placebo and 17 among those taking the anti-retroviral, a 49 percent reduction in risk.

Trial conclusion

Patients who took the medication most consistently had the highest levels of protection, reducing their risk of infection by 74 percent.

Dr. Michael Martin is chief of HIV research at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Southeast Asia office.  He said while researchers continue to strive for a vaccine that would offer total protection, Tenofovir offers some of the most significant HIV prevention so far.

“We know that it can prevent HIV infection among people who inject drugs, among men who have sex with men, and among heterosexual couples.  So, this is very good news for public health around the world,” said Martin.

Trial background

The study was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Thailand Ministry of Public Health.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney hailed the study as another step forward in U.S.-Thailand cooperation to eradicate HIV. “For twenty years Thailand and the United States have collaborated on HIV/AIDS, on the research, on the prevention, with the shared goal of 100 percent HIV/AIDS free generation,” he explained. “And, I think today we’re taking another important step in that direction.”

Tenofovir was approved for use in the United States for HIV treatment in 2001 but was only recently proven effective for prevention.

A 2010 study in the U.S. showed, in combination with another drug, it reduced the risk of HIV infection among men who have sex with men by 44 percent.  Testing in Botswana, Kenya, and Uganda demonstrated effectiveness among heterosexual couples and where one partner was infected with HIV.

Injected drug users were the last high risk group to be tested with Tenofovir in the Bangkok clinical trial.

Injected drug use accounts for up to 80 percent of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, eight percent in the United States, and about ten percent worldwide.

Dr. Kachit Choopanya is principal investigator for the study.  He said now that Tenofovir is proven effective for all high risk groups, it is up to governments to bring it into their health care systems. “And, we can save their life…I think everyone, not just Thailand, every country, should do this together,” he stated.

An estimated 30 to 50 percent of injected drug users in Thailand are living with HIV.

Those who participated in the trial reported a decrease in injected drug use, sharing needles, and unprotected sex.  Researchers said that indicates that counseling and education on HIV continues to be one of the most effective forms of prevention.

Ailing Girl Gets Lung Transplant After Court Intervention

Ailing Girl Gets Lung Transplant After Court Intervention

Sarah Murnaghan, left, lies in her hospital bed next to adopted sister Ella on the 100th day of her stay in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Sarah Murnaghan, left, lies in her hospital bed next to adopted sister Ella on the 100th day of her stay in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

A 10-year-girl is recovering from a organ transplant operation made possible after a U.S. federal judge intervened on her behalf.

Sarah Murnaghan underwent a six-hour double-lung transplant from an adult donor at a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Wednesday.

Sarah suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that mainly attacks a person’s lungs and digestive system. She had been on the nationwide transplant list for a pair of pediatric lungs, but such donations are rare, and her health recently began to fail.

However, she was ineligible to receive adult lungs under government rules because she was under 12 years old. Her family filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prompting the judge issue an order last week placing Sarah on the list.

Study: Repeated Heading Causes Brain Injury in Soccer Players

Study: Repeated Heading Causes Brain Injury in Soccer Players

Study: Repeated Heading Causes Brain Injury in Soccer Players

Study: Repeated Heading Causes Brain Injury in Soccer Players

Heading the ball, a popular move in soccer in which players use their heads to hit and direct the ball, can cause brain injuries, according to a new study.  Researchers say frequent heading can result in mild brain trauma and memory problems similar to concussion.

Soccer is the world’s most popular amateur sport.  It is enjoyed and played seriously as a hobby by an estimated one-quarter of a billion people of all ages around the world.  But there’s concern that repeatedly heading the ball, which travels at speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour, can result in brain damage.

Researchers at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University studied the brains of 37 amateur futbollers selected from around the New York City area.  All played soccer as a hobby for an average of 22 years, practicing two times a week and playing a competitive match at least once a week.

Michael Lipton, director of the school’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Center, says investigators assessed how much heading each player had done for 12 months.  The participants also took a series of tests that measured memory and brain function, and researchers used a high-tech MRI machine to scan the participants’ brains.  They wanted to see whether the amount of heading in each player was related to microscopic structural changes in the brain and performance on the memory tests.

Investigators found that players who headed the ball 1,500 times per year or less had significantly less damage such as lacerations to white matter – fatty tissue that covers the brain – which contains nerve fibers called axons.

“But as you get to a higher level and cross a threshold, there is a sudden increase in the likelihood that we are going to find both changes in the brain tissue as well as worse function on our psychological tests, especially tests of memory, related to that increased heading,” Lipton said.

Lipton says mild brain changes and memory impairment similar to what is seen in concussions was seen in players who headed the ball 1,550 times or more per year, while players who headed the ball more than 1,800 times had the worst memory scores.

Experts say most damage comes from practices where the average futboller may hit the ball with his head 30 or more times.  During games, soccer players head butt anywhere from six to 12 times.

Helmets used in American football have been shown to be effective at preventing skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, according to Lipton.  But he says protective head gear is not likely to help with the type of brain injury caused by heading.

“The type of injury that we are looking at here is due to rapid acceleration and deceleration or rotation of the brain inside the skull, sort of your brain sloshing around inside the skull as it moves,” Lipton said.

Researchers will now try to determine the effect of heading in futbollers of different ages and in different countries.

The study on the effect of heading in amateur soccer players is published in the journal Radiology.

Breast Cancer Survivors Embrace Dragon Boating During Treatment, Recovery (Watch video report)

Breast Cancer Survivors Embrace Dragon Boating During Treatment, Recovery (Watch video report)

WASHINGTON — On a Saturday morning, a group of 20 women paddles in sync to the coach’s call on the Anacostia River in Washington. They are members of Go Pink! DC, a dragon boat racing team.

“I love the team spirit, I just love everything about it. It is like a floating support group on the water,” said Lydia Collins, who joined five years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dragon boating is a team sport  that goes back more than 2,000 years. The boat is adorned with a dragon head and tail before races. In recent years, a growing number of breast cancer survivor groups around the world have started to use the sport to rebuild their lives and forge friendships.

The paddlers in Collins’ group are breast cancer survivors and their supporters.
“It is sort of an easy entry sport because on the same boat people at different levels can be doing the same sport,” said Annette Rothemel, a breast cancer survivor who co-founded Go Pink! DC in 2006.
Rothemel, who is also a researcher with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says it can be physically demanding, especially for someone who is still undergoing cancer treatments.
“It is hard, but I think you have to challenge yourself in life,” said Ronda Hartzel, who receives chemotherapy treatment every three weeks. “This is something I look forward to.  I get to be out here with my sisters and supporters that understand what I am going through and help motivate me. So it makes me stronger and it makes me feel better.”
While dragon boating originated in ancient China, its modern form of racing began in the 1970s. Since then, it has become a fast growing international competitive sport. Breast cancer survivor teams have also cropped up around the world.
“I am sure it is in the multiples of hundreds. That must be 300, 400 teams around the world,” said Rothemel.
Collins points out a physical benefit from the motion of paddling.
“When I am paddling, it helps with my lymphedema, which is swelling of the lymphatic fluid. When you have mastectomy, sometimes you wind up with this condition.  We have many paddlers wear compression sleeves,” she said.
In addition to weekly practices, Go Pink! DC races against other breast cancer survivor teams in dragon boat festivals. A Pink Carnation Ceremony takes place at each event to honor those lost to the cancer.
“Unfortunately that is a sad part of having a team of breast cancer survivors. One passed away several years ago and another one this past January.  She had been with us for a year,” said Rothemel.
At a recent Washington DC Dragon Boat Festival, the team earned medals. “We earned two silver medals, one in the 250 meter and one in the 500 meter [race],” said Rothemel.
Paddling together, Rothemel says, the cancer survivors feel a sense of sisterhood and share good times – both of which they say they treasure.

WHO Pleads for Voluntary Blood Donors Amid Low Supply

WHO Pleads for Voluntary Blood Donors Amid Low Supply

A nurse assists a man donating blood at a blood drive of the German Red Cross in Berlin

A nurse assists a man donating blood at a blood drive of the German Red Cross in Berlin

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — The World Health Organization [WHO] warns there is a global shortage of safe blood. In advance of World Blood Donor Day, which falls on June 14, WHO is appealing for more voluntary blood donors to boost the supply of this life-saving product.

The World Health Organization says the need for blood and blood products is increasing every year. Unfortunately, it says millions of patients requiring life-saving transfusions do not have timely access to safe blood.

In low- and middle-income countries, WHO says blood transfusion is usually given to mothers suffering complications from pregnancy and childbirth. It also is given for the treatment of severe childhood anemia.

In high-income countries, WHO says transfusion is commonly used for supportive care in heart surgery, transplant surgery, trauma and cancer therapy.

WHO says the need for blood is growing globally-in both developed and developing countries. Neelam Dhingra, coordinator for Blood Transfusion Safety at WHO, said volunteer and unpaid blood donors are the cornerstone for a safe, sufficient supply in any country.

“The reason lies behind what actually motivates people to give blood. Volunteers come to give blood of their free will without any coercion, without any incentive – financial incentive, which might influence their decision or disclosure of a history of why they are donating blood,” said Dhingra. “Their blood is safer because they give a true history and they are dedicated to the cause of donations. It has been seen that systems, which are based on replacement donations and paid donors, are not sustainable and they do not provide a safe and adequate blood supply for all the patients.”

Currently, WHO reports 60 countries collect 100 percent of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid blood donors, and 35 are high-income countries. However, it says 73 countries still collect more than 50 percent of their blood supply from replacement or paid donors.

WHO Blood Transfusion Safety Officer, Yetmgeta Abdella, said the availability of blood and blood products is a huge problem in developing countries, in Africa and elsewhere. He said lack of a safe blood supply in hospitals is a major contributor to child diseases and death.

“So, addressing the safety of blood that is being collected and transfused in low-income countries is one aspect of the problem. The other aspect is availability-providing access to people who actually need the service. The patients that are actually requiring this life-saving transfusion are not getting it in most parts of the developing world,” said Abdella.

WHO recommends that all blood donations be screened for infection prior to use. It says screening should be mandatory for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis.

It says hospitals should only give blood transfusions when needed. WHO says unnecessary transfusions and unsafe transfusion practices risk creating adverse reactions in some patients. It notes unnecessary transfusions also reduce the availability of blood products for patients in need.

Teachers, doctors warn of countrywide protest over withdrawal of tax rebate

Teachers, doctors warn of countrywide protest over withdrawal of tax rebate

Karachi: Various professional bodies across the country have warned the federal government of countrywide protests if it withdrew the 75 per cent tax rebate on the salaries of teachers and researchers, terming the recent budgetary proposal a national disaster if implemented.

The measure, they said, would trigger a brain drain, and destroy the gains made in education, research, health services and other professional services over a decade.

The organisations included the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (Fuassa), Sindh University Teachers Society (Suta), Karachi University Teachers Society (Kuts), Sindh Professors Lecturer Association (SPLA) and the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA).

Reservations on the budgetary proposal were also expressed by medical professionals working at various private organisations, including the Aga Khan University Hospital.

The proposal if accepted, they said, would have a grave impact on the status of education and research in the country and would eventually force professionals to leave the country, the same factor, they said, which had forced the government to provide relief to researchers and teachers in the shape of tax rebate more than a decade ago.

The tax rebate, they contended, had helped in retaining trained professionals whose pay scales were much lower in Pakistan than in the developed world and the Gulf.

“We are very much concerned over this issue and have called a meeting of our provincial representatives on Saturday at Punjab University in order to devise a strategy with mutual consensus. We would hold peaceful protests across the country,” said Prof Ahsan Sharif, head of Fpussa.

Regretting the proposal, which, he said, was likely to be approved as the party running the federal government had a majority in the National Assembly, he said that many teachers involved in active research were highly educated but their salaries were far lower than that of bureaucrats.

SPLA-Karachi president Prof Iftikhar Azmi said the proposal came as a shock as the same party which had supported teachers by approving 75pc tax rebate in salaries had now decided to withdraw it.

“The rebate was introduced more than a decade ago following our protest in Islamabad, where we demanded that the government gave tax-free salaries to teachers and researchers as was given in other Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Corporation) countries,” he explained. The association, he said, was in contact with all its members in the four provinces and a meeting had been called to discuss the issue. “The government must desist from taking such a step, otherwise we would hold demonstrations in Islamabad,” he said.

Teachers, he said, were ready to give sacrifices but one should first decide a “fair method to sacrifice”. “We reject the paltry increase in our salaries. In fact, teachers don’t want a raise in their salaries provided the government controls inflation and take measures leading to drop in prices of petrol, gas and electricity,” he said.

Suta general secretary Azhar Ali Shah said the tax rebate was given as an incentive to encourage experts to work in the country, but the budgetary proposal would reverse what little had been gained over the years.

“Teachers are not like bureaucrats getting a number of fringe benefits, including cars and free fuel. Their sole income is their salary which now would be taxed heavily,” he said while calling the 10pc increase meaningless when the government intended to take away a much bigger amount from salaries on account of multiple taxes.

Teachers in Sindh, he said, were not even getting the 20pc increase announced by the prime minister of the PPP government for the government employees, which, he said, was being given to university teachers in Islamabad.

PMA-Sindh president Dr Samrina Hashmi said that the total revenue that the government had estimated to generate was only 0.12pc (Rs3bn) of the total revenue of Rs2,598bn from the subsidy’s removal. Its negative impact, however, would be colossal.

“A visionary government with a commitment to support and promote education and research in Pakistan must not put the future of Pakistan at stake for mere 0.12pc extra revenue,” she said.

At Islamia college, 20,000 futures at stake

At Islamia college, 20,000 futures at stake

Karachi: Inside the Islamia Complex, 20,000 students of four colleges and four schools wait. At stake is their future. They don’t know if they will be studying at the same place in the coming days or not.

For years, the Sindh government has failed to pay millions in rent to the property trust. And after a lengthy trial spanning well over 10 years, the court finally gave the verdict on June 1 – to vacate the complex, commonly known only as Islamia college, within six weeks.

The seemingly unfair decision came after the government lawyer failed to appear in court in several hearings. But the authorities are adamant they are on the right track.

Dr Nasir Ansar, the Director Colleges, claims that rent has not been paid as there is confusion about who the actual owner is. The name of the school trust is Islamic Education Trust but the people demanding the rent money claim to be owners of the school. “There are no owners in a trust,” he says. “As soon as the people who make up the trust are identified, we will pay rent.”

About the court order, the official dismisses the verdict as nothing special. “This is just a high court order. We will fight the case in the Supreme Court now.”

In the beginning
Spread over four acres, the Islamia Complex along the New MA Jinnah Road houses the Government Islamia Science College, Government Islamia Art and Commerce College (morning shift), Government Islamia Art and Commerce College (evening shift) and Government Islamia Law College. Three government schools and another run privately also operate within the premises.
The land was donated by Field Marshal Ayub Khan to Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, who started a seminary there. During Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure, the education complex was nationalised. Efforts to privatise the institution later were resisted.

“An agreement was reached. The Sindh government was to pay an annual rent to the school trust,” explains Iftikhar Azmi of the Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association. In the years to come, however, the government defaulted in the payment of rent, resulting in losses of millions of rupees.

The college has had a fair share of famous students. Cricketers Shahid Afridi, Zaheer Abbas and Danish Kaneria studied at the institution. Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain was once a student here.

What next?
The Sindh High Court order to vacate the premises, meanwhile, has not gone down too well with the teachers and students, who learned the news through the media only.
“If the government does not do anything now, we will launch a massive protest,” said Prof Tayyab Nagori, who teaches botany at the Islamia science college. “Don’t they care about the fate of 20,000 children?”

He termed the government’s attitude toward the issue “criminal negligence”.

With the evacuation orders, students are also sceptical about their future. “I have finished my first year in pre-engineering. What will I do if the college closes down now?” questions Bilal Ahmed.

Not a new problem
What has happened with the Islamia Complex is nothing new at education institutions. Failure of the government to pay rent in the past has resulted in similar episodes, where the future of several thousand students has been compromised.
An ongoing example is of the Government Delhi School in Karimabad, where a policy of denationalisation is under discussion following the authorities’ failure to pay rent.

Efforts to denationalise educational institutions always results in a hue and cry. More often than not, the government is able to retain them but financial matters and quality of education suffers in the long run.

The Islamia Complex is a prime example. The college buildings cry out loud for attention with paint chipped off at places and walls plastered with posters and advertisements.

The colleges have been taken over by the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of rightwing political party Jamaat-e-Islami. Armed student activists frequently clash with the students at Dawood College of Engineering and Technology, which is under the control of a rival political group.

University of Science and Technology, Kohat increases semester fee

University of Science and Technology, Kohat increases semester fee

Kohat: The University of Science and Technology, Kohat, has increased the semester fee by Rs4,000, prompting the students to announce a protest sit-in outside the governor house on Thursday.

Moreover, the university administration asked the students, who had boycotted papers of the last semester to deposit Rs10,000 for each subject.

However, the students have strongly opposed the increase in fee, saying most of them belong to poor families and therefore, cannot afford to pay high fee.

Recently, the university introduced a fifth semester for the students who got lower grades in the regular four semesters. It fixed Rs7,000 for each paper in the new semester, provoking the students to boycott examinations.

Strike of Malakand varsity teachers enters fifth day

Strike of Malakand varsity teachers enters fifth day

Chakdarra: The strike of foreign qualified PhD teachers at the University of Malakand continued for the fifth consecutive day on Tuesday, where the faculty members boycotted the classes.

All the foreign qualified PhD teachers have been on strike since last Friday after accusing the university administration of backtracking from a commitment to accept their genuine demands.

The foreign qualified scholars had gone on strike two weeks ago and boycotted the classes after the university administration refused to accept their demands.

They held a press conference at the Chakdarra Press Club and asked Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shaukatullah and higher education minister to take note of the issue.The protesting teachers said that both the University of Malakand (UOM) and Kohat University of Science and Technology (KUST) have same statutes.

The said KUST has approved study leave with pay for their PhD faculty members and recently University of Hazara followed the same precedent.The PhD teachers who have their degrees from UK, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and New Zealand complained they have been forced by the administration to leave the university.

Earlier, they had called up their strike when the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Prof Dr Johar promised to resolve the issue.However, all the foreign PhD teachers announced strike until the acceptance of their demands after they felt that their grievances had not been addressed. The PhD faculty members are of the opinion that the university administration has received their salaries from HEC. T

University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Peshawar organises mechanical engineering project exhibition

University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Peshawar organises mechanical engineering project exhibition

Peshawar: The University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Peshawar, organised an exhibition in which 37 projects of mechanical engineering were showcased highlighting the work of students of final semester on Tuesday.

Inaugurating the exhibition, UET Vice-chancellor Imtiaz Hussain Gilani said that it was a very important experience for the engineering students where they interacted with industry and show them the importance of their projects. He said such exhibitions provided a platform for academic-industry linkages. Students created projects mostly related to design and fabrication of industrial level projects having practical uses at local level.

A panel of judges from Pakistan Tobacco Company Malik Usman, team leader and SMEDA provincial chief Javed Khattak evaluated the projects based on their presentation and efficiency, said a press release.

Out of 37 projects, the best projects included: gasoline internal combustion engine selection, modification, calibration and installation in smart car, design, analysis and fabrication of fuel efficient vehicle, design and fabrication of small-scale bio-ethanol extraction plant and studying the performance of gasoline engine using bio-ethanol blend, natural gas operated split air conditioner, design and fabrication of underground vegetables harvesting machine, to study the performance of diesel engine using blend of bio-diesel, to utilise the energy of hot flue gases of a diesel engine to operate (LiBr) chillers, design and fabrication of energy efficient car (electric)-A, design and fabrication of energy efficient car (electric)-B, design and fabrication of coins sorting and counting machine. The winners received the best project awards and cash prizes