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WHO underestimated spread of polio virus, unlikely world can be polio-free before 2021: Thomas Abraham

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polio virus

New Delhi, Sep 28 : Reporting from the frontlines of the war against polio and drawing on detailed interviews with key players, Thomas Abraham has chronicled “the mind-boggling story” of the polio campaign in “Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication”. He has asserted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) underestimated the spread of the poliovirus, and according to his findings, it is unlikely that the world can be polio-free before 2021.

“The WHO clearly underestimated how difficult the task of eradication would be. When the campaign was launched in 1988, it was generally thought that the job could be completed by 2000, or at the latest by 2005. But a variety of factors, including problems with the vaccine, the difficulties that poorer countries face in carrying out repeated vaccination campaigns, as well as the problems posed by conflicts, have all contributed to the problem. It is now unlikely that the world can be declared polio-free before 2021 at the earliest,” Bengaluru-based Abraham, who was formerly Associate Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong, teaching health and science journalism, told IANS in an email interview.

He acknowledged that the polio eradication campaign has achieved “significant gains”, and pointed out that the number of polio cases across the world “have come down from around 350,000 cases in 1988 spread over 125 countries to around 100 last year,” mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, Abraham said, polio is caused by “a mutated form of the virus that the polio vaccine is based on”.

Abraham, who has worked with WHO in Geneva, said that the delay in Pakistan is partly due to “the security situation in that country”.

“From about 2012, the Pakistan Taliban had begun to target and assassinate polio vaccinators, as part of its larger war against the Pakistan government and against Western countries in general (polio eradication was perceived as a Western-funded and run campaign); polio vaccinators were regularly assassinated in Karachi, as well as in the frontier areas of Pakistan.

“The Taliban told people that polio vaccinators were spies for the United States and should not be allowed into their areas. The use by the CIA of a fake NGO to conduct vaccination campaigns (though not for polio) in Abbotabad, to try and identify where Bin Laden was living, also did not help the polio campaign, since the Taliban used this to justify their argument that all vaccinators were in fact spies,” Abraham said.

He said that in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban did not pose the same set of risks to the polio campaigners, but access to children in these areas was often difficult, and many were missed during vaccination campaigns, allowing polio to survive.

“The movement of people between Pakistan and Afghanistan allowed the polio virus to travel between these two countries and persist,” he said.

Another factor that has allowed polio to re-appear and even spread, according to Abraham, is, in certain situations, “the virus that the oral polio vaccine contains”.

“The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened form of the poliovirus, that in normal circumstances provides protection against the disease, without causing paralysis. But in places where polio immunisation campaigns are not carried out regularly, this vaccine virus can re-acquire disease-causing properties, and cause paralysis. This is what we are seeing in the Congo and elsewhere today,” he explained.

In the strictly Indian context, Abraham mentions in the book that the period between 2005 and 2011 was the polio eradication campaign’s most difficult years.

“Polio had been controlled in most parts of India by around 2005, except for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where poor implementation of the programme by state governments led to persistent outbreaks. In Uttar Pradesh, there was also an issue with the Muslim communities in many parts of western Uttar Pradesh refusing vaccination, often due to suspicion of the state government’s motivation.

“There were rumours that these drops would cause children to become sterile, and the fact that polio vaccinators were often the same health staff who provided family planning, helped to increase these fears. Once both these governments focussed on polio, the disease gradually disappeared,” said Abraham, who was also a foreign correspondent for The Hindu for over a decade.

He also said that funding will increasingly become a problem, as it costs roughly $1 billion a year to run the polio campaign.

“Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication”, published by Context, an imprint of Westland publications, released on September 17 in India and is priced at Rs 699.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected] )

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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