Scores of children succumb to pneumonia as health system collapses
Pneumonia cases have spiked in Afghanistan, leaving an untold number of children dead due to the lack of healthcare facilities in the country, Save the Children, a leading humanitarian organization for children, said on Monday.
“Child pneumonia is surging in the middle of a hunger crisis that is ravaging young immune systems,” the organization said in a statement. “The collapse of the health system, driven largely by frozen financial assets and withdrawn aid, comes at a deadly cost for Afghan children.”
According to one doctor at a hospital, he had never seen so many cases of child pneumonia and severe malnutrition. He said 135 children had died in or on their way to the hospital last December.
The statement noted that “clinics across the country have been forced to close as wages for health workers have dried up” and that “crumbling health services is one of the direct impacts of global assets freezes and suspended development aid, both of which are choking the healthcare system.”
In addition, the aid agency called on the international community to unlock vital funding.
Kandahar officials inaugurate $50 million pharmaceutical company
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has announced that a major pharmaceutical manufacturing company will be officially inaugurated in Kandahar on Monday evening.
According to Zabiullah Mujahid, the IEA’s spokesman, the company, Snow Pharma, has been funded by 71 shareholders at a cost of $50 million and will produce a large percentage of medicines needed in the country.
Mujahid said that in one eight hour shift, the factory will produce 5.6 million tablets, two million capsules and 60,000 bottles of syrup.
Snow Pharma shareholders are committed to spending another $50 million dollars in order to supply the country with pharmaceuticals in future.
Officials have welcomed the move and said this factory will provide hundreds of direct and indirect jobs to locals. In a visit to the factory in April, IEA officials also said the medicine produced at the factory would meet international standards.
Increase in malaria cases in Nangarhar raises concerns
Nangarhar residents have voiced concern about the increase in malaria cases in the province, and urged the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to take steps to stop the spread of the disease.
Residents said many members of their families have contracted the disease with the arrival of summer.
Abdullah Baryalai, a health official in the eastern zone of the country, says that the prevalence of malaria has increased not only in Nangarhar province but also across the eastern province.
Malaria is transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes. Doctors recommend the use of mosquito nets and encourage people to make sure there is no standing water around their houses.
Health officials in Nangarhar province say the Ministry of Public Health has launched an awareness campaign in order to help rid the province of mosquitoes.
Experts warn bird flu virus changing rapidly in largest ever outbreak
The virus causing record cases of avian influenza in birds across the world is changing rapidly, experts have warned, as calls increase for countries to vaccinate their poultry.
While emphasizing that the risk to humans remains low, the experts who spoke to AFP said that the surging number of bird flu cases in mammals was a cause for concern.
Since first emerging in 1996, the H5N1 avian influenza virus had previously been confined to mostly seasonal outbreaks.
But “something happened” in mid-2021 that made the group of viruses much more infectious, according to Richard Webby, the head of a World Health Organization collaborating center studying influenza in animals.
Since then, outbreaks have lasted all year round, spreading to new areas and leading to mass deaths among wild birds and tens of millions of poultry being culled, AFP reported.
Webby, who is a researcher at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the US city of Memphis, told AFP it was “absolutely” the largest outbreak of avian influenza the world had seen.
He led research, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, showing how the virus rapidly evolved as it spread from Europe into North America.
The study said the virus increased in virulence, which means it causes more dangerous disease, when it arrived in North America.
The researchers also infected a ferret with one of the new strains of bird flu.
They found an unexpectedly “huge” amount of the virus in its brain, Webby said, indicating it had caused more serious disease than previous strains.
Emphasizing that the risk in humans was still low, he said that “this virus is not being static, it’s changing”.
“That does increase the potential that even just by chance” the virus could “pick up genetic traits that allow it to be more of a human virus,” he said.
In rare cases, humans have contracted the sometimes deadly virus, usually after coming in close contact with infected birds.
The virus has also been detected in a soaring number of mammals, which Webby described as a “really, really troubling sign”.
Last week Chile said that nearly 9,000 sea lions, penguins, otters, porpoises and dolphins have died from bird flu along its north coast since the start of the year, AFP reported.
Most mammals are believed to have contracted the virus by eating an infected bird.
But Webby said that what “scares us the most” are indications from a Spanish mink farm, or among sea lions off South America, that the virus could be transmitting between mammals.
Ian Brown, virology head at the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, said there has not yet been “clear evidence that this virus is easily sustaining in mammals.”
While the virus is changing to become “more efficient and more effective in birds,” it remains “unadapted to humans,” Brown told AFP.
Avian viruses bind to different receptors on the host cell than human viruses, Webby said.
It would take “two or three minor changes in one protein of the viruses” to become more adapted to humans, he said.
“That is what we’re really looking out for.”
One way to bring down the number of total bird flu cases, and therefore reduce the risk to humans, would be for countries to vaccinate their poultry, Webby said.
A few nations including China, Egypt and Vietnam have already held vaccination campaigns for poultry.
But many other countries have been reluctant due to import restrictions in some areas, and fears vaccinated birds that nonetheless get infected could slip through the net.
In April, the United States started testing several vaccine candidates for potential use on birds.
France recently said it hopes to start vaccinating poultry as early as autumn this year.
Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said that vaccinating poultry was not “a silver bullet because the virus changes constantly”.
But traditionally reluctant countries should consider vaccinating poultry more often, Middlemiss told AFP at an event at the UK’s embassy in Paris last week.
World Organisation for Animal Health director general Monique Eloit said that the issue of vaccinating poultry should be “on the table”.
After all, “everyone now knows that a pandemic is not just a fantasy — it could be a reality,” she added.
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