The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
A new Covid virus combination has been discovered in two persons in Israel who had travelled abroad. According to a report in Israeli daily Haaretz, the virus is a combination of BA.1 (Omicron) and BA.2 variants. The report quoting the Israel health ministry as saying the patients exhibited symptoms that included fever, headaches and muscle aches. However, they did not need specialised medical care.The report quoted physician Salman Zarka noting that the two viruses tend to link up when both are contracted and if both are in the same cell in the body, they are said to generate a new virus as they multiply and exchange genetic material. Zarka had also reportedly said that the patients were a couple in their thirties who contracted the infection from their infant.Do people need to be concerned?Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, director and head, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospitals, Faridabad told indianexpress.com that there is nothing to worry about at present due to the new Covid variant. “The newer variant is a combination of milder variants that were extremely contagious but mildest in India. We simply need to follow the vaccination schedule. Nothing else is needed,” said Dr Jha.Adequate rest and recovery are advised at home with simple home-cooked, fresh food, and proper hydration.Dr Jha recommended*Covid vaccination*Flu vaccination*High protein diet*Covid-appropriate behaviour as precautionary measuresDr Shrey Srivastav, MD (Internal Medicine), Sharda Hospital mentioned that while people who are vaccinated need not panic, they should be careful while travelling, especially those going abroad. “People shouldn’t panic at this time if you are vaccinated. Wear masks in public places and gatherings where you don’t know the vaccination status of people around you. Get yourself booster doses for Covid vaccine,” said Dr Srivastav.He also emphasised that people who are immunocompromised, have pre-existing lung diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, liver diseases, cancer and are on chemotherapy, should continue to take extra precautions.The World Health Organization recommends that the most effective way to prevent infection from any virus is to get vaccinated and follow prevention measures: “Maintaining at least a 1-metre distance from others, wearing a well-fitted mask when keeping your distance is not possible, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated places and settings, opening windows and doors to keep rooms well ventilated and cleaning your hands frequently.”📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
ExplainSpeaking-Economy is a weekly newsletter by Udit Misra, delivered in your inbox every Monday morning. Click here to subscribeDear Readers,From the perspective of the global economy, the year 2023 started off on a mildly optimistic note. As top policymakers and CEOs met in Davos, there was a sense that the global economy might be able to dodge the chances of a recession in 2023. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook in January provided a salutary stamp to that notion. However, the recent collapses in the banking sector had yet again ratcheted up the apprehensions of a recession.In this context, a new research publication by the World Bank, titled “Falling Long-Term Growth Prospects”, argues that the current decade (2020-2030) “could be a lost decade in the making—not just for some countries or regions as has occurred in the past—but for the whole world.”Simply put, the World Bank has found that the overlapping crises of the past few years — Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resultant spike in inflation as well as monetary tightening — have ended a span of nearly three decades of sustained economic growth.“Starting in 1990, productivity surged, incomes rose, and inflation fell. Within a generation, about one out of four developing economies leaped to high-income status. Today nearly all the economic forces that drove economic progress are in retreat,” writes David Malpass, President, The World Bank Group.He further warns that without a big and broad policy push to rejuvenate it, the global average potential GDP growth rate—the theoretical growth rate an economy can sustain over the medium term based on investment and productivity rates without risking excess inflation— is expected to fall to a three-decade low of 2.2% a year between now and 2030, down from 2.6% in 2011-21 and 3.5% during the first decade of this century.The important thing to understand here is that while the report talks about global growth slowdown, the main hurt will be felt by emerging economies such as India. “A persistent and broad-based decline in long-term growth prospects imperils the ability of emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) to combat poverty, tackle climate change, and meet other key development objectives,” states the World Bank.The World Bank report recounts a 2015 research request by Kaushik Basu, the World Bank Group’s Chief Economist at the time, to assess the long-term growth prospects of emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs).While the World Bank came up with a preliminary study (titled “Slowdown in Emerging Markets: Rough Patch or Prolonged Weakness?”), the latest publication provides “a definitive answer” to the question. And the answer is: These economies are in the midst of a prolonged period of weakness.Look at the data for actual GDP growth and per capita GDP growth in the two tables (A.1 and A.3) below. It shows a broad-based decline over the past two decades whether a country belongs to EMDEs or the middle-income countries (MICs) or the low-income countries (LICs).The World Bank has looked at a whole set of fundamental drivers that determine economic growth and found that all of them have been losing power. The six charts below capture the weakness.These fundamental drivers include things like capital accumulation (through investment growth), labour force growth, and the growth of total factor productivity (which is the part of economic growth that results from more efficient use of inputs and which is often the result of technological changes) etc.Not surprisingly then, the potential growth rate is expected to decelerate further (see Table A.3).What about India?Even though India has also lost its growth momentum over the past two decades, it is and will likely remain a global leader when it comes to growth rates. India falls under the South Asia Region (SAR), which is expected to be fastest growing among emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) for the remainder of this decade. To be sure, India accounts for three-fourths of the SAR output. SAR includes countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh etc.“Economic activity in the South Asia region (SAR) rebounded strongly from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding by 7.9 percent in 2021 after a drop of 4.5 percent in 2020. Output in the region is on track to grow by about 6.0 percent a year between 2022 and 2030, faster than the 2010s annual average of 5.5 percent and only moderately slower than growth in the 2000s,” states World Bank.According to the World Bank, if all countries make a strong push, potential global GDP growth can be boosted by 0.7 percentage point—to an annual average rate of 2.9%; this would be faster than the preceding decade (when the global economy grew by 2.6%) but still slower than the first decade of 2000s (when the growth clocked 3.5% per annum).There are six priority interventions suggested by the report: incentivise investments into the economy, boost labour force participation rates (especially for women), cut trade costs, capitalise on service exports, improve global cooperation, ensure that fiscal policies and monetary policies don’t run against each other (for instance, government expenditures raising deficits at a time when central banks are trying to contain inflation).Until next week,Udit
With India setting the target of eliminating tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the global target, scientists are rushing to test newer vaccines and shorter courses of treatment, the government is focusing on active case finding, entrepreneurs have helped increase testing capacity, and the community at large has come forward to provide nutritional support to patients.On World TB Day 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the One World TB Summit on Friday. He is likely to announce initiatives to help the country meet the 2025 target. This year’s theme ‘Yes! We can end TB!’ also relates to India’s goal for itself.Although India continues to be the largest contributor to global TB cases, there has been a decline in the number of cases in 2021. Reporting of TB cases also improved in 2021 – although it didn’t reach the pre-pandemic levels, it bounced back from the lows seen during the first year of the pandemic, according to the Global TB Report 2022.The incidence of TB – new cases detected through the year – reduced by 18% in 2021 over the 2015 baseline, dropping to 210 cases per lakh population as compared to 256 cases per lakh population. The incidence of drug-resistant TB also went down by 20% during the period from 1.49 lakh cases in 2015 to 1.19 lakh cases in 2021.India accounts for 28% of all TB cases in the world, according to the Global TB Report 2022. There were 21.3 lakh cases detected in 2021 as compared to 18.05 lakh cases in 2020. The numbers are still lower than the 24.04 lakh cases reported before the pandemic in 2019, according to data from the government’s Ni-kshay portal that can help in real-time reporting of new TB cases.A survey conducted across 20 states pegged the incidence at a higher 312 cases per lakh population.Although elimination of Tuberculosis is one of the sustainable development targets to be achieved by 2030 by the world, India has set the target of 2025. The national strategic plan 2017-2025 sets the target of India reporting no more than 44 new TB cases or 65 total cases per lakh population by 2025. The estimated TB incidence for the year 2021 stood at 210 per lakh population.Achieving this target is a big task as the plan had envisaged an incidence of only 77 cases per lakh population by 2023.The programme also aims to reduce the mortality to 3 deaths per lakh population by 2025. The estimated TB mortality for the year 2020 stood at 37 per lakh population.The plan also aims to reduce catastrophic costs for the affected family to zero. However, the report states that 7 to 32 per cent of those with drug-sensitive TB, and 68 per cent with drug-resistant TB experienced catastrophic costs.The goals are in line with the World Health Organisation’s End TB strategy that calls for 80% reduction in the number of new cases, 90% reduction in mortality, and zero catastrophic cost by 2030.To achieve the TB elimination target of 2025, the government has taken several steps including looking for cases actively among vulnerable and co-morbid populations, screening for it at the health and wellness centres, and calling on the private sector to notify all TB cases.An online Ni-kshay portal has been set up to track the notified TB cases.The pandemic has led to improved access to the more accurate molecular diagnostic tests like CB-NAAT and TureNat that were also used to test for Covid-19. At present, there are 4,760 molecular diagnostic machines available, covering all districts of the country. In addition, 79 line probe assay laboratories and 96 liquid culture testing laboratories have been set up for the diagnosis of multi and extremely drug resistant TB.The government has also implemented a universal drug susceptibility test, meaning that antibiotic susceptibility of the mycobacterium is determined for all newly diagnosed cases. Earlier, the patients were started on first line treatment and were tested for drug resistance only if the therapy did not work. Conducting a drug susceptibility test at the outset ensures that the patients are given antibiotics that will work for them from the get go.Last year, the government also launched the community engagement programme where Ni-kshay mitras can adopt TB patients and provide them monthly nutritional support. So far, 71,460 Ni-kshay Mitras have adopted about 10 lakh TB patients under the programme.Newer drugs such as Bedaquiline and Delamanid for the treatment of drug-resistant TB have been included in the government’s basket of drugs provided free TB patients. These oral drugs can replace the injectable kanamycin that was associated with serious side effects like kidney problems and deafness.These new drugs have also been included in the new National List of Essential Medicines that gives the government power to regulate their market price as well.Researchers have also been studying shorter three- and four-month courses of anti-tubercular drugs, instead of the existing six-month therapy. Anti-tubercular drugs have to be taken for six months to over two years depending on the susceptibility of the mycobacterium. Long duration of treatment results in people dropping out in between, increasing their likelihood of them developing drug-resistant infections later.Nearly 100 years after the existing BCG vaccine was developed, researchers are on the lookout for newer ways of preventing tuberculosis infection. The BCG vaccine uses a weakened form of the TB bacteria to train the immune system. Although it can protect against severe forms of TB like the ones in the brain, the protection is not very good against the most common form of TB in the lungs.It offers limited protection to adults, it doesn’t prevent people from getting the infection or re-activation of a latent infection.Trials are underway to test the effectiveness of a vaccine called Immuvac, which was initially developed to prevent leprosy, in preventing TB. The vaccine developed using mycobacterium indicus pranii has antigens – the portions of a pathogen against which antibodies are developed – similar to those of leprosy and TB bacteria.Researchers are also testing the vaccine candidate called VPM1002, which is a recombinant form of the BCG vaccine modified to express the TB antigens better. This results in better training of the immune system and protection against TB.Researchers are also studying whether the existing BCG vaccine booster shot should be given to household contacts of a person with active tuberculosis.
A combative Boris Johnson fought for his political career on Wednesday, as the former British prime minister said “hand on heart” he did not lie to parliament over Covid-19 lockdown parties at a hearing with lawmakers.Parliament’s Committee of Privileges is investigating whether Johnson, who was ousted from Downing Street in September, intentionally or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements, where he said no rules were broken in the gatherings. If the committee finds Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers, then he could be suspended. Any suspension longer than 10 days could prompt an election to remove him from his parliamentary seat and end his political career.The former leader, who considered an audacious bid for a second stint as prime minister last year, launched a lengthy defence at the hearing, saying statements he made to parliament had been done in good faith.“I’m here to say to you, hand on heart, that I did not lie to the House,” said Johnson, who has accused the committee of bias. “When those statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”The so-called partygate scandal contributed to the ultimate downfall of Johnson, after months of reports that he, alongside other senior government figures, had been present at alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street during 2020 and 2021 when much of the rest of Britain was forced to stay at home.Johnson was fined by police for attending an event to celebrate his birthday in Downing Street in June 2020, making him the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office. Some 126 fines were issued over the gatherings.The outcry and repeated accusations of lying over the parties and allegations that a Conservative lawmaker had drunkenly groped two men eventually prompted the resignations of most of his top team of government ministers, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who was among those fined.Thanking staffHarriet Harman, the chair of the committee, said it would consider the evidence Johnson had given and may take further evidence in due course. It is expected to report its findings later in the year. She stressed the importance of ministers telling the truth, saying this went to the heart of the way Britain’s parliamentary system functions.At the start of the hearing, Johnson was made to swear an oath to tell the truth on a bible before giving his evidence. He said the inquiry had not found any evidence he deliberately misled parliament and said he was banned by the committee from publishing a “large number of extracts” he relied on in his defence.Asked about events in May, November, and December 2020 when he was pictured talking to colleagues who were drinking, Johnson said some meetings were “essential” to the functioning of government. He said his presence at events was necessary to thank staff for their hard work.“People who say that we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about,” he said, crossly. He said he was “shocked” to be fined and “amazed” by the number of other fines issued.“I think what happened basically, was that on a few evenings, events did simply go on for too long and I can’t apologise for that enough,” he said.Britain had one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world with more than 1,75,000 deaths by the time Johnson said he would step down as prime minister.The campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK said that Wednesday was “a new low” for Johnson and said it was “painful to watch him pull his usual tricks of deflection, self-pity and blaming everyone but himself”.Johnson accepted he had inadvertently misled parliament but had believed what he had said when he spoke.“I didn’t think that those events were an issue. Nobody had previously raised them with me as being things that I ought to be concerned about,” Johnson said. “Call me obtuse or oblivious, but they did not seem to me to be in conflict with the rules.”
The recent rise in Covid-19 cases reminds us that the pandemic is not yet over. It has added some more concern to the ongoing influenza outbreaks. On the global stage, countries and a range of institutions are negotiating the “pandemic treaty” — a global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.As is reasonably well known now, the Covid XBB 1.16 variant seems to be fuelling the surge, nearly a three-fold rise in cases over the last fortnight. So far, it has not caused any mortality in India. With more than 6,000 currently active cases, 76 samples of XBB 1.16 have tested positive from eight states, the most so far from Karnataka and Maharashtra. XBB.1.5 has been reported from 38 countries and declared a variant of interest (VOI) by the WHO. It is expected to emerge as a dominant strain in the UK and Europe and is rapidly spreading in the US as well. Even individuals who had received three or four doses of an mRNA vaccine (such as Moderna or Pfizer), plus suffered a BA.5 infection, were not immune to this variant. There is no evidence of any potential change in severity though. The growth advantage of XBB 1.16 is nearly one-and-a-half times of XBB.1.5, making it a rather aggressive variant, and with immune escape properties too.Another potential worry from Israel is the identification of a combination of the BA.1 (Omicron) and infectious BA.2 variants. The virus was detected in the parents of an infant boy, in whom two viruses linked up and exchanged genetic materials. The current test positivity rate is 10 per cent, a worrying metric by all accounts.This current landscape of Covid-19 is layered with a huge surge of H3N2 Influenza A cases, with at least nine reported deaths. Influenza B has also been identified. Both these are seasonal influenzas, driving up the hospital — including intensive care — admissions. Much like Covid-19, the high-risk groups are pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions and immunosuppressive conditions. Healthcare workers are at particularly high risk of getting affected and in turn spread to vulnerable persons.The limitations of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 were exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic — both in countries not reporting in time and the international agencies not responding adequately. Local, national and global governance is increasingly being recognised as an important determinant of the emergence and re-emergence of diseases of animal origin. To re-emphasise, both Covid-19 and the influenza viruses have animal origins — “spill over” in technical jargon — when a virus is able to overcome several barriers to “jump” and become feasible in another species.It is in this context that the World Health Assembly set off a global process in December 2021, at its second-ever special session, to draft and negotiate a convention agreement to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. An intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) that includes WHO’s 194 countries is steering this process. At the same time, more than 300 amendments to the IHR are also being discussed. The World Health Assembly in 2024 is expected to ratify these, ushering in a “comprehensive, complementary and synergistic set of global health agreements”. The WHO Director-General referred to this initiative as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people.The G20 group of countries, with the Indian presidency, has a significant role to play. This is particularly so in light of the One Health Mission that India is working on and is expected to be rolled out in the near future. The G20 is already engaged with One Health (OH) issues and pandemic preparedness is one of the current focus areas.India, representing the Global South, is expected to play a role in integrating equity considerations in the ongoing negotiations. Scholars have enunciated three key equity considerations. First, the appropriate use, recognition, and protection of indigenous knowledge, which has traditionally recognised the interconnectedness of human, non-human and ecosystem health. Second, the substantive and equitable inclusion of women and minority groups, including racial, ethnic and sexual minorities – traditionally under-represented groups in treaty design and implementation. Third, the use of health equity impact and gender-based analysis to identify and develop mitigation plans for the potentially inequitable impact of epidemics.On the domestic front, the tasks include promoting the establishment of OH infrastructure. This will need an integrated OH surveillance system, building and nurturing partnerships to connect and share data on infectious pathogens in wildlife, companion animals, livestock, humans, the environment, and related risk factors. India will also need to build OH capacity and pandemic preparedness monitoring and assessment into the state and district governance architecture that will draw upon an inter-/ transdisciplinary OH evaluation framework and methodology, including metrics for measuring success.The writer is chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and co-investigator at the UKRI-GCRF One Health Poultry Hub
When Annie (name changed), a 28-year-old customer service representative and portrait painter, caught Covid-19 infection, she experienced symptoms such as high-grade fever, coughing fits that led to fainting due to lack of oxygen, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, and loss of smell and taste. However, three weeks after symptom onset, she felt well enough to start working from home before seeing her symptoms return four weeks later.According to a study, published in the journal Cortex, she noticed disorientation and that “something was off with faces”. “These deficits caused her primary care provider to send her to seek care in an Emergency Department (ED). At the ED, a CT scan revealed no active bleeds in her brain, and she was discharged,” it added.However, in June 2020, when spending time with her family for the first time since contracting Covid-19, Annie noticed that she was unable to recognise her father or visually distinguish him from her uncle. “My dad’s voice came out of a stranger’s face,” she told the researchers. Sharing that she is now relying heavily on people’s voices for identification purposes, Annie said that she was previously able to draw a face and only look at a reference photo every 15–30 min, she now depends on photographs while drawing.“Faces are like water in my head,” she said, sharing that she is now relying heavily on people’s voices for identification purposes. In the case study, Annie scored poorly on all four facial recognition tests used to diagnose prosopagnosia, or face blindness. She also reported to told that, since her COVID-19 infection, she has experienced “substantial” deficits in her navigation abilities, which frequently co-occur with prosopagnosia, the study authors wrote.To explore whether other people experienced similar problems, the researchers surveyed 54 individuals who had long Covid about their neuropsychological abilities. A majority of them reported a decline in visual recognition and navigation abilities, the authors added. They said that these findings indicate that Covid-19 may cause severe and selective neuropsychological impairments “similar to deficits seen following brain damage,” and that these problems are not uncommon among patients with long Covid.What is face blindness?Face blindness, also known as prosopagnosia, is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to recognise faces. “It is a disorder of face perception where the brain has difficulty recognising and distinguishing between faces, even those of people the person knows well,” said Dr Ravindra Srivastava, Head of the Department and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.Agreeing, Dr Pavan Pai, Consultant Interventional Neurologist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, said that it is a neurological disorder that requires timely medical attention.SymptomsAccording to Dr Pai, the main symptom is that one fails to recognise faces even of people they tend to know. “Other signs can be the inability to recognize emotions on one’s face, not being able to know the gender or age of people, and not being able to recognise cars, animals, one’s gender, and characters in the film,” he said, adding that these symptoms can lead to problems in day-to-day life.What is it caused by?While the exact cause of face blindness is not fully understood, it is thought to be related to abnormalities in the brain’s fusiform gyrus, which is responsible for face recognition, Dr Srivastava said. “In some cases, it can be present from birth, while in others it may be the result of a brain injury or neurological disorder. More importantly, it is recognized that when Rt. fusiform gyrus was involved, it causes facial blindness.”Dr Pai added that this condition also runs in families. “Moreover, brain damage, stroke, head injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and even encephalitis which is the inflammation of the brain can lead to this problem,” he said.Link between Covid-19 and face blindnessAcknowledging the recent study on the same, the experts noted that more research is needed to confirm the relationship between Covid-19 and face blindness. “The exact link between COVID-19 and face blindness is not yet fully understood. However, it is thought to be related to the virus’s impact on the brain and nervous system. COVID-19 has been associated with a range of neurological symptoms, and it is thought that the virus may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect the brain. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind this potential link,” Dr Srivastava elucidated.Agreeing, Dr Pai said that Covid-19 can impact one’s cognitive and perceptual abilities, causing face blindness. “One should be aware of it,” he said.How to cope?Here are some ways to cope with face blindness, as suggested by Dr Srivastava.*Do tell people about the condition before you meet them.*Ask people you are close to for help in identifying others.*Ask people to introduce themselves.*When you greet them, use people’s voices or body language to tell them apart.*Make a note of distinctive features about a person, such as hairstyles, jewellery, or accessories.*Use name tags or write down the names of colleagues and where they sit at work.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!