A Punjab University scholar, who has developed a medicine which can be used to treat Hepatitis C and cancer, is eager to explore possibilities of its mass production
By Nida Tahseen
It is said that consistency, dedication and hard work are the key to success. One of our young men Nasir Mehmood has proved it by doing something remarkable in the history of Pakistan's medicine -- he has succeeded in making an anti-viral medicine 'Interferon Alpha 2B' which is used in the treatment of Hepatitis C and cancer.
The molecule was already there. What Nasir has done is that he has developed it through indigenous resources. "We have developed the formula and have processed it here ourselves." He says it all became possible with the help of his supervisor Prof. Muhammad Akhtar who is also the director general of the School of Biological Sciences (SBS).
Nasir has isolated Interferon Alpha 2B gene from human blood leukocyte and has cloned it in bacteria for further production of this recombinant pharmaceutical by adopting various analytical and biochemical techniques.
Nasir Mehmood, who is doing his PhD in genetic engineering, says one out of every ten Pakistani carries Hepatitis C virus. In this situation his work gains immense significance. Each batch of SBS is producing 5000 injections (Interferon Alpha 2B) but Nasir claims that given a chance to go into mass production, the cost will be amazingly low, very affordable by the poor section of the country among whom this disease is most common. At present this injection is selling for Rs 750 which is way beyond the reach of common man.
A bulk of Pakistan's budget is being spent on the import of medicines from foreign countries every year. "Interferon Alpha 2B is useful for Hepatitis A, B & C and is used for the treatment of renal cancer, it is under trial for other diseases. It is a major anti-viral medicine."
The medicine has been developed in the laboratory of the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) in Punjab University which started five years back. Nasir Mehmood is a student of the first batch who has spent five years on research and development of this medicine. The medicine was passed through various analytical, biological tests on cells and animal models. It was then sent to the UK's drug testing centre National Institute of Biological Standards and Controls (NIBSC). They further tested it and checked it against their biological standards and verified its biological activity.
A report received from NIBSC, dated 14.3.07 says, "IFN from Vial 1 and 2 were both biologically active." Nasir sent his work to the NIBSC through postal shipment which took 3 to 4 days. Even then it was proved biologically active. This was the first time a sample had been sent to NIBSC from Pakistan.
It will take five to six years to upscale it which means going into mass production. Pharmaceutical companies need to take it up. Nasir says he would prefer working with a local firm so that the revenue generated from the sale of this medicine stays in the country.
"Given a proper laboratory and relevant equipment, the time period can be reduced to 3 to 4 years but requires around 5 to 6 crore rupees. Scaling up takes so much time because we have to check whether the molecule will behave in the same manner; whether its biological efficacy will remain the same in large scale production," says Nasir who is interested in assisting any pharmaceutical company which wants to go for bio-pharmaceutical production of Interferon.
Nasir Mehmood is a PhD scholar who did his M. Phil from the Punjab University's Centre for Molecular Sciences in the National Centre of Excellence.
He says, "In developed countries such researches are funded by companies while in Pakistan there is a significant gap between industry and education sector researchers."
One of his fellow researcher Rukhsana Nighat says, "He worked very hard like a true scientist. He analysed every stage and every step very carefully and deeply."
Nasir, who did his Matriculation from Government Pilot School in 1994, is thankful to his family, especially his parents who extended great support to him.
Cursing the curse of beggary
By Saad Tahir
I cannot remember the last time I stopped at a signal and was not encountered by some beggars hovering around, knocking and pleading to gain my attention in order to extract some money. If I didn't listen to their plea, the woman would curse me and my family while the man knocked so hard that it felt as if the window would shatter to pieces.
Irritated by the disturbance they cause, I usually take out my wallet and give them some change. But some of the beggars are so demanding that the petty coin of five rupees seems ridiculous to them. They are always trying to eke out more and more out of the pockets of those who stop at the signal.
Media has covered that social ailment many a time, yet no attention has been paid by the government to address this issue of vital importance. Primarily it is the obligation of the state to alleviate their miserable lot but even that aspect of the problem has been touched upon too frequently and ignored as often. In this day and age where human rights are much talked about, not many voices are heard in order to eradicate begging.
Out of curiosity, I decide to focus more on the issue. I find out that Ihsaan, a five year old child, is chaperoned by his elder sister to a densely populated vicinity of R.A. Bazar to beg. He flits from car to car and wagon to bus, clad in rags. His feet, divest of any shoe inspite of scorching heat, present a heart-rending sight. After a hard toil of a day, I discover, he deposits all that he has earned through begging to his sister who in turn gives that money to her mother.
The pathetic exterior of a boy is, indeed, a reflection of the economic disparity that Pakistani society is subjected to but the humiliation that he undergoes must have a great psychological effect on him. That is not how citizens of an independent state are treated; no education, no clothing, no respect. Such people are made into the wretched of the earth by the neglect of the state and the indifference of the upper echelon of the society.
Child beggars are not the only ones that meet the eye. People with deformities, old men and women and particularly those huddling young babies along, are increasingly seen on the traffic crossings. The new addition to this large army of beggars are the hijras or hermaphrodites. The traditional occupation of these hijras consists of begging for alms while bestowing blessings to the males. I find that they won't let go until alms are paid. I am quite perturbed to see them get after us.
I think of ways to help them. Maybe the state needs to enact laws in their favour. Maybe the government needs to get them and forcibly teach them various skills.
Not too long ago, in Punjab, the chief minister chaired a meeting in which it was decided that immediate measures for initiating a programme of rehabilitation of deprived children and beggars will be undertaken. He made promises that the child beggars would be given education and shelter and emphasised upon the administration to keep the target in view while implementing this programme.
As expected, none of the promises was fulfilled. I understand that this is not an isolated problem and is tied up with the larger issue of poverty. But I am sure with a little bit of sincerity the new government will be able to come up with laws that can be implemented and some creative solutions devised to make these beggars useful members of our society.
• Showing of Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963) Swedish Documentary (2 hr 26 mins) at 6:00 pm at Punjab Lok Rahs, Entry free
• Book presentation
by Professor Zafar Ali:
'The Future of Revolutions' at 7:00pm today.
Venue: Nairang Gallery. Entry free
• Film showing of 5 Oscar-winning
at South Asian Media Centre
(SAFMA) today at 8:00pm.
• Children art/music/theatre workshop
organised by Lahore Film and Literary Club (LFLC).
from Mon, 30 Jun 2008 To Thu, 17 Jul 2008,
at Lahore Chitrkar.
Fee: 3000 Rupees
• The International Education Exhibition
of Pakistan's 27th International Expo
on Tuesday 15 July, 2008 to Wed, 16 July 2008
at Avari Hotel.
Back to books
Decline in reading habits among children is a cause of concern among parents and teachers alike
By Haniya Ali
In the fast moving world of the little micro chip, life has become digital and mechanic in almost all its spheres. It has become easier to write emails than send letters. It is more practical to keep a log of friends on social networking websites than meeting them in person and it has become viable to have an audio book than actually picking up a real one and bothering to read it. Najma Sohail, a mother of two, often wonders how her technologically-designed life will affect the growth of her children. "My kids refuse to spend their time reading a book. They're more interested in a latest video game or an animated movie," she says.
Decline in reading habits among children is a crisis many educationists had predicted the world over. Some blame the school systems while others hold the change in lifestyles responsible. Asim Anwer, father of a third-grader, observes that his son is more interested in watching cartoons than reading a book. "He has this bored expression every time I mention a book," explains Anwer.
The oft repeated phrase, "times have changed" unfortunately applies to the habit of reading as well. "I used to look forward to the summer break because I would get a chance to be with my books," recalls Rashida Afzaal, now a grandmother. Today, however, parents find it hard to control their children during the summers. They look for means to hold their attention as the little one's find attraction in television, video games and movies.
So why are children bored by books? It's a question we shouldn't find hard to answer. Children are always attracted by the unusual, the extraordinary and the exciting. With the onslaught of technology they have an excess to see on screen the world their parents happily imagined through books. What is the fun in reading Charlie on his journey through the chocolate factory when you can see the movie? Why read Charles Dickens and Jane Austen when one is so occupied with the latest Spiderman movie. I mean who would trade action and adventure for pages of long drawn sentences? These words echo the arguments presented by grudging children who refuse to read.
Kauser Sheikh, an esteemed teacher, feels that the children today have minimised spans of attention. They want to know the story, the climax and the conclusion right there before them. Mirroring their busy parents and their lifestyle, these children want instant entertainment. She also felt that the media was not playing its due responsibility. "Have you ever seen an advertisement showing a child reading a book?" she asks. Children have become used to violence and action on television. They want the same in books. In Sheikh's opinion this trend has affected the general knowledge of children. "There are many universal facts and concerns that you pick up as you read a book. Children today are just not motivated to explore the world through books."
Abdullah Mahmood, Programme Director at the Children's Library, Lahore reflects on the declining reading trend. As a part of his job Mahmood observes the lack of interest children show towards books. "They are more interested in visual entertainment than in books." Keeping in mind this behaviour, his staff has arranged for books that have colourful illustrations to attract the children. According to Mahmood parents need to take an activate part in the lives of their children and have interactive reading sessions with them.
Schools in this regard also need to contribute. Sheikh, for example, recommends that there should have classes dedicated to reading alone where children share books and stories with each other. "This will create a creative environment in which the students can learn and enjoy at the same time."
Mahmood feels that schools should encourage reading competitions so as to cultivate a healthier trend among students. However parents like Fariha Basit refuse to put blame on the schools. She feels that schools do their best to encourage reading by giving reading assignments and lists over the summer. It is the parents who need to find time to sit with their children and built their reading habit.
Roa Abid, manager at the 'Readings' bookstore had a hopeful view. "We register maximum sales in the children's book section." Encouraged by these results, Abid feels that the readership is still very much alive. However, he emphasised the need for more libraries and stores that sell books at affordable prices and provide an atmosphere that is welcoming. There are many book stores in Lahore who adorn their shelves with expensive books far above the budget of many parents. If reading is to be encouraged then local publishing houses should step up and introduce cheaper books into the market.
Organizations like 'Readings' and 'Children's Library' are two places that give priority to reading. It was encouraging to note that the library, being a project of the Punjab Government, was being run so well. However, the government needs to invest a lot more in libraries throughout the province. Small yet well equipped libraries will provide an incentive for the parents to make their children a part of it.
Our efforts, in the challenging demands of today's world, should not be aimed at making children literate. We must engage our efforts to encourage wholesome reading so as to make our children educated and well-informed citizens.
Things have improved at the shrine of Daulay Shah in Gujrat or at least so it seems
By Sana Ali
'Rat Children', a forced deformity, one of the worst forms of child abuse, another example of lawlessness in Pakistan.
The myth goes back to Aurangzeb Alamgir's time in the 17th century. It may have started during Pir Shah Daula's life or may be after his death by his descendants but the myth says that infertile women, who worship at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Daula, will become fertile. But there was a catch. They had to donate their first-born child to the shrine as an oblate, or else all their subsequent children will be born disabled. The Pir is said to have the power to punish disobedient parents in the shape of children with small heads (micro encephalic children). These children, who then serve at the shrine, are called 'Daulay Shah k Choohay' (Rats of Shah Daula).
The issue of Daulay Shah ke Choohay has been raised a billion times, nationally and internationally. You google it and you will be overwhelmed with articles by foreign writers talking about the inhumanity and torture. There are others by fellow Pakistanis and even different forums where ordinary citizens complain, argue and show their distress on this dreadful act. One line that is common to every page and every comment is "why is it still going on? Is their nothing we can do? Does the government even care?"
This took me to the shrine itself to know if families still give away their children the way they used to.
The shrine is situated in a marketplace in Gujrat where there are more than 50 stalls along the way, of mannat (make a vow) items, flowers, sweet candies called niaz (offering) and pieces of cloth with Quranic surahs on them. Outside the shrine there are stalls of different items like bangles, toys etc.
The one and only rat child that I saw was a girl named Nadia in a bright yellow shalwar kameez. Around 16 years of age, she was sitting outside the shrine having tea. Nobody conversed with her but people were putting money in a box lying in front of her. Like other places, this shrine too had a lot of brooms (jharoos) on its entrance and people were picking them up and cleaning the shrine in order to get blessings (sawaab).
A curtain divided the shrine into two, for men and women. It had two split airconditioners, three chandeliers, and a painted ceiling. People were coming in droves with children for salaam.
Rukhshanda, a middle-aged regular visitor of the shrine, strongly believed that if a woman has come here and prayed for a child she should regularly come back for salaam (to pay homage). If she doesn't, something unfortunate -- not necessarily a deformity -- may befall her child. She quoted the example of her cousin. Apparently, the news of her cousin's pregnancy, the birth of the child, and the child's illness afterwards, were all linked to the shrine. She was shocked to hear about rat children. "I have never seen it. There are people who bring their children over here but the authorities send the children back," she explains.
Mahrukh, a graduate and a regular visitor, was of the idea that people with weak faith pray with the commitment that they will give their first child to the shrine. Nawab Deen, a shop-owner near the shrine, said that this practice has been stopped after the shrine came under Auqaf. Majority of the people feigned ignorance when we asked about rat children.
When we asked the authority about their Shahjee (Qari Bashir), their spiritual leader, the authority said that he doesn't come to the shrine because after Auqaf took over there have been some infighting between them. As soon as the incharge went away, a woman came to us and voiced her disapproval of Shahjee.
For the first time I realised that authorities have actually done something right. They have actually stopped the inhuman act or atleast have minimised it. Extensive researches have been carried out on what is wrong, but no one has bothered out to find out the current status of the rat children. Our visit at this particular shrine did not confirm the existence of the inhuman practice of giving away children.
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