Malaysia maintains stance on Israeli Paralympic athletes ban

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Israeli athletes would not be allowed to compete in the country. (Reuters)
Updated 10 January 2019

Malaysia maintains stance on Israeli Paralympic athletes ban

  • Mahathir Mohamad: We will not allow them (to enter). If they come, then it is an offense
  • The 93-year old prime minister’s statement is in keeping with the country’s long-held policy toward Israel

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has reiterated that it will not permit Israeli athletes hoping to compete in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in Kuching, Borneo, to enter the country. The event runs from July 29 to Aug. 4, and is one of the qualifying events for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
“We will not allow them (to enter). If they come, then it is an offense,” Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters on Thursday. He explained that since Malaysia, a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and does not recognize it as a state, it would be against the law to issue visas to the Israeli squad.
The 93-year old prime minister’s statement is in keeping with the country’s long-held policy toward Israel. In the past, Israeli squads have been refused entry to compete in international sailing competitions and tennis tournaments in Malaysia.
Despite mounting pressure from the International Paralympic Committee and the Israeli Olympic Committee, Malaysia is holding firm in its stance. “If they want to withdraw the championship hosting rights from Malaysia, then they can try to do so,” Mahathir said.
Muslim Imran, president of the Palestinian Cultural Organization Malaysia and a Kuala Lumpur-based Palestinian, said he sees the ban as a reaction to allegations that Israel undermined Malaysia’s national security through Mossad’s rumored involvement in the murder of Fadi Mohammad Al-Batsh, a Palestinian academic and member of Hamas who was killed in the Malaysian capital last year. Imran also pointed out that Malaysia’s decision was consistent with its long-standing opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“Malaysia is serious about its political support for the Palestinian struggle. More pressure has to be piled on Israel to end its apartheid policies,” he told Arab News.
Malaysia has been one of the most vocal critics of the decades-long occupation.
Mahathir voiced his country’s support for the Palestinian state at last year’s UN General Assembly, condemning Israel for ignoring the criticism of the international community and human rights groups for the occupation of Palestine.
Last month, Malaysia expressed its disapproval of Australia’s decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s national capital. Australia became the second nation to do so after the United States under President Donald Trump. Malaysia slammed Canberra’s actions as a “humiliation” for Palestinians.

Vaccine development speeds up to counter COVID-19 threat

Updated 09 April 2020

Vaccine development speeds up to counter COVID-19 threat

LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic has crashed stock markets, ground economies to a halt, and led to unprecedented numbers of people and businesses seeking government assistance, especially in the West.

But in one area, perhaps understandably, it has led to something of an explosion in terms of progress. 

That area is vaccine development, where the discovery, testing and mass production of a solution to the pandemic have become both an essential solution to the crisis and something of a medical gold rush.

Under normal circumstances, vaccines can take 10 years to produce. It is a difficult, lengthy process, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, which is usually dependent on demand for the vaccine in question. 

There are all manner of factors to be taken into account — everything from relative effectiveness to side effects and production costs. 

An ailment that affects more people, or that has a greater chance of having a vaccine found, is more likely to receive the funding it needs because it is more profitable. 

Meanwhile, a vaccine that protects against a certain ailment but carries the risk of significant negative side effects is not exactly a cure.  But COVID-19 is a different beast — the sheer scale of the economic damage it has wrought makes finding a vaccine of the utmost importance.

Elissa Prichep, the precision medicine lead at the World Economic Forum, said given the pressing need, a vaccine for COVID-19 could be developed in 12-18 months — a vast tract of time for those living under lockdown, but lightening quick in the medical world.

The international community has, according to her, been working together “like never before” on producing a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Around Jan. 10, Chinese scientists developed and shared a full genetic sequence of SARS-Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Prichep. 

“Several companies are using this information to develop vaccines that will contain a small amount of genetic code. Certain cells in the body will take up this genetic information and produce elements of the virus, not infecting the person but triggering the immune system to respond,” she added.

“DNA- or RNA-based vaccines are not made with a weakened or deactivated virus, nor elements of the virus, so they can be produced in the lab. This approach is faster and more reliable than traditional vaccine processing, which uses virus grown in eggs or cell cultures. 

“For example, Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the US, developed the first COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials using a genetic platform called messenger RNA (mRNA). It took only 42 days to move from vaccine design to human testing — an industry record.”

However, we remain some way off developing a safe human vaccine. That said, the precedent set by the international community in tackling COVID-19 could be the blueprint for expediting vaccine development in future. 

“A rush to market without appropriate testing could put healthy people at risk. One area of risk is vaccine enhancement, meaning the disease is more harmful to a vaccinated person,” said Prichep.

“The clinical trial process typically involves several phases, including randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled studies, and takes approximately 10 years, but governments and industry are making efforts to expedite the process. If manufacturing begins during trials, then a vaccine will be available to the public upon approval,” she added.

“To mitigate this risk and encourage manufacturing, governments, industry and international organizations are working together. The innovative and cooperative approach taken for this vaccine could change how scientists develop future ones. This could make discovery faster, production more reliable, and vaccines potentially more cost effective.”