Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Rahul Malhotra and his mother ride an autorickshaw ambulance prepared to transfer people suffering from Covid19 in New Delhi amid lack of ambulances. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Militant groups from Afghanistan could pose threat to US in two years — Pentagon leaders

Updated 38 min 14 sec ago

Militant groups from Afghanistan could pose threat to US in two years — Pentagon leaders

  • If there was a collapse of government, or a dissolution of Afghan security forces, that risk would increase, top US general says
  • UN report in January said there were 500 Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, Taliban maintained close relationship with the group

WASHINGTON: Top US military leaders said on Thursday that international militant groups like Al-Qaeda could pose a threat from Afghanistan to the US homeland and American allies in two years.
President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops completely from Afghanistan by September has raised concerns that the country could erupt in full-scale civil war, providing Al-Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on US and other targets.
“It would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a congressional hearing.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said he agreed with the timeline and said there was a medium risk at the moment.
“If there was a collapse of the government, or a dissolution of the Afghan security forces, that risk would obviously increase,” Milley said.
The comments are some of clearest signs of concern in the military and intelligence community about the threat militant groups could pose from Afghanistan and the risks of a complete withdrawal.
A United Nations report in January said there were as many as 500 Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained a close relationship with the militant group. The Taliban denies Al-Qaeda has a presence in Afghanistan.
The United States has completed more than half of its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is expected to be finished well before September, nearly 20 years after Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States triggered the war.
Biden has said the United States has the ability to keep an eye on any resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan without keeping a military footprint, but his administration is still trying to negotiate basing agreements in the region.


UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

Updated 49 min 17 sec ago

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

  • Cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany
  • UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly 3 million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide as countries shut borders and ordered lockdowns.
In its latest Global Trends report released on Friday, UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Africa’s broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting.
“This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities,” said Grandi in an interview before the report’s release. “Almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.”
UNHCR, which has its headquarters in Geneva, said that 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of COVID-19 didn’t make exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Grandi acknowledged the possibility that many internally displaced people who couldn’t leave their own countries will eventually want to flee abroad once borders start reopening, if the pandemic eases.
“A good example is the United States where already we have seen a surge in people arriving in recent months,” Grandi said, and referred to the US provision called Title 42 that let US authorities temporarily block people seeking asylum from entry for health reasons. “Title 42 will be lifted eventually – and I think this is the right thing to do – but this will have to be managed.”
Asked about US Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Central America, where she told would-be migrants to the US “do not come,” Grandi expressed hope that the remark was not reflective of overall US policy.
“I think that messaging indeed, as it was reported, is stark, and maybe shows only one part of the picture now,” Grandi said, adding that he had heard a “more complex response” from other officials in Washington when he was there recently.
Among recent hotspots, Grandi said hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique and the Sahel last year, and up to 1 million in the Tigray conflict that started in October.
“I’m worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in the numbers,” he said.
The report said that at the end of last year there were 5.7 million Palestinians, 3.9 million Venezuelans and an additional 20.7 million refugees from various other countries displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries. Some 4.1 million more sought asylum.
Turkey, a neighbor of Syria, has taken in the most refugees in absolute numbers – 3.7 million – a figure more than twice that of the No. 2 host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan was third.
UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago. Some 42 percent of them were aged under 18, and nearly 1 million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
“Many of them may remain refugees for years to come,” it said.

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Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

Updated 47 min 36 sec ago

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

  • ‘They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes’
  • A spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing

BAUCHI/KADUNA: Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi, police, residents and a teacher said.
The attack is the third mass kidnapping in three weeks in northwest Nigeria, which have authorities have attributed to armed bandits seeking ransom payments.
Usman Aliyu, a teacher at the school, said the gunmen took more than 80 students, most of them girls.
“They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes,” he said.
Kebbi State police spokesman Nafiu Abubakar, said the gunmen killed one officer during an exchange and also shot a student, who was receiving medical treatment.
Police late on Thursday had not released the number of students missing, and a spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing.
The attack took place at a federal government college in the remote town of Birnin Yauri. Abubakar said security forces were searching a nearby forest for the abducted students and teachers.
Atiku Aboki, a resident who went to the school shortly after the gunfire stopped, said he saw a scene of panic and confusion as people searched for their children.
“When we got there we saw students crying, teachers crying, everyone is sympathizing with people,” he said by telephone.
“Everyone was confused. Then my brother called me (to say) that his two children have not been seen and (we) don’t know if they are among the kidnapped.”
Bandits seeking ransom have kidnapped more than 800 Nigerian students from their schools since December in a series of raids. Some have been freed while others remain missing.
The raids in the northwestern region are separate from Islamist insurgencies centered on the northeast, where the Boko Haram militant group made global headlines in 2014 when it abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

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Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”