At medical camps, a flood of disease after rains deluge in southern Pakistan 

Internally displaced flood-affected people take refuge in a camp at Kotri in Jamshoro district of Sindh province on September 28, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 01 October 2022

At medical camps, a flood of disease after rains deluge in southern Pakistan 

  • Nearly 350 people have died in Sindh province since July 1 of diseases that have spread in the aftermath of floods. 
  • Doctors have treated 3.38 million patients with diarrhea, skin and respiratory infections, malaria, dengue at 21,955 medical camps 

DADU, Sindh: Inside a small tent on a major highway in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, Shabiraan Ameer held up her arms and moved her face to a side to bare her neck, both covered in rashes and stained with blood from constant scratching. 

Ameer’s family is only one among nearly 15 million people affected by recent floods in Sindh and living in tent-cities and makeshift shelters on roadsides or staying back in flooded villages, surrounded from all sides with water. 

As waters from the floods recede, which officials say may take up to six months, swaths of Pakistan, particularly the Balochistan and Sindh provinces, have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and skin infections. 

According to a Sindh health department report, nearly 350 people have died since July 1 of diseases that have spread in the aftermath of floods. Doctors have treated 3.38 million patients with diarrhea and skin diseases, acute respiratory infection (ARI), and suspected and confirmed cases of malaria, dengue and other conditions at 21,955 medical camps in Sindh. 

“It [skin] bleeds when I rub it,” Ameer, a young mother of two, told Arab News. “I clean the wound with a cloth, then I sit and cry.” 

In Dadu district where Ameer is from, Pakistan’s largest freshwater lake of Manchar burst its banks, submerging hundreds of villages and displacing nearly 0.8 million people. 

As the water level rose three weeks ago, Ameer and her entire family were forced to tread to safety through toxic waters. 

“We don’t have a home and if we had money, we would have treated this,” Ameer said of her infection. “My entire body is taken over by disease.” 

Pointing to her children, she added: “My small children shout and cry in pain. Their bodies also bleed, they weep.” 

Many patients interviewed by Arab News at government medical camps for flood survivors in Dadu said they were not attended by doctors or given proper medication. 

“I got my check-up, but fever doesn’t go away,” Ibrahim, a child whose mouth had rashes due to high-fever, told Arab News. 

Rukhsana, who only gave her first name, said her three-year-old son had been ill for over a month: 

“I got him treated at a government hospital, we have given him a lot of medicines but his fever doesn’t go away.” 

Doctors and organizers at the tent city admitted they did not have adequate resources to deal with the scale of the problem, especially when there was one doctor available per 500 patients. 

Flight Lt. (R) Musarrat Shah, a social activist who is running a tent-city in Kakkar, said women and children were particularly vulnerable. 

“We are unable to provide good treatment and good medicines to this large scale of people,” she said. “A single doctor for 500 … is not enough when people are facing so many diseases, so many problems.” 

Dr. Muhammad Ali Chandio, a government doctor in Dadu’s main city camp, said fever and skin disease were rampant at the facility and malaria was suspected in a growing number of people. 

“The water available here is not clean, which is causing abdominal diseases in people, there are cases of diarrhea, cholera,” the doctor said. “If the environment is not good, then it’s obvious that diseases will spread.” 

At the IDP camp in Dadu city, Dr. Saima Parveen, the doctor in charge, said medicines needed proper storage and an enabling environment to work. 

“Fever will subside if you give syrup, paracetamol to kids with high fever but this environment, and this weather, the hot weather, will not let the fever go away,” she said. 

“They [doctors] gave anti-malarial to children but due to the atmosphere here, the dirty water standing here, the mosquitoes will come, mosquitoes bite them and they get malaria again.” 

Chandio added: “A temperature of 25 Celsius is required to keep medicines but here it is very hot and the medicines get spoiled and they are no longer effective.” 

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

Updated 8 sec ago

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

  • Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121
  • Pakistan still need 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday

RAWALPINDI: England spinners removed Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq after they scored centuries Saturday as Pakistan reached 298-3 at lunch on the third day of the opening Test in Rawalpindi. 

Off-spinner Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121. 

Pakistan still need another 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday, their highest total ever against the home team. 

Despite three wickets falling in Saturday's first session, the much-criticised Rawalpindi Stadium pitch offered little to the bowlers. 

At the break, skipper Babar Azam was on 28 and Saud Shakeel yet to score. 

Azhar Ali was trapped leg-before by Leach on 27, but he could have gone more cheaply had Zak Crawley not dropped a sharp chance to his left at leg slip from pacer James Anderson's first over of the morning. 

The centuries by Shafique and Haq meant for the first time in 146 years of Test cricket the openers of both teams reached three figures in the first innings. 

Their 225-run opening stand -- a Pakistan record against England -- is also the first time in Test history that two 200-plus opening partnerships were made, following Crawley and Ben Duckett's 233-run partnership for the visitors. 

Pakistan started the day on 181 without loss and Shafique, 89 overnight, was the first to three figures with a sharp single off Joe Root. 

Haq, who started the session on 90, followed with a boundary off the same bowler to complete his century. 

They both now have three Test centuries and successive hundreds at the venue, having also reached three figures against Australia in March this year. 

The three-match series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years. 

Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

Updated 6 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

  • Pakistan awaits a tranche of $500mln from IMF as part of its $7 billion loan program
  • The country is facing a myriad of economic woes and desperately needs forex inflows

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday that the ninth review of the country's $7 billion loan program was in order and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "can't dictate" it measures for the release a $500 million tranche. 

The IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left Pakistan in dire need of external financing. 

Dar told a Pakistani TV station that all targets for the IMF review had been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense. 

"Our ninth review is totally in order... I have reminded them they should come and review and give Pakistan $500 million," the finance minister said. 

"[You] can't dictate." 

Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year. 

The minister said Pakistan's foreign reserves, currently at $7.5 billion, would be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks. 

But the reserves at the moment are barely enough for a month of imports for the South Asian nation, facing a widening current account deficit and balance-of-payment crises as well as depreciation of national currency. 

Asked about a delay in the visit of an IMF delegation to Pakistan, Dar said he "didn't care" and he did not want to plead for the visit. 

"If it (money) doesn't come, we will manage, no problem," the minister added. 

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

Updated 17 min 31 sec ago

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

  • Xylexa’s technology has gone through clinical trials at several medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad
  • Startup recently got its first contract in Lebanon and is now looking into opportunities in UAE, Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: An award-winning Pakistani startup that uses artificial intelligence and cloud-based tools for breast cancer detection is now working on getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and pursuing expansion into Arab countries, the founders of the firm said this week.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Pakistan has the highest breast cancer rate in Asia, with one out of nine Pakistani women now facing a lifetime risk of the disease. The country also has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates globally.

Known as Xylexa, the Islamabad-based startup was founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Shahid Abbasi, Shahrukh Babar, and Neda Nehal who met each other by chance at an IT industry event in 2017.

The three individuals thus embarked on a mission to fight the disease by empowering radiologists — medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures — with tools and technologies that would render improved clinical outcomes for the patients.

“We have developed a decision support program for interpretation of medical images which use cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and deep learning that would help radiologists attain better clinical insights,” Abbasi, the co-founder of the startup, told Arab News in an interview in Islamabad this week.

Xylexa team poses for a picture after receiving the Pasha Technology of the Year Award in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The inspiration to do something for breast cancer patients came when a close relative was diagnosed with the disease at a very late stage, he said.

“We got together as a group and decided to do something about it and use technology as a medium to save more lives,” Abbasi added.

The first set of algorithms that Xylexa developed was for the detection of breast cancer using mammography, he said, and its clinical evaluation was successfully concluded after the hard work of three and half years.

“We are not just stopping at mammography but now we are focused on developing support for 14 different diseases that require chest x-rays and have also developed algorithms for protection of blockages within the arterial system,” Abbasi said.

The entrepreneur said his company’s product delivered results with an up to a 95 percent accuracy ratio, thus giving 24 percent better results than traditional radiology examination.

“If you look at the market data available for the accuracy of radiologists’ readings, it ranges anywhere between 71 percent to 82 percent. On the other hand, the accuracy rates of three algorithms that we have developed for mammography, chest x-ray, and peripheral artery disease detection ranges anywhere between 89 percent to 95 percent,” he added.

After developing an AI and cloud-based platform to provide support for breast cancer detection, Xylexa put it through clinical validation at various medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad.

According to StartUs Insights, an Austrian company that has evaluated almost 359 companies across the globe using artificial intelligence in health care, Xylexa was among the top five performers in this domain.

Babar, another co-founder of the startup, said the team was now applying for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States after completing clinical trials.

“We ran a trial in Pakistan with Fouji Foundation Hospital, Islamabad Diagnostic Center, and Epiphany Labs,” he said, adding that the startup was also expanding to Arab countries.

“Recently, we got our first contract in Lebanon and we are looking at a few opportunities in Saudi Arabia too. We have already carried out trials with the King Fahad Hospital in the Kingdom and now are in talks with a few potential partners in Dubai as well.”

Babar said breast cancer could be successfully cured with early detection.

“If breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, chances of survival are 90 percent,” he said. “If it is diagnosed at a later stage, then chances of survival remain 25 percent or even less.”

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

Updated 03 December 2022

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

  • Farmer named Bhom Singh Sodho uses organic method that combines raised bed cropping and hardpan breaking
  • Method was pioneered by a local agronomist and is now being promoted by Pakistan’s planning commission

UMERKOT: At a time when Pakistan is reeling from major agricultural losses due to worst-ever floods this summer that washed away thousands of acres of crops, a man in the southern Sindh says he is earning substantial cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crop yields by using an innovative farming method that promises massive profits for agriculturalists.

Paedar Qudrati Nizam-e-Kashtkari (PQNK) – a term sometimes described as “paradoxical farming” – was pioneered in 2008 by a Lahore-based agronomist, Asif Sharif, who encouraged growers to adopt natural means to increase agricultural production.

Paradoxical farming combines farming practices like hardpan breaking, no tilling, raised beds, precision planting, and organic mulching to invent an effective cropping system.

It is this technique that is being used by Bhom Singh Sodho, a farmer from the district of Umerkot in Sindh where much of the agricultural land was submerged during the recent floods.

Sodho combined raised bed cropping, which helped reduce excess surface water, as well as hardpan breaking, which increased the absorption capacity of his land in the absence of thick agrochemical layers.

“The floods devastated thousands of acres of agricultural land which were using traditional production methods around my farm,” Sodho told Arab News. “However, PQNK saved me from incurring any losses. In fact, I earned substantial profit and was even preparing to cultivate my next crop when a majority of farmers were trying to drain water from their fields.”

This picture shows an agricultural land which is still submerged by flood water in Umerkot, Pakistan, on November 17, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Official estimates suggest the catastrophic floods in Pakistan inflicted more than $30 billion in economic losses while the agricultural sector suffered $3.7 billion in damages. Sindh was the worst-hit province, where a large number of farmers lost both crops and livestock.

Sodho said that he shifted to the new production method two years ago when he decided to employ it over 11 out of his 55 acres of land. The year 2022 was the best for him in terms of cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crops even amid the unprecedented floods, he said. 

Farmers in Umerkot mostly complain of water shortages and Sodho’s decision to switch to the new farming technique was also prompted by the same reason since the innovative method could help him grow the crops by using much less water than was otherwise required for conventional farming. 

Speaking to Arab News, Sharif, the 71-year-old founder of the system, said PQNK was a “low-cost, sustainable agricultural technique.”

“This is a self-funded initiative and there is no commercial angle involved in it,” Sharif, who is also the founding chairman and chief executive of Pedaver Private Limited, said over the telephone.

He said his method did not employ agrochemicals “which are poisonous for the microbes in the soil.” With an emphasis on organic food production, a farmer’s yield can also be sold at much higher rates in the international market. Apart from that, the new method “helps reduce the seed and water requirements by about 80 percent each.”

He said local soil had developed hardpan layers of chemical pesticide and fertilizer deposits of seven to 19 inches since the green revolution in the 1960s in conventional agriculture farming. Hardpan, he said, was largely impervious to water and restricted the growth of plant roots which lowered crop productivity and decreased the nutrition level.

“PQNK is a permanent low-cost solution for water scarcity and flooding,” he said.

“Breaking hardpan means increasing the capacity of the soil to absorb water. The recent floods caused massive devastation which could have been avoided if there had been a breaking of the hardpan on a larger scale. This also becomes clear when we see Bhom Singh Sodho’s farms since he applied the same method.”

Pakistan’s planning commission, the apex policymaking body, endorsed the new agricultural mechanism in 2021, rebranding it as Regenerative Agricultural Production System (RAPS).

According to Dr. Hamid Jalil, who works with the commission as a member of food security and climate change, “RAPS is a climate-smart agricultural production system.”

“We are scaling up RAPS in the country and introducing it in all public sector research centers and universities for authentication trials,” he told Arab News.

“We have already had success in getting international recognition for it when the World Bank evaluated RAPS in April this year and included it in the upcoming agricultural projects in Pakistan.”

However, Jalil said the biggest challenge in adopting the farming mechanism on a mass level was the provision of seed-sowing planter machines.

“With the assistance of Pro Nature Alliance, the planning commission manufactured four planter machines recently on an experimental basis whose testing was successful,” he added. “Pakistan needs 20,000 planter machines across the country to adopt RAPS. We have made PC-1 [or project feasibility report] that after approval will allow starting local production of planter machines. We can make the required number of machines in five years.”

Sharif added that the farming system could help Pakistan “generate an estimated $20 billion exportable food surplus in just a few years, provided that the country takes well-planned initiatives.

“At present, I have millions of followers across the world who are learning PQNK techniques online,” he said. “In Pakistan, there are about 100,000 farmers who are linked with PQNK and their number is increasing.”

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

Updated 02 December 2022

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

  • The deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of COVID-19
  • The Saudi Development Fund hopes the decision will help Pakistan handle external sector challenges

KARACHI: Pakistan's central bank said on Friday the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) had extended the term of a $3 billion deposit to shore up the country's economy which is currently going through a rough patch.
The deposit was made under an agreement signed between the State Bank of Pakistan and the Saudi development agency in November 2021 to support the South Asian state's dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The Pakistani central bank announced in a Twitter post last September the SFD had confirmed the deposit's rollover for another year.
"The extension of the term of deposit is a continuation of the support provided by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," the State Bank said in a statement.
It noted the deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saudi development agency also hoped in a Twitter post that its decision would make it easier for Pakistan "to meet external sector challenges & achieve sustainable economic growth."
According to Pakistan's central bank, the country's total liquid foreign reserves stood at $13.4 billion on November 25. The foreign exchange held by the State Bank amounted to $7.5 billion while the rest of it was with various commercial banks.
"It is a crucial development for Pakistan's economy since the amount of $3 billion is quite considerable," Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the finance ministry, told Arab News. "With $7.5 billion on November 25, Pakistan needs to ensure that the money deposited by all friendly countries is rolled over."
The development was also applauded by people from other walks of life, including the country's religious community that said Saudi Arabia had always cooperated with Pakistan.
"As a result of the meetings held between Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it is clear that investment and cooperation from Saudi Arabia in Pakistan will further increase in the coming days," said chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi.
He added the country was expected to hear "good news in the near future" from other Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.