Pakistan, other Asia-Pacific states get new weapon in fight against drug-resistant TB

A member of the medical staff clad in protective gear prepares to give an infant the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine for tuberculosis at a community health centre in Banda Aceh on June 15, 2020. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 12 April 2024
Follow

Pakistan, other Asia-Pacific states get new weapon in fight against drug-resistant TB

  • The region had most of world’s estimated 10.6 million new TB cases in 2022, according to WHO
  • A major challenge in treating drug-resistant TB is to get patients to take the full medication course

MANILA: A faster and vastly more effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific region, raising hopes of a “new era” in tackling one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.

The region had most of the world’s estimated 10.6 million new TB cases in 2022, and more than half of the 1.3 million deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) figures show.

While TB can be successfully treated with antibiotics, more than three percent of new TB patients are resistant to commonly prescribed drugs.

Until recently, treatment for these patients involved daily painful injections or a fistful of pills for 18 months or longer, while some endured severe side effects such as nausea and, in extreme cases, blindness.

Many people prematurely quit their treatment, which had a success rate of 63 percent or lower.

Now, a new drug regimen involving fewer pills and side effects is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, where trials have shown a more than 90 percent cure rate after six months.

The treatment, known as BPaL, combines the antibiotics bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid, and has received regulatory approval in more than 60 countries since 2019, according to the non-profit TB Alliance, which developed it.

The WHO updated its guidelines in 2022 to allow BPaL to be used with or without a fourth antibiotic called moxifloxacin.

BPaL has been life-changing for Filipino cook Efifanio Brillante, who was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB in June 2022 and initially went on an older form of treatment.

Brillante, 57, was swallowing 20 tablets a day, but it left him feeling so nauseous that he couldn’t work or eat.

He stopped the medication after two weeks even though he knew the decision could be fatal.

“It’s very difficult. You’re always in bed,” Brillante told AFP about his experience of having TB.

“Sometimes I couldn’t even breathe.”

The following month, Brillante joined a BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in Pampanga province, north of the Philippine capital Manila.

He took between three and seven pills a day and was cured after six months.

“I’m very thankful that I was healed,” Brillante told AFP in his home.

“If I didn’t take that BPaL, I might already be buried in the cemetery.”

TB, once called consumption, is caused by a bacteria that primarily attacks the lungs and is transmitted through the air by infected people, for example by coughing.

While it is found in every country, poorer people living and working in overcrowded conditions are at higher risk of the disease.

Eight countries accounted for two-thirds of new TB cases in 2022: India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the biggest challenges of treating drug-resistant TB has been getting patients to take the full course of their medication.

Even in countries where treatment is free, patients face crippling travel costs to hospitals and loss of income, or even their job, due to the illness and side-effects of the drugs, leading many to stop taking their pills.

In Vietnam, most people diagnosed with TB are from low-income families, Hoang Thi Thanh Thuy from the Vietnam National Tuberculosis Program told AFP.

Nearly everyone with drug-resistant TB endured “catastrophic” expenses over the period of their treatment, she said.

“All of these difficulties can affect patient compliance and lead to poor treatment and increasing drug resistance,” Thuy said.

Identifying people with TB is also a challenge.

In Indonesia, some health care facilities are still not able to properly diagnose the disease, said Imran Pambudi of the health ministry.

Fear of social stigma from a positive diagnosis is also common.

“We’re trying to educate them that TB is a curable disease,” said Irene Flores, who led the BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in the Philippines.

“If they come early, we can prevent complications.”

After years of decline, the number of people falling ill with TB and drug-resistant tuberculosis began increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted diagnosis and treatment, the WHO said previously.

After gargantuan global efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, the WHO has called for increased funding to fight TB.

“As TB stopped being a high income-country problem, motivation to invest in research and development for new TB drugs dried up,” said Sandeep Juneja, senior vice president of market access at the TB Alliance.

To help accelerate the rollout of BPaL, with or without moxifloxacin, the TB Alliance has set up a “knowledge hub” in Manila to provide training and assistance to other countries.

In India, where BPaL has been approved, there is growing impatience for it to be introduced into health clinics given the country’s world-beating caseload.

“BPaL should be rolled out soon because it will spare patients a lot of headaches and provide psychological relief too, besides reducing cost of treatment in the long run,” said Ravikant Singh, founder of advocacy group Doctors For You.

Juneja said the new regimen meant treating drug-resistant TB was no longer a guessing game of whether a patient would survive or not.

But more is needed to be done, he added.

“I hope this is... just the beginning of a new era of TB treatment where they will be even simpler, even shorter.”


Special flight carrying first batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek arrives in Lahore

Updated 10 sec ago
Follow

Special flight carrying first batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek arrives in Lahore

  • Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi receives first batch of 140 Pakistani students stranded in Bishkek following violent clashes
  • Pakistan’s deputy PM to travel to Bishkek today as part of a delegation to review arrangements for students’ safe return

ISLAMABAD: A special flight carrying 140 Pakistani students from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek landed at the Lahore airport late Saturday night, following violent attacks against foreign nationals in the city this week after a dispute between locals and migrants that led to evacuation requests.
This was the first batch of Pakistani students to arrive in the country after violence erupted in Bishkek on Friday night. Videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral online, prompting furious mobs to target hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in the city.
According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.
Speaking to Arab News on Saturday, many students reported the Pakistan embassy had advised them to stay indoors, though they had run out of food and water. Some even expressed fears that rioting might resume at night and requested evacuation by the authorities.
Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi welcomed the first batch of Pakistani students as they arrived at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore and inquired about their well-being, the interior ministry said in a statement.
“Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi asked students about the tragic incident in Bishkek and inquired about their problems,” the ministry said. 
Naqvi said Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan are “children of the nation,” vowing that those from cities other than Lahore would be provided free transport.
A statement released by the PM’s Office on Saturday evening said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had directed Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and another cabinet member, Amir Maqam, to travel to Bishkek on Sunday and address the situation there.
The two Pakistani officials will meet with senior government officials in the Kyrgyz capital to ensure medical treatment for injured students and review arrangements for their return.
“Our first concern is the safe return of Pakistani students,” Naqvi said. “God willing, more students would be brought back via additional flights tomorrow [Sunday].”
The country’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said on Saturday that five Pakistani medical students had been injured in the mob attack. One student was admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury, while the other four were released after receiving first aid.
“No Pakistani was killed or raped in the violence,” he told Arab News over the phone, dispelling rumors circulating on social media. “The situation is under control now as Bishkek authorities have dispersed all the miscreants.”
Separately, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned and handed a note of protest to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to violence against Pakistani students in Bishkek.
“It was impressed on the Kyrgyz charge d’affaires that the Kyrgyz government should take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The statement said the Kyrgyz health ministry had confirmed four Pakistanis were given first aid and discharged while one was still under treatment for injury.


Nawaz Sharif touts past economic success, signaling political comeback amid party leadership change

Updated 8 min ago
Follow

Nawaz Sharif touts past economic success, signaling political comeback amid party leadership change

  • Sharif is poised to be re-elected as party president on May 28 after his younger brother and current PM stepped down
  • He was widely viewed as the favorite for Pakistan’s top political office before the Feb. 8 polls failed to produce clear results

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared on national television screens on Saturday after maintaining a relatively low profile since the February 8 general elections, highlighting the achievements of his previous tenures and contrasting them with the prolonged economic turmoil for which he held his rivals accountable.
Sharif, who went into self-exile in November 2019 after being convicted in a corruption case, returned to Pakistan in October last year and was widely viewed as the favorite candidate for the prime minister’s post with the support of the country’s powerful army.
However, he decided against taking the PM’s office after the national polls failed to produce a clear winner, leading to speculation that his role in the country’s politics had all but ended.
However, Sharif’s appearance at the Central Working Committee meeting of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party in Lahore showed he was once again ready to assert his control over his political faction and, by extension, national politics.
“The price of every item was at a nominal level when I was prime minister, whether it was electricity, gas, vegetables, petrol or other essential items of life,” he said while reflecting on his political career, during which his administrations could not complete the constitutionally stipulated five-year tenure.
He maintained that inflation was low, the country was progressing and the interest rate hovered just above five percent during his rule.
“Today, it stands at 22 percent,” he continued.
Sharif emphasized that people should consider which political party had safeguarded their economic interests and which one had made their lives difficult before deciding who should run the country.
“Do you think before voting about what Nawaz Sharif’s performance was and how his rivals fared in contrast?” he asked. “Do you consider the prices during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure to where they are today?”
The PML-N founding leader raised these issues at a time when his party is forced to take stringent financial measures to secure a fresh International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, leading to high inflation and a depressed economy.
He is also poised to be re-elected to the post of party president on May 28 after his younger brother and the incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stepped down from the position earlier this month.
The younger Sharif took over the PML-N presidency after his elder brother was removed following a Supreme Court verdict that disqualified him from holding public office or serving as head of any political faction.
The three-time prime minister also sought the accountability of the judges who removed him from power amid preparations to reclaim his party.


Nida Dar becomes top wicket-taker in women’s T20Is despite Pakistan’s loss to England

Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Nida Dar becomes top wicket-taker in women’s T20Is despite Pakistan’s loss to England

  • Despite Dar’s milestone, Pakistan fell to England by 65 runs, allowing the hosts to secure a 2-0 series lead
  • Pakistan are now gearing up for the third and final T20I against England, set to take place on May 19 in Leeds

ISLAMABAD: Nida Dar, captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team, made history by becoming the top wicket-taker in Women’s T20 International cricket with her 137th wicket during the second match against England in Northampton on Friday.

Despite her milestone, Pakistan fell to England by 65 runs, allowing the hosts to secure a 2-0 series lead.

England, batting first, were restricted to 144-6, thanks in part to Dar’s two wickets. However, Pakistan struggled in reply, collapsing to 79 all out within 15.5 overs as English spinners Sophie Ecclestone, Alice Capsey and Sarah Glenn collectively snagged seven wickets.

The International Cricket Council recognized Dar’s historic performance on its website after the match.

“Dar overtook Australia’s Megan Schutt (136 wickets) to lay her claim at the top of the leading wicket-takers chart in women’s T20I on Friday, 17 May,” the ICC proclaimed. “She is the only Pakistan woman in the top 10 list.”

The Pakistan skipper, who started the game with 135 career wickets, was on the verge of setting the new record during Pakistan’s recent home series against the West Indies.

In the match against England, she edged closer to the milestone by getting Capsey stumped in almost the middle of the game and later, in the final over, clinched her landmark 137th wicket by dismissing Amy Jones.

Pakistan are now gearing up for the third and final T20I against England, set to take place on May 19 in Leeds.


Pakistan to send two-member delegation to Kyrgyzstan, offers free evacuation to stranded students

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

Pakistan to send two-member delegation to Kyrgyzstan, offers free evacuation to stranded students

  • The decision comes after five Pakistani students were injured in mob violence against foreign nationals in Bishkek
  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar will lead the delegation on Sunday morning to review arrangements for the return of students

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif decided to send a two-member delegation to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and offered free travel facilities to all Pakistani students stranded there on Saturday, following mob violence against foreign nationals enrolled in various universities that led to evacuation requests.
The violence erupted on Friday night after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral online, prompting furious mobs to target hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in the city.
According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.
Speaking to Arab News on Saturday, many students reported the Pakistan embassy had advised them to stay indoors, though they had run out of food and water. Some even expressed fears that rioting might resume at night and requested evacuation by the authorities.
A statement released by the PM’s Office in the evening indicated that Sharif had directed Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and another cabinet member, Amir Maqam, to address the situation in Bishkek.
“Both officials will depart for Bishkek early tomorrow morning [on Sunday] via a special plane,” the statement continued. “Throughout the day, the Prime Minister had been monitoring the situation and staying in contact with the Pakistani ambassador in Bishkek.”
“Despite the satisfactory situation,” it added, “the decision to send this delegation was made to ensure necessary support and facilities for Pakistani students.”
The two Pakistani officials will meet with senior government officials in the Kyrgyz capital to ensure medical treatment for injured students and review arrangements for their return.
In an earlier statement, the prime minister noted that those who wanted to return to Pakistan would be “facilitated at the government’s expense.”
Sharif also declared that his administration would not leave the students alone during such a difficult time and would remain in contact with them and their parents through the embassy.
Meanwhile, the foreign office activated its Crisis Management Unit to facilitate and assist Pakistani nationals in the Kyrgyz Republic and their families. The unit can be contacted on the following numbers: +92519203108 and +92519203094, or via email at [email protected].
The country’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said earlier in the day that five Pakistani medical students had been injured in the mob attack. One student was admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury, while the other four were released after receiving first aid.
“No Pakistani was killed or raped in the violence,” he told Arab News over the phone, dispelling rumors circulating on social media. “The situation is under control now as Bishkek authorities have dispersed all the miscreants.”


Journalists protest temporary closure of Quetta Press Club, demand media freedom inquiry

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

Journalists protest temporary closure of Quetta Press Club, demand media freedom inquiry

  • Police locked the facility after rights activist Mahrang Baloch decided to hold a seminar at the facility
  • The Balochistan Union of Journalists issued a statement, describing it as an attack on press freedom

KARACHI: Journalists in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Saturday condemned the temporary closure of Quetta Press Club by police, demanding an inquiry into what they called an attack on media freedom in violation of the country’s constitution.
The incident took place after the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC), an ethnic rights movement led by local activist Mahrang Baloch, organized a seminar at the press club, prompting the police to lock the facility. However, supporters of the rights movement broke the lock and entered the club.
Last year, Baloch gained national visibility by leading a protest march to Islamabad, saying her objective was to bring attention to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in her province, though the government denied the state’s involvement in any such activities.
“The Balochistan Union of Journalists strongly condemns the closure of the Quetta Press Club by the administration in harsh terms, considering it an attack on press freedom and a blatant violation of the Article 19 of the Constitution,” said a statement that called for investigation into the issue.
“The closure of the Press Club is an assault on the freedom and rights of journalists, which is unacceptable,” it added. “This move by the administration is a conspiracy to silence journalists, and we will protest vigorously against it.”
The union pointed out that journalists were already facing threats and challenges, though it added they would continue to fulfill their responsibilities and remain undeterred by such measures.
“Article 19 of Pakistan’s Constitution grants every citizen the freedom of expression, and the closure of the Press Club is a clear violation of it,” the statement continued. “The Balochistan Union of Journalists demands a high-level investigation into the matter so that journalists can fulfil their duties without fear or danger.”
When contacted, Banaras Khan, the general secretary of Quetta Press Club, told Arab News the district administration had asked the club’s administration to cancel the program, citing security reasons.
“Half of the participants came and half were on their way when the police locked the gate,” he said, adding he had refused to cancel the program.
“I informed the authorities that I wouldn’t force the participants to leave,” Khan revealed. “If the provincial administration wanted to, they could, but they should then lock the gate, and we would leave as well,” he said, highlighting his disagreement with the officials that made him warn that the journalists would vacate the premises in protest.
Shahid Rind, a Balochistan government spokesperson, said, however, it was the decision of the police, deployed outside the club for its protection, to lock the facility as a strategy to deal with the large crowd, adding the government had no intention to stop the program.
“Our position is clear,” he said. “We didn’t put any locks, nor did we want to stop the seminar.”
Rind said the organizers had mentioned in their invitations only registered participants would attend the program.
He said the gate was temporarily locked by the police.
“After that, the seminar continued throughout the day,” he added. “If we had wanted to stop the seminar, or if the state had wanted to stop it forcefully, would the seminar have been allowed to take place?”