Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Creating waves on Social Media networking sites


By Zena Mason
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The omnipresent "thumbs up" sign has become an integral part of all forms of social media websites, from Facebook itself to Linkedin, Twitter, the fitness tracking site MyFitnessPal and language learning sites. 

Though Facebook has evolved "likes" to include "reactions," there is a consistent theme of judging the content of your posts by how many "likes" you receive. "Likes" can be thought of as a simple barometer of approval. 

You post baby photos on Facebook and 50 of your friends like it. You make a poignant statement on Twitter and someone retweets it. You find a picture and write an article post on Linkedin. Upon seeing the "likes" start to trickle in, you get a buzz of social approval.

Interestingly, the need for social approval, something which before the "like" button, social networking or the internet, used to either occur face-to-face and with other factors in play. 

With the "like" button, there are no nuances of face-to-face interaction. You know they hit "like," but you can't necessarily know why. Maybe people clicked "like" because they were in a good mood. 

Maybe they bumped the thread because they disliked something you said and want to come after you. 

Maybe there is some idea in your post that they wanted to save without caring about other things that you do. Another result of the "like" button is the speed. 

Because you can post things immediately, you can respond immediately trends in your audience, particularly if you use all the free trend analysis software available for virtually all the social networking sites.

On my Quora site, I noticed that after writing several articles, all with varying rates of writing quality and time put into them, it was controversial politics topics where I got the most views. 

Media has changed, but people still love a good old fashioned sensation. But at what cost? Are people's attention spans decreasing because there is less of a need to put thought into what they do, or are their attentions too shallow because they are spread over so many different topics and platforms? 

It is in the interests of many websites to get people "hooked" on their website and pay for yearly subscriptions to use and/or share more specialised content such as language lessons and weight loss regimens. 

Because social networking sites are structured in a certain way, they encourage you to think in a certain way. In facebook, if you want feedback on anything, it's like lowering a bait into the water and waiting for the fishes to bite. 

It's an almost passive manner of expressing yourself. You have some idea of what you think your friends will like and you tentatively prepare the content with certainty about what the result will be. 

This is why, even though it has been done hundreds and thousands of times before with superior lighting, angles and reasons to post it, people keep posting the very same dishes, because there is an illusion of some kind of success.

The illusion of "likes" is that it is actually very easy to get thousands of likes but if they are from the wrong people it means nothing. 

I post things on social media because I want to keep track of things I like and find interesting. 

Because I post unique things, not things that are guaranteed to get plenty of likes, I learn things about my friends. 

I shared an emotional story about a specific aspect of mental health, and I found out who amongst my friends sympathised with that because they also have that issue or support a close friend or family member who have it. 

In today's society, we are so scatterbrained with the myriad of things that we have to think about. I usually find success with Social Media when I focus on a single topic. Topics are great because they are usually tags and can be found in all kinds of search engines. 

For every topic, there are a definite number of users, likes and any other statistic you can think of. Everyone has varying levels of interest with every topic, which is important to consider depending on whether you're trying to sell something, build a network, learn a language, socialise, rally support or crowd fund. 

Some people are more focused than others, but it is the focused people, not the unfocused people, who will pay for memberships, organise activities and do work. So want more positive engagement from your social networking sites? Forget "likes." 

**The writer is based at Acton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

Pakistan, US researchers launch artificial intelligence study


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The researchers at the Aga Khan University and the University of Virginia are collaborating on an innovative project that will harness the power of artificial intelligence to understand a particularly complex disorder of the intestine, Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED).

The EED, often referred to as a neglected disease of poverty, is widespread among children in low-income countries such as Pakistan where the population is exposed to contaminated water and poor sanitation. 

The EED hinders the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients compromising children’s growth potential and leaving them vulnerable to a range of diseases. 

The data scientists have already demonstrated how ‘intelligent’ computers can outperform experienced radiologists and pathologists in detecting signs of disease in x-rays and biopsies. 

Dr Sana Syed, an assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia and Dr Asad Ali, associate dean for research at Aga Khan University, are now applying ‘deep learning’, a type of artificial intelligence, to train a computer programme to analyse microscopic images of tissue located deep inside the small intestine.

The initiative, funded through an Engineering in Medicine grant from the University of Virginia (UVa), will be conducted in collaboration with the Data Science Institute at UVa. 

The project will see computers break down the size, shape and structure of images of the intestine’s cells into a matrix of numbers. 

Every number corresponds to a pixel, the smallest unit of an image, and as the programme scans more of these images, it becomes alert to abnormal patterns. 

Eventually, the computer will learn to compare images of healthy intestines to those affected with EED and to pinpoint the differences at the cellular level that trigger the disorder. 

The images of intestines affected by EED being studied come from work in SEEM, a USD $13m multi-country grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. SEEM is co-led by Dr Asad Ali, associate dean of research at Aga Khan University, and Dr Sean R Moore at the University of Virginia. 

Along with the images from SEEM, Dr Syed will also be analysing images held in the University of Virginia’s pathology archives as well as those provided by collaborators from the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine.

“Applying cutting edge data science methods on these images will help us decipher this complex, high-dimensional biomedical data, and yield insights that will improve the way we diagnose the disease,” Dr Sana Syed, assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia, remarked. 

“Advances in computing technology offer a neutral, systematic way to process huge amounts of data and this enables us to pursue a multiomics approach where we analyse information on proteins, chemical compounds and even microorganisms to study all the biological changes caused by EED. This knowledge could then be used to test nutritional or pharmacological interventions that can reduce the harmful health effects of EED.” 

In the longer-term, Dr Syed and Dr Ali believe that these insights could also transform the way doctors diagnose EED. At present, the only way to conclusively identify the disease is through a biopsy, an invasive procedure that involves extracting tissue samples from a person’s intestine. 

The researchers aim to use the insights from their work to create a comprehensive set of screening biomarkers, chemical warning signs, that would help future clinicians diagnose EED through a simple blood or urine test. 

“The EED is one of the drivers of chronic public health problems in the developing world such as malnutrition, stunting, and poor response to vaccines,” Dr Asad Ali said. 

“Addressing EED will help us unsettle the vicious cycle of poverty triggering poor health, and poor health leading to poverty,” he added. 

The SEEM is a multi-institutional partnership focused on the EED. The partners on the project include AKU, the University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Washington University.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

NBP, Balochistan sign agreement for automation of tax collections


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) has signed an agreement with Balochistan’s Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics department for the automation of tax collection system across the province.

The agreement was signed by Muhammad Farooq, NBP’s Executive Vice President, Payment Services and Digital Banking Group and Fateh Muhammad Khajak, Director General Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics Balochistan. 

The NBP President, Saeed Ahmad and Balochistan’s Secretary Excise and Taxation, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari were also present at the occasion. 

The JazzCash is collaborating with NBP in the tax automation project. 

Speaking at the occasion, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari, Secretary Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics, Balochistan, said that earlier the taxes were collected manually through NBP’s branches, which had its own challenges and complications. 

Reconciliation of collected money was one of the biggest problem while at times transparency and timeliness were compromised in manual system, he added and said that the implementation of new automated system would make the process much easier for customers and will provide real time validation as well. 

Saeed Ahmad, President NBP said that automation and digitization of all government procedures and payments & taxes collections is one of the primary objectives all federal and provincial governments to achieve complete E- governance. The NBP is assisting all the provincial governments in digitalizing their various payments, fee and taxes collection systems.

He mentioned that the NBP has already inked MoUs and agreements with various provincial and federal departments for digitally collecting their fee and payments including Directorate General of Immigration & Passports, Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, Public Service Commission KPK, Islamabad Traffic Police, Driving License Sindh and Dealer Vehicle Registration System (DVRS) and collection of e-Tax in Punjab. 

He further stated that NBP was playing a major role in enhancing the financial inclusion by aligning with digital banking revolutions in Pakistan. NBP is in process of developing systems for digitization of all G2P & P2G payments. 

He highlighted that NBP is actively working to digitalize its banking services built on a collaborative model with Telcos and other stakeholders. This will help in promoting Alternate Delivery Channels and enabling the right environment for inclusive growth and achieve the goal of financial inclusion, Saeed added.

Being a public institution, he said, it is our mandate to develop a digital suite of financial services with an access to market players through any available digital channels for enhanced customer convenience with focus on enabling e-governance infrastructure. Our substantial participation in e-credit program, as well as forging links with other stakeholders including telecom service providers is expected to boost formalization of the economy. 

He said that the bank’s biggest projects recently, was to rapidly grow our ATM network which already grew from 376 ATMs in the year 2014 to over 1,000 ATMs in the year 2016. This exponential growth in our ATMs extended financial services to far flung areas of the country, where previously no other bank had ventured even in the remotest of areas in FATA. 

He said that his aim is to geographically cover the NBP’s services from the peaks of Karakoram to the Arid Zones of Baluchistan.

Regarding the agreement with Balochistan tax department, President NBP said that the NBP has chosen JazzCash to be its official partner in branchless banking project.

People could pay their due taxes and payments from the JazzCash outlets and shops across Baluchistan and they wouldn’t need to visit Excise and Taxation department. 

Through this service, outstanding amounts of the relevant taxes can be extracted and payment options will be available for real time collections through JazzCash. Saeed said that this facility will minimize the operational hassles of the Excise and Taxation Department and also provide convenience, comfort, transparency and fast track options to general public. 

Saeed Ahmad said that initially this will be rolled out through JazzCash and gradually other partner mobile money operators as well as ADCs of the bank i.e Mobile App. And ATMs will be added in due course. 

The NBP’s Head of Central Payment Services and Digital Banking Group, Farhan Durrani, Muhammad Sultan Jaffar, Regional Head Quetta, NBP, Qazi Muhammad Ali/Director IT Excise and Taxation, Faheem Mumtaz, Head of B2G JazzCash, Muhammad Ghufran Abbassi, Regional Head, MFS JazzCash, Naveed Ejaz, Regional Head, B2G JazzCash, Shakeel Tareen, Regional Head Sales, Balochistan Jazz Cash and others attended the ceremony.

Friday, May 18, 2018

AKU study reveals hypertension growth in rural Sindh


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

 A study exploring the risk posed by high blood pressure in rural areas of Sindh has found alarmingly low awareness of the disease, and numerous cases of uncontrolled blood pressure despite the use of medication.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often seen as a ‘lifestyle disease’ that is common in urban areas where risk factors such as stress, poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are common. 

However, findings from a baseline survey conducted by Aga Khan University in 10 rural areas of Thatta, released on May 17, World Hypertension Day, point to the disease being a public health threat in rural areas as well. 

One in three adults in Pakistan is already living with high blood pressure, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. The study noted a similar prevalence in rural areas with one in five adults over the age of 40 living with hypertension. 

Researchers also found low awareness of the disease with six out of ten people suffering from high blood pressure not knowing that they had the disease. Even those taking medication were at a high risk of health complications associated with hypertension since the survey found that more than seven out of ten people on anti-hypertensive drugs continued to suffer from uncontrolled blood pressure.

The baseline survey was part of an ongoing multi-country collaborative trial Primary Care Strategies to Reduce High Blood Pressure: A Cluster Randomized Trial in Rural Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  
One of the striking findings of the study was the prevalence of inadequate treatment for hypertension as nearly 90 per cent of individuals in the study were only taking a single blood pressure drug. 

However, effective control of blood pressure requires most patients to take more than one anti-hypertensive medication. 

Moreover, the study found that just under half of all patients (48 per cent) were not taking their medicines regularly which also increased their vulnerability to the disease. High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in Pakistan, and can also lead to the onset of other non-communicable diseases such diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. 

“Hypertension has reached epidemic levels in Pakistan and other South Asian countries,” Dr Imtiaz Jehan, associate professor at AKU and principal investigator of the study in Pakistan, remarked. 

“We must focus on how to prevent new cases and on ways to improve existing hypertension management care. We plan to use insights from our ongoing study to determine which solutions can be integrated into the public healthcare systems thereby saving the most lives.” 

The control and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as hypertension is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for a one-third reduction in deaths caused by such diseases by 2030. 

“The growing burden of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan means that this trial will generate evidence that is likely to inform much needed NCD care program planning which will improve the performance of health systems,” Dr Sameen Siddiqui, chair of the department of community health sciences at AKU, observed. 

The study’s principal investigator Professor Tazeen Jafar from Duke National University of Singapore Medical School said: "The majority of individuals with treated hypertension have uncontrolled blood pressure in rural Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with significant disparities among and within countries. Urgent public health efforts are needed to improve access and adherence to anti-hypertensive medications in disadvantaged populations in rural South Asia.” 

The study in Pakistan is part of a multi-country research collaboration called COBRA-BPS (Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mayor praises KMC fire fighters


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Mayor of Karachi, Wasim Akhtar, has declared the fire fighters as heroes, complimenting them for putting their own life in danger to save lives and property of other people.

“The World Fire Fighters Day reminds us the sacrifices of fire fighters and great work which they did all over the world. The fire brigade of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) will be provided modern facilities and all necessary equipment and apparatus which are required to put off fire in any metropolitan city. The Sindh government as well as the federal government have been requested to provide funds for fire brigade so that this department could be made even more effective and better,” he remarked in his message on on the World Fire Fighter’s Day celebrated on May 4. 

Mayor Wasim Akhtar stated that Karachi was a big city where many industrial zones as well as commercial centers with high rise buildings existed along with densely populated areas where in case of fire eruption, fire brigade has to take instant action and reach the site of incident and start the fire extinguishing operation.

“In order to enable our fire fighters do their important job effectively and safely we need to fulfill their requirements and provide them with maximum machinery, vehicles and equipment so that they could perform in any situation,” he said.

He added that upgrading fire brigade in the city was included in the annual development plan and fire fighters have been provided with better facilities. 

The Mayor acknowledged that the fire fighters of KMC had performed excellently in past despite of having no modern equipment and machinery to put off fire in the city therefore they deserved our praise and appreciation.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Karachi Mayor reviews Nazimabad underpass development works




By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Mayor of Karachi, Wasim Akhtar, regretted that no attention was paid on the maintenance of city underpasses during the decade alleging that the Sindh Government was only doing development works on papers as none of the ministers or even MPA was seen on roads, unwilling to leave their air-conditioned rooms for the cause of a city not belonging to them. 

“80 percent of our Rs 80-crore budget being spent on sewerage works and I will send the bill of sewerage works to the Sindh Government. We are doing development works on the ground and are among the people. We are third tier of government and I have full support of the elected city council.”

He expressed these views while talking to media representatives on a visit to Nazimabad underpass on May 3 to review and inspect the road carpeting and other uplift works. 

MNA Kanwar Naveed Jamil, MPA Mahfooz Yar Khan, Vice Chairman DMC Central Shakir Ali, Chairman of City Council Works Committee Hassan Naqvi, MC Central Afaq Saeed, Chief Engineer and Executive Engineer were also present on this occasion. 

 The Mayor informed that the road carpeting work in the Nazimabad, Liaquatabad and Gharibabad underpasses was being done with a cost of Rs two crores.

He said that besides improving the roads in underpasses, their drainage system will also be made better and whole system will be overhauled to make these underground corridors safe and convenient for citizens. 

Wasim Akhtar remarked that in past these underpasses were having lot of problems and street crimes happened there whereas many people got injured and killed in accidents in these underpasses but no one paid attention to this serious problem of Karachi. 

He said with the start of uplift works in the underpasses rain water will not stay in these passes during rains and citizens would have this facility to use them in rainy season also. The Mayor of Karachi stated that the elected representatives were in regular contact with the people in their area and all development works being done under their guidance and consultation.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Typhoid vaccine approved in Pakistan


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

A new typhoid conjugate vaccine is to be added to the National Expanded Programme for Immunization following new evidence about the threat posed by a strain of typhoid that is extremely difficult to treat with antibiotics.

An outbreak of extensively-drug resistant (XDR) typhoid in Hyderabad has already affected many children. The research from Aga Khan University (AKU), presented at the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group meeting in Islamabad, shows that cases are now appearing in Karachi, rural areas on the outskirts of Sindh, as well as in Quetta and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

The results of an emergency vaccination campaign launched by the Sindh health department in the worst-affected talukas of Hyderabad in January 2018 were also presented. The data showed that the typhoid conjugate vaccine was safe with no adverse events being noted in 99.7 per cent of children who received doses. 

The Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination will now submit an application to GAVI, a global, public-private partnership committed to increasing access to immunization, to seek funding for the vaccination.

“The recent GAVI commitment of US$ 85 million in funding to support the introduction of typhoid conjugate vaccines is a great opportunity for Pakistan. We have previously introduced vaccines against pneumonia, diarrhea and the injectable polio vaccine. The launch of the typhoid vaccine will be another step towards improving the immunity of our children against disease,” Dr Syed Saqlain Ahmad Gilani, national programme manager for the federal Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI), stated. 

With this addition, the EPI would vaccinate children against 10 deadly diseases like diphtheria, hepatitis B, meningitis, measles, childhood tuberculosis, tetanus, pneumonia, whooping cough, polio and now typhoid. 

“We are running out of medicines that can treat typhoid as the new XDR strain is resistant to five classes of antibiotics. Immunization is the only feasible option we have left against this superbug and since this vaccine has been demonstrated to be safe, we now need to intensify our efforts to bring it to every child in Pakistan,” Farah Qamar, associate professor of paediatrics at AKU, explained. 

Over 1,000 cases of XDR typhoid have been noted in Hyderabad and Karachi since 2016; this is alarming since only six cases of drug-resistant typhoid were found in the whole of Pakistan over a five-year period between 2009 and 2014. 

 Dr Anita Zaidi, Director of Vaccine Development, Surveillance, and Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and an AKU alumna, was also involved in global efforts to generate evidence of the efficacy for this vaccine against typhoid fever. 

“For too long, typhoid, which invariably affects the world’s poorest people, has been neglected in efforts to improve global health. With this new vaccine, the first-ever to be useful for preventing typhoid in young children countries, will finally be able to protect millions of children who are most vulnerable to this deadly disease,” she observed.

The research and advocacy efforts were backed by a team at AKU including Professor Rumina Hasan, Professor Zahra Hasan and Dr Sadia Shakoor from the department of pathology and microbiology, Dr Farah Qamar, Dr Tahir Yousafzai and Dr Momin Kazi from the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU. 

The control and prevention of water-borne diseases such as typhoid is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for the eradication of such diseases by 2030.