Kurds near Turkey border dread fresh offensive

People attend the funeral of a fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces in the northern Syrian town of Kobani. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
0

Kurds near Turkey border dread fresh offensive

  • Villagers in northeastern Syria seek protection from bombardment
  • The village of Ashma is nestled in olive groves in the region of Kobani and directly looks out onto the Turkish flags and wire fencing that mark the demarcation line

ASHMA: Chimo Osman’s children stopped going to school after Turkish shelling struck his home in northeastern Syria, where Kurdish residents fear another military onslaught is imminent.

In recent days, cross-border Turkish artillery fire has targeted positions held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia in Syria.

Ankara sees the de-facto autonomous rule set up by Syrian Kurds as an encouragement to the separatists of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has close ties to the YPG.

The village of Ashma is nestled in olive groves in the region of Kobani and directly looks out onto the Turkish flags and wire fencing that mark the demarcation line.

The streets of this village and others along the border are empty: “We can’t even venture on the roof anymore,” said Osman.

“We don’t leave the house, the kids are scared,” said the 38-year-old, standing on the steps leading to his front door, with his five children huddled around him.

Nobody can predict when the Turkish forces stationed on the other side of the border will open fire, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Oct. 30 that plans for an assault were complete and vowed to “destroy” the YPG, which he considers a terrorist organization.

One salvo punched a large hole in the second floor of Osman’s house and several other homes in the village were damaged by Turkish fire.

Five YPG fighters and a child have been killed in Turkish shelling that has in recent days mostly targeted Kurdish positions in the Kobani and Tal Abyad areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

The YPG is the backbone of an outfit known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the US-led coalition’s main local ally in its battle against Daesh.

To protest against the Turkish attacks, SDF forces late last month announced they were suspending their involvement in military operations against one of the very last terrorist pockets in eastern Syria.

The move was aimed at obtaining guarantees from their US sponsors that Turkey would not seek to move in across the border as they did in the Kurdish-dominated enclave of Afrin earlier this year.

According to the Britain-based Observatory, more than 330 Kurdish fighters have already perished in the course of the latest offensive against Daesh.

Many fighters waging this deadly battle on terrorists in their remote desert hideouts feel they would rather die protecting their ancestral land from Turkey.

In Kobani cemetery, hundreds of people attended the funeral on Tuesday of an SDF fighter who became the latest casualty of the terrorists' bloody last stand in the Hajjin region.

Women wept over the coffin as patriotic songs were blared on speakers and local officials gave speeches condemning the Turkish bombardment.

“The Turkish state is hostile to the Kurds and we have the right to respond to any attack,” Esmat Sheikh Hassan, a Kobani military official, said at the funeral.

“They don’t differentiate between soldiers and civilians. They strike inhabited villages,” he said, replying to Ankara’s claims its forces only strike military targets.

Hamo Masibkeradi, one of the residents who came to attend the funeral, points to the rows of marble tombstones that mark the graves of fighters who died fighting against Daesh.

“These martyrs fell for humanity. The international community should help us,” he said.

“Erdogan wants to wipe us out. The US cannot allow this injustice.”


Why Saudi Arabia and Middle East must plan for Alzheimer's care challenge

Many people wrongly associate dementia with ageing, experts warn. (Supplied)
Updated 22 September 2019

Why Saudi Arabia and Middle East must plan for Alzheimer's care challenge

  • World Alzheimer's Month is marked every September to raise awareness and challenge stigma
  • Experts say misconceptions about dementia in Saudi Arabia and wider region must be challenged

ABU DHABI: Incurable and increasingly prevalent, dementia is a disease that today affects about 50 million people worldwide. Millions more are diagnosed each year with the most common neurodegenerative form: Alzheimer’s disease. The risks generally increase with age, but many people develop symptoms of dementia before they reach the age of 65.
Inheritable genetic conditions can lead to familial or early-onset Alzheimer’s, which can afflict people as young as 30.
Despite growing awareness of the global impact of dementia, experts say lingering misconceptions around the disease persist in the Middle East, often leading to late diagnosis, stigma and social isolation.
World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia, is marked every September.
The 21st of the month is recognized as the official day to improve public awareness and attitudes regarding the disease.
Experts say there is an immediate need to challenge misconceptions and help some of the most vulnerable people in Middle Eastern communities.
“In my experience, awareness about Alzheimer’s is quite low in the region, so people don’t know too much about this disease,” Dr. Karoly Zoltan Vadasdi, a neurology specialist at Dubai’s Canadian Specialist Hospital, told Arab News.
“There’s an immediate need to take steps or some measures to address this lack of awareness because Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in elderly patients, especially those above the 60-65 age group.”
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, which can start developing decades before obvious symptoms emerge. The disease, which is notoriously hard to slow down, continues to baffle medical scientists despite years of extensive research.
Part of the problem with developing a cure is that the causes of Alzheimer’s are still not fully understood. The disease is also challenging to combat because it is not caused by an invading pathogen, but arises from an individual’s own biology.

DEMENTIA FACTS

● Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing.

● Early symptoms include memory problems, increasing confusion, reduced concentration and personality changes.

● Middle-stage symptoms include forgetfulness about recent events and people’s names, becoming lost at home, increasing difficulty with communication, and needing help with personal care.

● Late-stage symptoms include memory disturbances becoming serious, behavioral changes, loss of awareness of time and place, and difficulty walking and recognizing loved ones.

● Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60–70 percent of cases.

However, for those with early-stage Alzheimer’s, which doctors can spot through brain scans and lumbar punctures, the picture is not entirely bleak. Some medications can reduce memory loss, treat changing cognitive symptoms and aid concentration. Nevertheless, experts say it is essential to further educate the public about the early stages of dementia.
According to 2019 statistics made available by the Saudi Health Ministry, there are 130,000 cases of Alzheimer’s in the Kingdom. Despite the high number, public knowledge about the condition remains limited.
For a 2018 report entitled “Perception and attitude of the general population towards Alzheimer’s disease in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” author Hussein Algahtani and his research team interviewed 1,698 residents in shopping malls and public places.
They found that while 89 percent of participants had heard of Alzheimer’s, 44.9 percent believed that it is a normal part of ageing.
About a third of those asked believed that Alzheimer’s is treatable with medication, while 24.6 percent thought there is no treatment, and about 30 percent believed Saudi society stigmatizes people with the disease.
“There are many conflicting beliefs about Alzheimer’s disease in the general population,” said Algahtani, adding that conducting a study on “public awareness, attitude and knowledge” of it “is useful in decreasing discrimination and stigmatization.”
“The results of the study suggest that the perception of the general public of Alzheimer’s disease is lagging behind,” he said. “Many wrong beliefs were identified in the general public regarding the causes and management,” he added. “The findings of our study suggest that more information about Alzheimer’s disease would be valuable and beneficial for everyone,” said Algahtani.
“Awareness campaigns and public education are needed to increase the knowledge of the public regarding aspects of the disease, including prevention, causes and management,”
he added. “Dissemination of information about Alzheimer’s disease should be of high priority. Increased awareness will lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia cases, and appropriate care and management of those persons.”
The conclusions of Algahtani’s report do not surprise Vadasdi, who said: “The disease is underdiagnosed in the Middle East, which stems from a misconception about Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Vadasdi added: “Most people incorrectly associate dementia with senility, and believe that declining mental health is a normal part of ageing.”
He said: “It’s true that when people get older they get a bit forgetful and become a little slower in thinking, but dementia is never caused by ageing itself.
“It’s important to emphasize that Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, which means there’s a gradual loss of nerve cells in certain parts of the brain.”
Vadasdi said: “Another misconception is that Alzheimer’s or dementia is inherited. People are afraid that if one of their parents has it, they’ll inherit the disease.”
What is undeniable, though, is that full-blown Alzheimer’s is devastating for the patient and has a knock-on effect on family members and friends. “Those who suffer from dementia need continuous, sometimes even 24-hour supervision, depending on the severity of the disease and the loss of cognitive abilities,” said Vadasdi.
“It’s a huge burden for family members, both emotionally and financially. Patients can also suffer from depression or become anxious, agitated or paranoid because of the loss of cognitive functions, including memory, orientation, perception. Family members need a lot of patience when looking after the patient.”
It is believed that more than 2.3 million people in the Middle East and North Africa live with dementia, although the figure is hard to verify.
Some countries have no organization to address the challenge posed by dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Even as he points to an “urgent need to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s in society,” Dr. Hania Sobierajska, a specialist in internal medicine at the UAE’s Bareen International Hospital, praises local health authorities for conducting campaigns and workshops to reduce barriers to diagnosing the disease.
The Saudi Alzheimer’s Disease Association (SADA), one of 90 associations that make up Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), provides support and assistance to patients and their families. To mark World Alzheimer’s Day, the Saudi Health Ministry hosts awareness drives across the Kingdom.
Via SADA, the ministry pays for live-in carers and weekly visits by doctors, nurses, psychologists and therapists, in addition to transport costs and medication.
SADA holds workshops, online training courses for carers, and year-round awareness campaigns on TV, radio and social media.
“Six years ago we hadn’t even heard about the word Alzheimer’s, but lately it has become known through word of mouth, albeit merely as a disease about forgetfulness,” said SADA’s Sara Al-Rasheed. Sobierajska said “the number of communities supporting those with Alzheimer’s” across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc is “insufficient.”
While researchers and scientists continue to hunt for a cure, in a region where over-65s make up only a tiny percentage of the population, cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s are likely to surge as the population ages. Experts say Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC must plan for a health burden that will only grow.