Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
3 / 5
The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
5 / 5
The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
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Updated 05 May 2021

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
  • Akhtar and her team of 16 volunteers feed nearly 1,600 people at ‘Mehman Khana’ every day
  • Plans to run the program for ‘as long as the pandemic continues’

DHAKA: There is a long queue of people waiting outside Asma Akhter Liza’s house in a quaint corner of the Lalmatia residential area of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

The doors of her house will soon open, and Liza, along with a team of 16 volunteers, will begin dishing out free food to the poor and needy in her neighborhood exactly an hour before sunset when Muslims break their dawn-to-dusk fast with an iftar or an evening meal.

The scene has played on repeat since the first day of Ramadan this year when Liza, 36, continued the “Mehman Khana” — or guest house initiative — which she launched during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown last year.

The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.

“On average, we feed around 1,600 people every day,” Liza told Arab News.

“We also send nearly 400 food packs to different houses in the area. These were all solvent families, but due to the pandemic, they lost their jobs and source of income and felt too embarrassed to queue up for food,” she added.

Each food pack contains dates, lentils, diced cucumbers, puffed rice, a jalebi (deep-fried dessert) and lemonade. 

On Fridays, the menu includes a beef curry with boiled rice and vegetables.

It costs Liza 50 cents to make each pack, with nearly $500 set aside for the initiative every day.

“I do it with my funds and also through the support offered by some friends and relatives. Sometimes, people from the community help me with basic food items too,” she said, adding that a few businesses had offered to sponsor the initiative. But Liza had other plans: “I don’t want to make it a corporate program with big banners, so I declined their offer.” 

Liza, who has been working with underprivileged children at various orphanages for several years, launched her program to feed two dozen street children in Lalmatia.

After losing three of her newborn children “due to health complications,” Liza said she wanted to help other children in need.

“I could see my children in the faces of these helpless street children, which prompted me to initiate this service,” she said.

What began with free meals for 24 street kids soon expanded to 800 people after “so many started approaching me for food.”

However, soon she hit a roadblock due to a severe shortage of funds even as the number of people in need of aid increased every day.

“I couldn’t continue the services for many days, so I cut it down from a daily program to once a week, on Fridays,” she said.

This year, starting from the first week of April, when the government reinforced the coronavirus lockdown, Liza said she decided to reach out to more distressed people during Ramadan.

Supporting her in the initiative are five women and 11 men who help with the food preps and packing from 11 a.m. every day.

“I found out about this initiative through Facebook last year and wanted to join it as a volunteer,” Aeyasha Ferdousi, 39, a primary school teacher from Kustia, 170 km from Dhaka, told Arab News.

“Initially, I would allocate only a few hours of my time. But this year, with schools closed due to the lockdown... I joined Liza full time,” she added.

Ferdousi says Liza’s initiative has had a domino effect, with plans in place to replicate the idea in Kustia.

“I was so moved by the program, and I want to replicate it in my hometown. With experience gained after working with Liza, I think I can manage it without any hassles,” Ferdousi added.

Another volunteer, 19-year-old Syed Sabet Banani, an engineering student from Chottogram, 245 km from Dhaka, is also extending his support for the program.

“During this pandemic, I had nothing to do except sit idle at home. So, I decided to dedicate my time to people most in need of it,” Banani told Arab News.

Some of Mehman Khana’s beneficiaries said the initiative has been a “godsend for all.”

“This iftar saves me at least 50 cents every day. The money I save helps me provide for my family in our village,” Mohammad Ator Ali, 59, a rickshaw puller from Mirpur, told Arab News.

Another rickshaw puller, Yasin Miah, said the food aid program had been a “great help” to many like him who were otherwise worried about sourcing money for a daily meal.

“I don’t get enough passengers in these lockdown days, and my income also decreased. At least now I don’t need to spend any money for iftar,” Miah told Arab News.

Liza said she has vowed to keep the guest house open for as long as the pandemic continues.

“I am really grateful to my husband and in-laws for supporting me in my initiative. I find peace in this and will continue doing it until life gets back to normal,” she said.


‘Long Covid’ symptoms ease after vaccine: Survey

‘Long Covid’ symptoms ease after vaccine: Survey
Updated 59 min 26 sec ago

‘Long Covid’ symptoms ease after vaccine: Survey

‘Long Covid’ symptoms ease after vaccine: Survey
  • Study suggests mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer, Moderna particularly beneficial
  • Analysis author: ‘Data very encouraging but we don’t know how long benefits last’

LONDON: COVID-19 vaccines tend to alleviate the symptoms of the medical phenomenon known as “long Covid,” according to a survey involving 800 people.

The study suggests that mRNA vaccines are particularly beneficial in battling long Covid symptoms.

The virus was initially understood to be a largely respiratory illness that most people would recover from within a month, but people started to report symptoms that continued for many months. 

Medical experts are still hunting for a consensus definition for the phenomenon, with people suffering from chronic fatigue to organ damage.

There are also mysteries surrounding appropriate and effective treatment plans that can be standardized across the population.

But anecdotal reports have so far suggested that vaccines can help some people who are still struggling with COVID-19 symptoms long after their original infection.

The analysis has yet to be peer reviewed, but the results of the survey by advocacy group LongCovidSOS could offer medical practitioners a pathway to restoring normalcy to many.

The survey consisted of 812 mostly white, female participants with long Covid in Britain and internationally, who were contacted via social media. 

The participants were asked to wait at least a week after their first dose of the jab to prevent their responses being affected by vaccine side effects.

Changes across 14 common long Covid symptoms were compared before and after the first inoculation. 

LongCovidSOS data found that 56.7 percent of respondents experienced an overall improvement in symptoms, with 24.6 percent reporting no changes and 18.7 percent finding that their symptoms worsened after the jab.

In general, participants who received mRNA vaccines (such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs) reported more improvements in symptoms than those who got an adenovirus vaccine (Oxford-AstraZeneca). 

The Moderna vaccine was found to have the most promising results, with participants seeing the greatest improvements in symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle pain.

The analysis found that Moderna recipients were also less likely to endure a deterioration in their ailments.

“This survey will reassure people that they would have to be quite unlucky to really have an overall worsening of symptoms,” said LongCovidSOS analysis author Ondine Sherwood. “The data is very encouraging, but we don’t know how long the benefits last.”

Dr. David Strain, an analysis author and senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said: “There isn’t a blood pressure tablet that fixes everybody … and similarly, there’s not one long Covid treatment that’s going to fix everyone — but the fact that one treatment does fix something means that there’s bound to be other treatments out there that will fix others.”

As the assessment was via survey, there can be no definitive proof to show that the vaccine caused the improvement in symptoms.

After suffering from long Covid symptoms for so long, the improvement could have come from natural regeneration. 

However, Strain said of the 130 people in the survey who received both vaccine doses, some improved after their first jab — before finding their situation worsening again — and then improved further after their second inoculation.

But Nisreen Alwan, an associate professor in public health at the University of Southampton, warned that as the improvement in symptoms had abated in about half the participants by the time they completed the survey, the analysis could show that the vaccine-inspired improvement was fleeting.

Mystery remains about the cause of long Covid, with some experts theorizing that it could involve the persistence of the virus remaining within the body — such as fragments of the virus lingering after infection — and the immune system overreacting to the remaining virus and damaging healthy tissues.

Strain said the LongCovidSOS analysis suggested that COVID-19 vaccines help to reset the immune system, telling it to target the virus and spare itself.

But he cautioned that this explanation is speculation and will need further investigation to be supported.

Prof. Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said: “How could a vaccine make a subset of long-term sufferers feel better? It’s tempting to hypothesise that this was the subset who had symptoms due to a reservoir of virus that was never properly cleared, and the enormous boost of a potent vaccine equipped them with the immune response to do this. This needs mechanistic investigation of the actual immune responses.”


Over 96% of people build antibodies after single COVID-19 jab: Study

Over 96% of people build antibodies after single COVID-19 jab: Study
Updated 18 May 2021

Over 96% of people build antibodies after single COVID-19 jab: Study

Over 96% of people build antibodies after single COVID-19 jab: Study
  • Lead author: ‘It’s a real feat of science in the face of the most devastating pandemic in a century’
  • ‘How well these vaccines work is remarkable, especially given the speed at which they’ve been developed’

LONDON: More than 96 percent of people develop coronavirus antibodies after receiving only a single dose of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine, new research has revealed. 

The England- and Wales-based study, which monitored more than 8,000 participants, also discovered that almost 100 percent of people develop immune cells to successfully fight off coronavirus after two vaccine doses.

Researchers found that 96.42 percent of people who received the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine developed antibodies 28-34 days after a first dose. 

The figure grew to 99.08 percent within seven to 14 days of receiving a second jab, The Guardian newspaper reported.

“This is one of the earliest real-world vaccine studies in the UK and it is fantastic news,” said Dr. Maddie Shrotri, lead author of the research paper.

“More than nine out of 10 adults in the UK who had either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine produced antibodies against the virus within a month of their first shot,” she added.

“How well these vaccines work is remarkable, especially given the speed at which they’ve been developed. It’s a real feat of science in the face of the most devastating pandemic in a century.”

The study, conducted by University College London (UCL) scientists, could have positive implications on the worldwide fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It will be placed through a peer review process before submission to a medical journal.

UCL scientists found that both vaccines were equally capable of triggering the antibody response that can ward off severe coronavirus infections.

However, antibody levels after a single jab were discovered to be lower in older people and those with underlying health conditions, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. That discrepancy was later resolved after participants received a second vaccine dose.

The study is a “timely reminder” about the importance of receiving a second dose, said Prof. Rob Aldridge, chief investigator of the UCL study. “But it is also reassuring — vaccines are our way out of the pandemic.”


Spanish troops deploy in Ceuta after thousands of migrants break in from Morocco

Migrants, including minors, who arrived swimming at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, rest as Spanish soldiers stand guard on May 18, 2021 in Ceuta. (AFP)
Migrants, including minors, who arrived swimming at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, rest as Spanish soldiers stand guard on May 18, 2021 in Ceuta. (AFP)
Updated 18 May 2021

Spanish troops deploy in Ceuta after thousands of migrants break in from Morocco

Migrants, including minors, who arrived swimming at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, rest as Spanish soldiers stand guard on May 18, 2021 in Ceuta. (AFP)
  • Videos shared online showed migrants entering Ceuta earlier, by swimming and by climbing over the fence, unimpeded by Moroccan authorities

CUETA: Spain has deployed troops to Ceuta to patrol the border with Morocco after thousands of migrants swam into the northern African enclave, in what Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a serious crisis for Spain and Europe.

Soldiers in armored vehicles were guarding Ceuta's beach on Tuesday. Dozens of migrants swimming and wading close to the beach appeared to be moving away from where troops stood. Hundreds of other potential migrants stood on the Moroccan side of the fence that separates the Spanish enclave from Morocco.

Videos shared online showed migrants entering Ceuta earlier, by swimming and by climbing over the fence, unimpeded by Moroccan authorities.

According to some experts, Morocco uses the tactic of alowing migrants into Ceuta as an instrument of pressure on Madrid, which angered Rabat last month by admitting the leader of Western Sahara's rebel Polisario Front to a Spanish hospital.

“This is happening because of the absolute passivity of the Moroccan authorities,” Ceuta regional leader Juan Jose Vivas told 24H TV channel, adding that the situation was chaotic and it was now impossible to say how many migrants had entered.

“This transcends migration, we are talking about (Spain's) territorial integrity, sovereignty and borders.”

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said as many as 6,000 migrants, including about 1,500 minors, swam into Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday. He said about 2,700 had already been sent back to Morocco.

His ministry said Morocco was accepting all the migrants being sent back under a readmission deal.

In Ceuta, adult arrivals were being transferred to a local stadium before deportation, while minors were being sent to an industrial building.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas tweeted that the enclave's frontier was a European border, expressing his “full solidarity with Spain” and calling for a European pact on migration and “strong protection of our borders.”

Morocco has a claim on Ceuta and another Spanish enclave, Melilla.

Ceuta, with a population of 80,000, is located on the northern tip of Morocco across from Gibraltar. Along with Melilla, it has long been a magnet for African migrants trying to reach Europe in search of a better life.
The Melilla government delegation spokesman said 86 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa broke into the enclave, located about 300km east of Ceuta, early on Tuesday, but a larger group had been blocked by Moroccan police.


Sweden’s third COVID wave ebbing fast as vaccines bite

Sweden’s third COVID wave ebbing fast as vaccines bite
Updated 18 May 2021

Sweden’s third COVID wave ebbing fast as vaccines bite

Sweden’s third COVID wave ebbing fast as vaccines bite
  • More than 40% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine
  • The Nordic country registered 10,017 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has seen the number of cases and intensive care patients drop fast in the recent weeks.
So far more than 40 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
The Nordic country registered 10,017 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday, a decline compared to the 13,812 cases reported during the corresponding period last week.
Sweden has experienced a powerful third wave of the virus with the number of people testing positive per capita among the highest in Europe for months, in stark contrast to its Nordic neighbors where infections have remained relatively subdued throughout the pandemic.
However, with over 40 percent percent of the adult population having received at least one shot of vaccine and around 12 percent fully vaccinated, the number of people in intensive care has still fallen more than 30 percent from a peak three weeks ago.
The vaccine roll-out is also credited for deaths being relatively low this year compared to previous waves of the disease with data suggesting no excess mortality so far in 2021.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 26 new deaths, taking the total to 14,301. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors’ but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.


UK police arrest man after car driven into pro-Palestine protest

UK police arrest man after car driven into pro-Palestine protest
Updated 18 May 2021

UK police arrest man after car driven into pro-Palestine protest

UK police arrest man after car driven into pro-Palestine protest
  • The 51-year-old was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and dangerous driving
  • Social media clips appear to show a car being driven through crowds of protesters in Nottingham

LONDON: British police have arrested a man after a car was driven into pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the English city of Nottingham.

The 51-year-old was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and dangerous driving, officers said. He remains in police custody.

The incident took place on Saturday in the center of the city. Social media clips appear to show a car being driven through crowds of protesters on the streets. One man is thought to have suffered serious leg injuries as a result.