India battles fatal fungal threat as coronavirus deaths near 300,000

India battles fatal fungal threat as coronavirus deaths near 300,000
An Indian doctor checks a man who recovered from COVID-19 and now infected with black fungus at the mucormycosis ward of a government hospital in Hyderabad, India. (AP)
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Updated 23 May 2021

India battles fatal fungal threat as coronavirus deaths near 300,000

India battles fatal fungal threat as coronavirus deaths near 300,000
  • The life-threatening condition, known as mucormycosis, is relatively rare but could further complicate India’s fight against the pandemic

NEW DELHI: Doctors in India are fighting a fatal fungal infection affecting COVID-19 patients or those who have recovered from the disease amid a coronavirus surge that has driven the country’s fatalities to nearly 300,000.
The life-threatening condition, known as mucormycosis, is relatively rare but doctors suspect that the sudden increase in the infection could further complicate India’s fight against the pandemic.
India has reported more than 26 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, with almost half occurring in the past two months. On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported 3,741 new deaths, driving India’s confirmed fatalities to 299,266.
It also reported 240,842 new infections, as daily cases remained below 300,000 for a week. The numbers are almost certainly undercounts, with many cases likely being missed due to limited testing.
Experts say new infections in India, which had been rising steeply, may finally be slowing. But there are some early indications that mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus,” is fast becoming a cause of worry.
Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mold, which is commonly found in soil, air and even in the nose and mucus of humans. It spreads through the respiratory tract and erodes facial structures. Sometimes, doctors have to surgically remove the eye to stop the infection from reaching the brain.
On Saturday, federal minister Sadananda Gowda said nearly 9,000 cases had been reported in India so far, leading to a shortage of Amphotericin B, the drug used to treat the condition.
Gowda didn’t share the number of fatalities, but local media have said more than 250 have died because of the disease.
Health officials were working to alleviate the drug shortage, which comes at a time when the country is already short on supplies of oxygen and other health care needs, Gowda said.
Mucormycosis has a high mortality rate and was already present in India before the pandemic. It is not contagious but its frequency in the last month has left doctors shocked.
“It is a new challenge and things are looking bleak,” said Ambrish Mithal, the chairman and head of the endocrinology and diabetes department at Max Healthcare, a chain of private hospitals in India.
Mithal said the fungal infection preys on patients with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions, particularly diabetes, and irrational usage of steroids. Uncontrolled blood sugar can put immunocompromised people at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
“Earlier I used to come across just a few cases every year but the current infection rate is frightening,” said Mithal.
The latest surge of coronavirus infections in rural India has already taken a toll. Now heath experts are worried that over-the-counter medication, including steroids, can increase the prevalence of mucormycosis.
SK Pandey, a medical officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Uttar Pradesh state’s Lucknow city, said that unqualified doctors were giving steroids to patients in many rural areas without giving a thought whether they require it or not.
“This has led to increase in black fungus cases in smaller cities where the patient has not even been hospitalized,” he said.
India’s Health Ministry on Thursday asked states to track the spread of the condition and declare it an epidemic, making it mandatory for all medical facilities to report the cases to a federal surveillance network.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday called the disease a “new challenge.”


Japan condemns Sudan military leaders

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders
Updated 13 sec ago

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders
  • Japan called for an immediate, safe, and unconditional release of Prime Minister Hamdok and other detained senior government officials

TOKYO: Japan strongly condemned the Sudanese security and armed forces’ actions of detaining prime minister Hamdok and other senior government officials and opening fire on the anti-military demonstrators, leaving many casualties.

“The government of Japan is deeply concerned about Sudan’s situation and condemns dissolving the Transitional Government by the arms forces,” an official statement by the foreign ministry said. “Such actions undermine the transition to civilian rule based on the Constitutional Declaration.”

Japan called for an immediate, safe, and unconditional release of Prime Minister Hamdok and other detained senior government officials.

“Japan closely cooperates with the international community and calls for the restoration of transition to civilian rule in Sudan,” the statement said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 sec ago

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases
  • Since the pandemic began, Poland has reported 2,990,509 cases and 76,672 deaths

Poland reported 8,361 daily COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths on Wednesday, the health ministry said.
Since the pandemic began Poland, a country of around 38 million, has reported 2,990,509 cases and 76,672 deaths.


India’s top court probes spying charges against government

India’s top court probes spying charges against government
Updated 8 min 55 sec ago

India’s top court probes spying charges against government

India’s top court probes spying charges against government
  • India’s opposition has been demanding an investigation into how the Israeli spyware, known as Pegasus, was used in India

NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Wednesday established a committee of experts to look into accusations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government used Israeli military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists.
The Supreme Court order came in response to petitions filed by a group of Indian journalists, rights activists and opposition politicians following an investigation by a global media consortium in July. The committee, headed by a retired judge, is expected to give its findings by year-end.
India’s opposition has been demanding an investigation into how the Israeli spyware, known as Pegasus, was used in India.
Modi’s government has “unequivocally” denied all allegations regarding illegal surveillance. India’s information technology minister Ashwani Vaishnaw in Parliament dismissed the allegations in July, calling them “highly sensational,” “over the top” and “an attempt to malign the Indian democracy.”
But the government in an affidavit did not tell the court whether it used the Israeli equipment for spying, citing security reasons.
On Wednesday, the court said the state cannot get a free pass every time by raising security concerns.
“Violation of the right to privacy, freedom of speech, as alleged in pleas, needs to be examined,” the Press Trust of India cited Chief Justice N.V. Ramanna as saying.
Based on leaked targeting data, the findings by a global media consortium provided evidence that the spyware from the Israel-based NSO Group, the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company, was allegedly used to infiltrate devices belonging to a range of targets, including journalists, activists and political opponents in 50 countries.
The company said in July it only sells to “vetted government agencies” for use against terrorists and major criminals and that it has no visibility into its customers’ data.
Critics call those claims dishonest and have provided evidence that NSO directly manages the high-tech spying. They say the repeated abuse of Pegasus spyware highlights the nearly complete lack of regulation of the private global surveillance industry.
Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, that allows hackers to spy on reporters’ communications with sources.
Rights groups say the findings bolster accusations that not only autocratic regimes but also democratic governments, including India, have used the spyware for political ends.


Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96
Updated 27 October 2021

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96
  • Sunao Tsuboi was on his way to engineering school in 1945 when the first nuclear bomb attack was launched by the US

TOKYO: Hiroshima A-bomb survivor Sunao Tsuboi, who became a prominent campaigner for nuclear disarmament and met Barack Obama on his historic visit to the city, has died aged 96, his advocacy group said Wednesday.
Tsuboi was on his way to engineering school in 1945 when the first nuclear bomb attack was launched by the United States, turning the bustling metropolis into an inferno.
“I suffered burns all over my body,” he said in 2016. “Naked, I tried to run away for about three hours on August 6 but finally could no longer walk.”
Then aged 20, he picked up a small rock and wrote on the ground “Tsuboi dies here,” before losing consciousness and waking up several weeks later.
He later developed cancer and other diseases but became a prominent advocate for atomic bomb survivors and a lifelong campaigner for a nuclear-free world.
“I can tolerate hardships for the sake of human happiness. I may die tomorrow but I’m optimistic. I will never give up. We want zero nuclear weapons,” he said.
Tsuboi was among a handful of Hiroshima survivors who met then US president Obama when he visited the city in 2016.
He smiled broadly as he shook Obama’s hand, with the two men conversing for upwards of a minute. “I was able to convey my thoughts,” a satisfied Tsuboi said afterwards.
Tsuboi “passed away on Saturday due to anaemia,” an official from Nihon Hidankyo — a group that represents survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of which Tsuboi was a key leader — said.
There are 127,755 survivors of both attacks still alive and their average age is 84, according to the health ministry.
Around 140,000 people died in the bombing of Hiroshima, a toll that includes those who survived the explosion but died soon after from radiation exposure.
Three days later the US dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 74,000 people and leading to the end of World War II.


US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
Updated 27 October 2021

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
  • Iran has said for more than a month that it would ‘soon’ return to indirect talks in Vienna with the US on resuming compliance with the accord

WASHINGTON: Efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are at a “critical phase” and Tehran’s reasons for avoiding talks are wearing thin, a US official has said while raising the possibility of further diplomacy even if the deal cannot be resuscitated.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told reporters Washington was increasingly worried Tehran would keep delaying a return to talks, but said it had other tools to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would use them if need be.

“We’re in a critical phase of the efforts to see whether we can revive the JCPOA,” Malley said, referring to the deal formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We’ve had a hiatus of many months and the official reasons given by Iran for why we’re in this hiatus are wearing very thin.”

While saying that the window for both the US and Iran to resume compliance with the agreement would eventually close, Malley said the US would still be willing to engage in diplomacy with Iran even as it weighed other options to prevent Tehran from getting the bomb.

He also hinted at the economic benefits that might flow from Iran’s return to the agreement, under which Tehran took steps to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions.

While saying the window for returning to the JCPOA will not be open forever because eventually Iran’s nuclear advances will have overtaken it, Malley said Washington would continue to look for diplomatic arrangements with Tehran.

“You can’t revive a dead corpse,” he said, stressing that the US had not reached that point yet. “We will continue to pursue diplomacy, even as we pursue other steps if we face a world in which we need to do that.”

Malley refused to describe those other steps. Since talks in Vienna on reviving the deal adjourned in June, Washington has increasingly spoken of pursuing other options, a phrase that hints at the possibility, however remote, of military action.

The envoy, who spent last week consulting US partners in the Gulf and in Europe, emphasized that all sides had “a strong preference for diplomacy, for an effort to revive the JCPOA and, were that to happen, to find ways to engage Iran economically.”