Researchers pin hopes on pan-coronavirus vaccine to end the pandemic

Special Researchers pin hopes on pan-coronavirus vaccine to end the pandemic
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Medics carry out COVID-19 vaccinations during a mass campaign in the Bneid Al-Gar district of Kuwait City on October 11, 2021. (AFP)
Special A man receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination exercise at Wuse market in Abuja, Nigeria on January 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)
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A man receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination exercise at Wuse market in Abuja, Nigeria on January 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)
Special A health worker inoculates a youth with a dose of the Covaxine vaccine at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on January 29, 2022. (Photo by Noah Seelam / AFP)
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A health worker inoculates a youth with a dose of the Covaxine vaccine at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on January 29, 2022. (Photo by Noah Seelam / AFP)
Special A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccine clinic bus at the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccine clinic bus at the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Special A teenager receives a dose of Russia's Sputnik M (Gam-COVID-Vac-M) COVID-19 vaccine in Krasnodar, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vitaliy Timkiv)
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A teenager receives a dose of Russia's Sputnik M (Gam-COVID-Vac-M) COVID-19 vaccine in Krasnodar, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Vitaliy Timkiv)
Special Morocco's King Mohammed VI, center, is briefed about a anti-COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant being launched by Recipharm Company in Ben Slimane, 50 km south of Rabat, on Jan. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Morocco's King Mohammed VI, center, is briefed about a anti-COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant being launched by Recipharm Company in Ben Slimane, 50 km south of Rabat, on Jan. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 01 February 2022

Researchers pin hopes on pan-coronavirus vaccine to end the pandemic

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccine clinic bus at the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
  • Current vaccines have reduced the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, but emerging variants remain a challenge 
  • A pan-coronavirus vaccine could be a game-changer, but only if the global distribution gap is addressed

DUBAI: When a handful of pharmaceutical firms began the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, many thought the worst of the pandemic was over. Indeed, the idea of a tangible weapon against the virus that had killed millions and devastated economies worldwide was temporarily empowering.

Within months, a selection of vaccines hit the market, with countries racing to secure enough doses for their populations in the hope of preventing further disruption. More than 9 billion doses later, with about half the global population “fully vaccinated,” it seemed as though the tide was finally turning against the virus and that normal life could soon resume.

 

 

Sadly, such optimism would prove short-lived. Although the vaccine roll-out reduced the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, alleviating pressure on hospitals and saving many lives, scientists have struggled to contain mutations of the virus, including the latest highly transmissible omicron variant, which has broken through the vaccine shield.

This has forced pharmaceutical firms to return to the drawing board to consider variant-specific vaccines, an extended booster program to prolong immunity, or even “universal” vaccines that can tackle every variant of the virus. Such a pan-coronavirus vaccine could become publicly available in the not too distant future.




Emmanuel Kouvousis

“I believe a fourth (omicron specific) dose could become available in another six to nine months, as long as the omicron variant is dominant,” Emmanuel Kouvousis, a senior scientific adviser at Vesta Care, told Arab News. “However, if another more disruptive variant emerges, then we need to consider a scenario where we get a booster shot every three months.”

Kouvousis says a change in seasons could help delay the emergence of a new variant as the spread of the virus tends to slow in the spring and summer months. This could offer scientists a window of opportunity to get ahead of new variants.

“Many people ask if there will be a solution to this pandemic, and I say absolutely,” Kouvousis said. “There is huge hope that this pandemic will end, firstly because billions of people have been vaccinated and many others have been persuaded that the only way out of this is through vaccines, and secondly, because of a pan-COVID or ‘universal’ vaccine, which is currently in the testing phase.”




With billions of people already vaccinated, it is hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic will end. (AFP file photo)

Last year, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded $36.3 million to three academic institutions — Duke University, the University of Wisconsin, and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital — to research and develop universal vaccines.

“We want a pan-coronavirus vaccine so that you have it on the shelf to respond to the next viral pandemic,” Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, told NBC in January.

Separately, he told a Senate committee the development of a universal coronavirus vaccine could help the world tackle the next pandemic. “There’s a lot of investment, not only in improving the vaccines that we have for SARS-CoV-2, but a lot of work ... to develop the next generation of vaccines, particularly universal coronavirus vaccines,” he said at the hearing.

Among the scientists working on the vaccine are a team at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Reporting promising results in animals, their version of the universal vaccine is known as the SARS-COV-2-Spike-Ferritin-Nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine, currently in phase 1 of human trials.

So far, the three-dose vaccine has been tested with two jabs 28 days apart followed by a third shot six months later. Kayvon Modjarrad, co-inventor of SpFN, said in a press statement that the new vaccine uses a harmless portion of the COVID-19 virus to build up the body’s defenses.

This method follows the same used in developing universal flu vaccines, an approach that is different to that used in three of the most popular COVID-19 vaccines today.  





COVID-19 has proved to be tougher than earlier thought, mutating into numerous variants as vaccine experts try to suppress it. (AFP file photo)

Vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna use messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside the body, thereby building immunity. Meanwhile, others like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine use a harmless rhinovirus to train the immune system to respond to COVID-19.

Despite the huge progress made in vaccine production and distribution over the past year, the coronavirus, with its ever-growing family of variants, all named after letters of the Greek alphabet, continues to defy efforts to find the proverbial silver bullet.

Confidence among the fully vaccinated plummeted in the run-up to the winter holidays after the World Health Organization named omicron a variant of concern. It went on to infect a record number of people within a matter of days, pushing many countries to reimpose containment measures.




As COVID-19 continues to defy international efforts to put it under control, booster shots are being widely administered to maintain immunity. (AFP file photo)

Soon, millions of vaccinated people were informed that they would need a third or even a fourth dose to avoid becoming seriously ill. Even people who have already had the virus have been reinfected with the new variant.

Some countries, such as the UK, are working toward herd immunity, lifting almost all restrictions on travel and public spaces. However, Kouvousis is skeptical that herd immunity can be achieved through mass infection.

“It can only come about through vaccinations and having 90 percent of the world’s population fully vaccinated within a reasonable time span in order to avoid the emergence of new mutations,” he said.

In the meantime, booster shots are being widely administered in developed countries to maintain immunity. But even with a booster, experts say that the public should continue to follow hygiene and social distancing advice.

“The key after getting a booster shot is to wear the mask properly, which very few people do,” Dr. Gregory Poland, founder of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, told Arab News. “The vaccines we have are predominantly disease-blocking and less so infection-blocking.”




Dr. Gregory Poland, founder of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

Part of the reason why developing nations are so far behind with the roll-out is the continuing monopolization of vaccine production and distribution by a few key players: AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer.

Just 10 percent of the African continent is currently immunized against the virus, leaving a gap for future dominant mutations to arise in these countries. Experts such as Poland want pharmaceutical firms to suspend their patents and share their vaccine formulas with smaller regional outfits, allowing them to produce shots closer to the point of need.

“This is a potentially important strategy,” he said. “Each sovereign nation gets to decide how to organize itself and protect its people. This includes national production facilities of those items critical to the well-being of the population or viable partnerships with other producers of the goods they need.”

To try and meet local demand and bridge the gap, several countries are working on their own generic vaccines and drugs to fight the virus. For instance, India’s first mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine “HGCO19” aims to offer protection against omicron specifically.

The vaccine, developed by Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd., is set to begin human trials in the near future after early studies found the vaccine to be “safe, tolerable and immunogenic.” Similarly, Egypt’s first coronavirus vaccine, called “COVI-VAX,” is in the testing phase.

Meanwhile, the Philippines, which has one of Asia’s lowest vaccination rates, has authorized the use of a recombinant vaccine called “ReCOV” developed in China by Jiangsu Recbio Technology Co., as the country lacks the capacity to develop one of its own.




A Filipino resident receives a booster jab in Manila on Jan. 27, 2022 amidst rising COVID-19 infections driven by Omicron variant. (Maria Tan / AFP) 

While still in its second phase of clinical trials, preliminary studies show that ReCOV has a sufficient neutralization effect on COVID-19 variants such as omicron and its earlier delta iteration.

Distribution has also been a major issue for hard-to-reach communities in the developing world. Shipping firms such as DHL have played a pivotal role in delivering vaccines, carting some 1.85 billion doses to 174 countries to date. But unless local authorities handle the cargo correctly on arrival, shots can be wasted.

“Vaccines are high value, extremely sensitive, and temperature-controlled items,” Fatima Ait Bendawad, head of DHL Global Humanitarian Logistics Competency Center in Dubai, told Arab News. “Any misstep in the logistics chain would result in potential loss of lives because the vulnerable can’t get to them on time.”

For Kouvousis, the problem is not entirely confined to the matter of production or distribution. In many cases, vaccination campaigns have proved slow or ineffective owing to the poor state of medical institutions in developing nations.

“The major players have the infrastructure to produce what is needed for the whole world,” Kouvousis said. “But some countries don’t have the infrastructure, the facilities or the education to use them effectively.”

After two years of ups and downs in the fight against the pandemic, the emergence of a pan-coronavirus vaccine would be a global game-changer. However, unless production and distribution are streamlined and enough people are administered shots in a short space of time, the opportunity to end the pandemic this year could yet be missed.


Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim

Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim
Updated 9 sec ago

Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim

Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim
  • Yusuf Mahmud Nazir had a severe throat infection but Rotherham Hospital in South Yorkshire, in the north of England, refused to admit him
  • Days later, unable to speak, eat or drink, he was taken by ambulance to another hospital here he was treated immediately but died on Nov. 23

LONDON: An independent investigation will be carried out into the death of a five-year-old boy who died after he was sent home from an allegedly understaffed and underequipped hospital.

Yusuf Mahmud Nazir had a severe throat infection but Rotherham Hospital in South Yorkshire, in the north of England, refused to admit him. His uncle, Zaheer Ahmed, said he “begged” staff to do more to help his nephew but was told the children’s ward had “not got the doctors” and “not got the beds.”

Ahmed told the British media that Yusuf took ill with a sore throat on Nov. 13 and was given antibiotics by the family’s doctor. But his condition quickly got worse and he was taken to Rotherham Hospital, where staff said they could not admit him and sent him home.

On Nov. 18, Yusuf was unable to speak, eat or drink and was taken by ambulance to Sheffield Children’s Hospital where he was treated immediately but, despite being given intravenous antibiotics, he died on Nov. 23.

Rotherham Hospital initially said it would carry out an internal investigation but Dr. Richard Jenkins, the hospital’s chief executive, on Thursday said investigators from outside South Yorkshire will review the case. In a letter to local MP Sarah Champion, he said he was working with NHS England to “identify appropriate independent investigators.”

Champion said: “I’m so relieved that the wants and needs of the family have been listened to and we are going to get this independent inquiry. Independent is the key bit. It has to be really robust and independent.”

Jenkins said he spoke to Yusuf’s uncle to “directly express my condolences and to apologize to the family.”

Yusuf’s family confirmed that they received the apology but that alone is not enough, adding: “They’ve apologized but that doesn’t give us any answers.”
 


Viewers flock to watch glowing lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

Viewers flock to watch glowing  lava ooze from Hawaii volcano
Updated 02 December 2022

Viewers flock to watch glowing lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

Viewers flock to watch glowing  lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

HAWAII: The world’s largest volcano oozed rivers of glowing lava Wednesday, drawing thousands of awestruck viewers who jammed a Hawaii highway that could soon be covered by the flow.

Mauna Loa awoke from its 38-year slumber Sunday, causing volcanic ash and debris to drift down from the sky. A main highway linking towns on the east and west coasts of the Big Island became an impromptu viewing point, with thousands of cars jamming the highway near Volcanoes National Park.

Anne Andersen left her overnight shift as a nurse to see the spectacle Wednesday, afraid that the road would soon be closed.

“It’s Mother Nature showing us her face,” she said, as the volcano belched gas on the horizon. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Gordon Brown, a visitor from Loomis, California, could see the bright orange lava from the bedroom of his rental house. So he headed out for a close-up view with his wife.

“We just wanted … to come see this as close as we could get. And it is so bright, it just blows my mind,” Brown said.

The lava was tumbling slowly down the slope and was about 10 kilometers from the highway known as Saddle Road. It was not clear when, or if, it would cover the road, which runs through old lava flows.

The road bisects the island and connects the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. People traveling between them would need to take a longer coastal road if Saddle Road becomes impassable, adding several hours of drive time.

Ken Hon, scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said at current flow rate, the soonest the lava would get to the road is two days, but it will likely take longer.

“As the lava flow spreads out, it will probably interfere with its own progress,” Hon said.

Kathryn Tarananda, 66, of Waimea set two alarms to make sure she didn’t oversleep and miss her chance to see sunrise against the backdrop of eruptions at Mauna Loa.

“It’s a thrill,” she said. “We’re out in the middle of raw nature. It’s awe inspiring that we live in this place. I feel really, really fortunate to be an islander.”

Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. The current eruption is its 34th since written record keeping began in 1843.

 Its smaller neighbor, Kilauea, has been erupting since September 2021, so visitors to the national park were treated to the rare sight of two simultaneous eruptive events: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from a Mauna Loa fissure.

Abel Brown, a visitor from Las Vegas, was impressed by the natural forces on display. He planned to take a close-up helicopter tour later in the day — but not too close.

“There’s a lot of fear and trepidation if you get really close to it,” Brown said. “The closer you get, the more powerful it is and the more scary it is.”


Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov
Updated 01 December 2022

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov
  • The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February
  • Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country

LODZ, Poland: Europe’s largest security organization opened a meeting Thursday with foreign ministers and other representatives strongly denouncing Russia’s war against Ukraine, a conflict that is among the greatest challenges the body has faced in its nearly half-century of existence.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded to maintain peace and stability on the continent, has been a rare international forum — along with the United Nations — where Russia and Western powers have been able meet to discuss security matters. The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But since the war began, the 57-nation OSCE has also become another venue where the bitter clash between Russia and the West has played out, exposing the organization’s own inadequacies in helping to resolve the conflict.
Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country. Poland is a member of the 27-member European Union, which has put Lavrov on a sanctions list.
Lavrov denounced the ban and Poland on Thursday.
“I can say responsibly that Poland’s anti-chairmanship of the OSCE will take the most miserable place ever in this organization’s history,” Lavrov said. “Nobody has ever caused such damage to the OSCE while being at its helm.”
“Our Polish neighbors have been digging a grave for the organization by destroying the last remains of the consensus culture,” he said in a video call with reporters.
The Polish chairman in office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, said he had a responsibility to defend the OSCE’s “fundamental principles,” and argued that it was not Poland but Russia which has hurt the organization by blocking budgets, appointments and other critical aspects of its work. He accused Russia of spreading disinformation against Poland.
“I would say it’s outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss, destroying its foundations and breaking its procedural rules,” Rau said.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE acted as a mediator in Ukraine, negotiating peace deals for eastern Ukraine following a Russian-backed separatist war that began in the Donbas in 2014. In March, the OSCE discontinued its special monitoring mission to Ukraine.
Also missing from the meeting in Lodz was Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly last weekend at the age of 64 and was buried earlier this week. Belarusian authorities didn’t give the cause of Makei’s death, and he wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness, triggering speculation about possible foul play.
A Belarusian representative, Andrei Dapkiunas, delivered remarks that he said had been prepared by Makei before his death. He deplored the exclusion of Lavrov, saying it “is killing the OSCE,” and accused Western powers of undermining Europe’s security structure with what he described as an unfair isolation of Russia and Belarus.
Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister of Hungary, which is in the unusual position of being an ally of Poland while maintaining close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, appeared to fault Poland for excluding Lavrov.
“Channels of communication must be maintained,” Szijjarto said.
Szijjarto told the meeting that Hungary wants peace in Ukraine, but didn’t mention Russia by name.
The OSCE was established in 1975 at a time of Cold War detente. Its approach to security is undergirded by an emphasis on human rights and economic development in conjunction with military security. It is possibly best known for its monitoring of elections but has also carried out conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building missions in places including Bosnia, Moldova, Georgia and Tajikistan.
The US representative, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said she came away from the gathering in Lodz with a renewed optimism within the OSCE, noting that 55 of its 57 members — Russia and Belarus excluded — were finding new ways to work to defend democratic principles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has failed to defeat Ukraine,” Nuland said. “Despite his brutal war of aggression, his war crimes, and now his vicious fight against civilians trying to freeze them in the middle of winter, Putin has also failed in his effort to divide and destroy the OSCE.”


Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China
Updated 01 December 2022

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China
  • Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening
  • Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance

WASHINGTON D.C.: Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron sat down Thursday for the centerpiece talks of a pomp-filled French state visit, with the two leaders eager to talk through the war in Ukraine, concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and European dismay over aspects of Biden’s signature climate law.
Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening, but first the two leaders met in the Oval Office to discuss difficult issues that they confront.
At the top of the agenda is the nine-month-old war in Ukraine in which Biden and Macron face headwinds as they try to maintain unity in the US and Europe to keep economic and military aid flowing to Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces.
“The choices we make today and the years ahead will determine the course of our world for decades to come,” Biden said at an arrival ceremony.
Macron at the start of the face-to-face meeting acknowledged the “challenging times” in Ukraine and called on the two nations to better “synchronize our actions” on climate.
The leaders began their talks shortly after hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning for the ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and review of troops. Ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests who gathered to watch Biden and Macron start the state visit.
Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Macron at the arrival ceremony stressed a need for the US and France to keep the West united as the war continues.
“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” Macron declared.
Amid the talk of maintaining unity, differences on trade were shadowing the visit.
Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are concerned about the incentives in a new climate-related law that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
He criticized the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, during a luncheon Wednesday with US lawmakers and again during a speech at the French Embassy. Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.
“The choices that have been made ... are choices that will fragment the West,” Macron said. He said the legislation “creates such differences between the United States of America and Europe that all those who work in many companies (in the US), they will just think, ‘We don’t make investments any more on the other side of the Atlantic.’”
He also said major industrial nations need to do more to address climate change and promote biodiversity.
In an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Macron said the US and France were working together well on the war in Ukraine and geopolitics overall, but not on “some economic issues.” The US climate bill and semiconductor legislation, he said, were not properly coordinated with Europe and created “the absence of a level playing field.”
Earlier, he had criticized a deal reached at a recent climate summit in Egypt in which the United States and other wealthy nations agreed to help pay for the damage that an overheating world is inflicting on poor countries. The deal includes few details on how it will be paid for, and Macron said a more comprehensive approach is needed — “not just a new fund we decided which will not be funded and even if it is funded, it will not be rightly allocated.″
The blunt comments follow another low point last year after Biden announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines. The relationship has recovered since then with Biden acknowledging a clumsy rollout of the submarine deal and Macron emerging as one of Biden’s strongest European allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As for the Inflation Reduction Act, the European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits, including those aimed at encouraging Americans to buy electric vehicles, would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.
Macron planned to make his case to US officials against the subsidies, underscoring that it’s crucial for “Europe, like the US, to come out stronger ... not weaker” as the world emerges from the tumult of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior French government official
Macron also planned to seek exceptions to the US legislation for some European clean energy manufacturers, according to a second French official who requested anonymity under the presidency’s customary practices.
Biden administration officials have countered that the legislation goes a long way in helping the US to meet global goals to curb climate change.
Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the US and China as “two big elephants” that are the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of jungle.” His visit to Washington also comes as both the US and France are keeping an eye on China after protests broke out last weekend in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The honor of this state visit is a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the EU’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the US bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons with a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker. It is a reproduction of a mirror from the White House collection that hangs in the West Wing.
Biden also gave President Macron a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians and an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 Patent of the American Phonograph. The First Lady gave Mrs. Macron a gold and emerald pendant necklace designed by a French-American designer.
Harris will host Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner for some 350 guests, a glitzy gala to take place in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.


On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
Updated 01 December 2022

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
  • Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy engaged refugees in drawing mural
  • He asked kids in Bhasan Char to picture their lives, fears, dreams

DHAKA: When Sona Maher’s family escaped a military crackdown in Myanmar, they arrived in Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and the images of blood and destruction she is still trying to forget.

The 14-year-old is one of more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya who in 2017 fled persecution, rape, and death at the hands of the Myanmar army.

Most of them found safety in neighboring Bangladesh, of which a southeastern part has since become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Initially settled in the squalid camps of Cox’s Bazar, Meher’s family last year joined a group of nearly 30,000 Rohingya who Bangladeshi authorities have relocated to Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

Before and when the relocation started, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and rights groups criticized the project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as it is prone to severe weather and flooding. But it is also where Maher and other children found solace — in art.

“I witnessed the atrocities by the Myanmar military in my neighborhood in Rakhine. Houses were burnt down, people were killed brutally all around me,” she told Arab News.

“I remember those horrific days and sometimes try to show those incidents in my drawings. I forget the pain when I see the colors of my drawings. It inspires me to hope for a new life, new dreams. I want to get rid of those horrible memories. Life is better now.”

Maher took part in an art project run by Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and the UNHCR, and art education NGO Artolution, who asked Rohingya children to picture their lives, fears, and dreams in a huge wall painting.

It took eight days, 50 participants, and long hours of consultation to complete the 50-meter-long mural last month.

“It was not just another pretty picture on the wall. We wanted to offer mental healing through art therapy with the engagement of the community,” Tanmoy told Arab News.

“Initially we experienced some reluctance … At this point, we started the paintings with brushes and colors. A few Rohingyas came forward to watch the process.”

Soon, they too began to paint.

A dominant motif appearing in their drawings was a boat.

“Most of the Rohingyas came up with the idea of drawing boats,” Tanmoy said. “They hold their dreams of returning to their homeland, and of a journey toward a better future.”

For those who participated in the project, such as 17-year-old Anowar Sadek, expressing themselves through art came with some sense of solace.

“Whenever I hold the painting materials, it helps me forget the agonies I witnessed earlier in Rakhine,” he said. “The paintings give me much comfort and pleasure.”

But both the children and art educators know that the comfort will be only temporary as long as they remain without a place that they can call home. And isolation in Bhasan Char also adds to their distress.

“My heart filled with joy when I painted the wall with colors … I want to continue painting throughout my life,” Roksana Akter, a 12-year-old who joined the mural project, said.

“But I have many friends and relatives in Cox’s Bazar. I didn’t see them for a long time. It’s the saddest part of my life at this moment.”