UAE team explores setting up plasma farming facilities in Pakistan

A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 20 August 2022

UAE team explores setting up plasma farming facilities in Pakistan

A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
  • Proteins from human plasma are used in treatment of life-threatening conditions
  • Pakistan and UAE have been working on the ground-breaking project for several months

ISLAMABAD: A delegation from the UAE has arrived in Pakistan to carry out a feasibility study for a project to set up the first plasma farming facilities in the South Asian country.

Plasma farming technology is a growing field in patient care and clinical medicine. It involves plasma fractionation, the processing of plasma harvested by donors to break it into individual proteins, or plasma fractions.

Protein products derived from human plasma are used — often as the only available option — in the prevention and treatment of life-threatening conditions resulting from trauma, congenital deficiencies, immunologic disorders or infections.

The UAE delegation, which arrived in Pakistan earlier this week, was led by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al-Maktoum, and included representatives of Hayat Biotech Limited, Emirati artificial intelligence company Group 42, and China’s Sinopharm.

FASTFACT

Proteins from human plasma are used in treatment of life-threatening conditions.

After meeting the delegation, Pakistani Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel told Arab News on Thursday that he hoped the establishment of plasma farming facilities would happen “as early as possible.”

“We have discussed establishing state-of-the-art PFFs in Pakistan which will be the first of its kind as we have fresh frozen plasma extraction, but not farming ability,” Patel said.

Fresh frozen plasma is a blood product made from the liquid portion of whole blood. It is used to treat conditions in which there are low blood clotting factors or low levels of other blood proteins. It may also be used as the replacement fluid in plasma exchange.

Pakistan and the UAE have been working on the PFF project for several months, and a Pakistani delegation had visited the UAE in June, the minister said.

“It is a follow-up visit by the UAE delegation to assess potential, and to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of PFFs based on World Health Organization’s standards,” he said, adding that blood services in the country were mostly provided by hospital blood banks, with no separation of the plasma processes into production and utilization.

“Very soon,” Patel replied when asked when the PFFs would become operational.

“After the submission of a report by the UAE delegation, we will try to expedite the whole process and would like to start this facility as early as possible,” he said.

“We are thankful to the UAE government as due to their efforts and the personal interest of Sheikh Al-Maktoum, who engaged a consortium of G-42, Sinopharm, Hayat Biotech Limited, and led a delegation for assessment and feasibility study of the project.”

Patel said that the team will visit regional blood centers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to evaluate the readiness of the sites for PFFs.

The UAE delegation will submit its report in about two weeks, “and then we will sign an agreement to cover its legal framework.”

Patel said that the facilities would save Pakistan precious foreign exchange by reducing the need to import several expensive medicines.

“No country can sustain without working on plasma farming, as we have to import all the plasma-based medicines, which cost us millions of dollars in foreign exchange,” he said, adding that plasma would also be easily available, especially for thalassemia, hepatitis and cancer patients.

The minister said that Pakistan was also in talks with the UAE to establish a genetic database profiling system to digitalize the Pakistani health system, revamp major hospitals across the country, and help in the modernization of health equipment and staff training.

“The visit was successful,” Rashed Abdulrehman Al-Zamar, deputy head of mission at the UAE Embassy in Islamabad, told Arab News. “The UAE is keen to invest in different sectors of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, especially in the health field.”


US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

Updated 5 sec ago

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia
WASHINGTON: A former US Army major and his anesthesiologist wife have been criminally charged for allegedly plotting to leak highly sensitive health care data about military patients to Russia, the Justice Department revealed on Thursday.
Jamie Lee Henry, the former major who was also a doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, were charged in an unsealed indictment in a federal court in Maryland with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data to help the Putin regime “gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the US government and military.”
The two met with someone whom they believed was a Russian official, but in fact was actually an FBI undercover agent, the indictment says.

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’
Updated 16 sec ago

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’
  • In the past month, the region has seen clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Putin has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB)
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and at what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries. All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Putin said in a televised meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries.
In parallel to the military operation in Ukraine, armed conflicts have returned to various parts of the former Soviet empire.
In the past month the region has seen clashes between the two Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Putin pointed fingers at the West, saying it was “working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts” in the post-Soviet space.
Putin spoke a day before he is due to formally annex four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, in a move that is expected to escalate the Ukraine conflict.
“We are witnessing the formation of a new world order, which is a difficult process,” Putin said, echoing earlier statements about the waning influence of the West.
Putin, who turns 70 next week, has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB).
His statement comes during an exodus of Russian men fleeing a mobilization, including to ex-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, whose president vowed to shelter Russian draft dodgers.

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban
Updated 29 September 2022

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban
  • Arab News interviewed traders who had received extortion demands in recent months
  • Most of them said the callers identified themselves as militants belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Soon after a grenade struck his house in Peshawar city three months ago, Ihsan Khan, a well-known trader in the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, received a phone call.

“Next time, the entire home will be blown up if you don’t pay Rs300 million ($1.2 million),” the voice on the other end said.

The menacing call was taken seriously in a northern pocket of the country where the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan in past years and where officials as well as local residents widely say the militants are attempting to regain a foothold.

Over the next few days, Khan held a series of phone negotiations with the caller and finally brought the demand down through the help of intermediaries, subsequently paying a smaller sum.

Last week, Arab News interviewed at least seven traders, transporters and businesspeople who had received demands for protection money in recent months. Six said the callers had identified themselves as militants belonging to the TTP. It was unclear how many paid up.

The increasing demands for cash have stirred fears of the comeback of insurgents to the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year.

On Sept. 20, the TTP said it was not linked to the extortion demands and issued a statement calling on the public not to pay up.

“If anyone asks you…in the name of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), please contact us so we can unmask them,” the statement said, offering a contact number.

In comments to Arab News, Abu Yasir, the head of the TTP’s grievance commission, said the group had a “clear-cut and strong stance” against extortion.

“We have neither allowed nor will we allow anyone to do so,” Yasir said. “We have stopped many. And in some cases, members of the Tehreek have also done it on an individual basis, but we have stopped them…We have stopped our colleagues and asked others as well when a complaint has been lodged with us.”

‘TIP OF THE ICEBERG’

Attacks and threats of violence have been a part of life in northern Pakistan since at least 2010, including the attempted assassination of Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012 and an attack on an army-run school in 2014 in which at least 134 children were killed.

Though thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant violence in the last two decades, attacks declined in the last few years after a series of military operations that pushed most TTP insurgents in Pakistan’s northwest to find shelter in neighboring Afghanistan.

But many analysts and officials warn militants are attempting to return and are busily conducting kidnappings and extortion to stockpile cash for the fight ahead if peace talks with Islamabad fail. Their reach and their ability to carry out attacks were chillingly demonstrated earlier this month when eight people were killed in a roadside bombing that targeted an anti-Taliban village elder’s vehicle in Swat Valley, in what was the first major bombing in the area in over a decade. 

Taliban militants this month also kidnapped 10 employees of a telecom company and demanded Rs100 million for their release, according to a police report filed with the local counterterrorism department.

Concerns of a TTP resurgence have grown since August 2021, when the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul following the departure of US and other foreign forces. Pakistani officials have since variously spoken of fears of fighters from the Pakistani Taliban group, which is separate but affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, crossing over from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory.

The Afghan Taliban have reassured their neighbor they will not allow their territory to be used by anyone planning attacks on Pakistan or any other country. Still, the TTP has managed to step up attacks in recent months, and both police and government officials as well as locals report that hundreds of insurgents have returned — as have demands for extortion.

Mohammed Ali Saif, a spokesperson for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said anonymous calls demanding protection money were being made both from Afghanistan and within Pakistan.  

“Different people have received calls for extortion, some have registered FIRs [police reports] and others have not,” Saif told Arab News, saying the Counter-Terrorism Department and police took immediate action whenever such cases were reported.  

Not all calls, he said, were from TTP militants.

“Some calls are also made by criminals and extortionists,” the spokesperson said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari, CTD chief Javed Iqbal Wazir, and spokespersons for the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry and army and Afghanistan’s Information Ministry did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

But a Peshawar-based senior police official with direct knowledge of the issue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the provincial police department had been registering at least four extortion cases a day in the city since July.

“This is just the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “Previously, traders, transporters and businessmen used to be the targets. Now, members of national and provincial assemblies as well as government officials are also asked to pay protection money…The situation is very bad and it’s deteriorating with each passing day.”  

Another police official based in Swat Valley said: “Well-off people, including lawmakers, receive phone calls on a regular basis. Few report it and a majority of them pay the money.”

Since the start of August, Swat police have registered four cases of extortion, naming the TTP as suspects in their reports. In one such case, the Swat official said, militants were paid Rs25 million as protection money by a provincial lawmaker.  

“Militants asked the lawmaker to remove CCTV cameras from his home before they arrived to collect the money at midnight,” the official said. “The lawmaker opted not to report the incident.”  

‘PREDICTABLE PHENOMENON’

Malik Imran Ishaq, president of the Industrialists’ Association Peshawar, said militancy and extortion had caused “severe damage” to the business fraternity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  

In Peshawar, extortionists targeted wealthy families, he said, with residents regularly finding small bombs outside their homes or businesses.

“Many of our association’s members have received extortion calls and many of them have been hit, targeted by rocket launchers and hand grenades,” the industrialist said.

Police had increased patrolling in the Hayatabad industrial estate area of the city, but it had not resolved the issue, Ishaq said.

“I am clueless about how this issue will be resolved,” he said, lamenting that businesses worth billions of rupees in the Hayatabad industrial estate were on the verge of closure.

“Twenty-eight of our members have shut their industrial units in Peshawar and moved to Punjab to set up factories there,” Ishaq said, blaming the move on a resurgence of militancy and a rise in Taliban demands for cash.

“There has been an evident surge during the last year, particularly the last couple of months.”  

The crime wave means the government and military could face a well-armed insurgency if the TTP is able to fully return to the country’s northern belt, experts warn.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based militancy expert, said an increase in demands for protection money was a telltale sign that the militants were making serious attempts to regain control in Pakistan’s northwest.

“Militants require financial support for their operations,” he said, “and in this context, the rise of extortion incidents in these areas is a predictable phenomenon.”

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Updated 29 September 2022

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  • “Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way”

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody.
“Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.


US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert
Updated 29 September 2022

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert
  • Kevin Schumacher of Women for Afghan Women said of all the people in Afghanistan, women are suffering the most and face the greatest threats
  • ‘The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights,’ he added

Women in Afghanistan are in a dire situation as a result of the US withdrawal from the country last year, an official from leading international aid and advocacy group Women for Afghan Women said on Wednesday.

Of all the people in Afghanistan, it is women who are suffering the most and face the greatest threats, according to Kevin Schumacher, the organization’s deputy executive director.

US President Joe Biden ordered what turned out to be an abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the country in August 2021. Their departure left the way clear for the Taliban — a fanatical religious group that 20 years earlier had provided sanctuary for Al-Qaeda terrorists, including leader Osama bin Laden — to regain control of the country.

Schumacher said the US withdrawal has resulted in a massive reduction in international financial support for the country, the repercussions of which have included increases in levels of illiteracy and poverty, especially among women, who are bottom of the Taliban’s list of priorities.

“I would like us to think about what happened over the past 13 months in Afghanistan,” he said during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show. “We had a dramatic regime change in that country, as a result of which the international community decided to withdraw.

“All of a sudden, billions of dollars in aid and humanitarian assistance stopped and the international community decided to disengage with that country.

“Now you have hundreds of thousands of professionals, men and women, who used to work with international organizations or they were working in domestic circles but their business was funded directly or indirectly by the international community.

“All of these people, all of a sudden, find themselves in a situation where there is no money coming to the country anymore, there is a government in Kabul that is not recognized internationally, and people really have no idea what tomorrow will bring to them. Many countries decided not to have any diplomatic or business transactions with Afghanistan because so much is uncertain on the ground.”

The US withdrawal has caused financial crisis in Afghanistan, the effects of which have been particularly bad for women, Schumacher said. Prior to the US withdrawal, half of the country’s budget, $6 billion a year, came from international aid and this has been lost, he added, which has caused the support infrastructure women relied on to collapse.

“All of that has translated into a very chaotic financial situation in Afghanistan," Schumacher said. “A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people basically were on the verge of poverty to begin with.

“Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia. If you look at UN statistics, average Afghans live on under $1,200 a year — and that is on a good day. All of a sudden you have billions of dollars of aid money that is no longer available.”

The situation in the country is now so bad, he added, it is almost impossible to gauge the extent of the Taliban’s oppression of women.

“The problem is no one wants to hear it; nobody follows up on that,” Schumacher said. “The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights.

“And the Taliban administration in general does not seem to care much about women’s rights, even despite the fact that the Taliban’s top leadership seems to be sensitive to this issue.

“So, you have a reality in which a lot of these women are forced into marriage out of poverty or are being sold into marriage or are being sold into hard labor.”

The Taliban administration is only interested in enforcing its strict interpretation of Shariah, without considering the needs of Afghan women, he added. Although the group claims it does not support forced marriages, the social structures that monitored the situation and provided support for women have collapsed.

“In theory, the Taliban insist that they are supportive of woman’s right to choose their husband,” Schumacher said. “But in reality there is no legal mechanism to advocate for women.

“If a woman is victimized by her own family or is forced into marriage, she has no place to go. There is no mediation system. There is no legal system. There is no shelter. Nothing exists because the Taliban authority forced us to shut down all those systems.”

Even before the Taliban came to power, Schumacher said, the UN reported that “70 percent of Afghan women had no access to education and were illiterate.” Now, with women being stripped of their rights completely by the Taliban regime, their future prospects have become even more grim, especially in the realm of education.

The high levels of illiteracy have created massive poverty among many Afghan women, he added, including the widows of men who fought in the various wars of the past 45 years, all the way back to the Soviet invasion in 1979. With no access to education, Schumacher said, they are unable to develop the skills and knowledge to support their families.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit, Washington DC and Chicago and sponsored by Arab News. You can listen to the entire interview by visiting the Ray Hanania Radio Show website at www.ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.