‘A lifeline’: mental health camps bring peace of mind to thousands in rural Assam

India’s severe shortage of mental health professionals and treatment funding leaves many patients without options. But a pioneering programme is working to get lives back on track

It is Saturday morning, and some 40 people on foot, bikes and rickshaws begin trickling into Kuklung village. They take a seat outside a single-storey building and wait to see the psychiatrist at a monthly treatment camp for people with mental health conditions.

The camp is providing a lifeline to this remote, impoverished community in Assam, in northeastern India.

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Back to brown: how a shift away from refined white rice could cut diabetes

The secret to a healthier diet has been around for centuries: a return to unprocessed grain in its natural state. And in Asia, the health benefits could be huge

A plan to develop a new breed of iron-rich rice that could ward off disease was swiftly abandoned by Dr Sirimal Premakumara after he ventured into the countryside of Sri Lanka – and found it already existed.

The secret to injecting more nutrition into the common diet, he discovered, were already there in the varieties of rice the country’s farmers had been growing for centuries.

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UN warns against alarmism as world’s population reaches 8bn milestone

UNFPA head urges countries to focus on helping women, children and marginalised people most vulnerable to demographic change

The world must not engage in “population alarmism” as the number of people living on Earth nears 8 billion, a senior UN official has said.

The global population is projected to reach that milestone on 15 November, with some commentators expressing worries about the impact of the growing number on a world already struggling with huge inequality, the climate crisis, and conflict-fuelled displacement and migration.

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India must act on drug adulteration – lives around the world are at stake

Disregard for manufacturing standards could ruin the country’s reputation as the ‘developing world’s pharmacy’ and risk wider problems globally

India’s reputation as the “pharmacy of the developing world”, built assiduously by the country’s pharmaceutical companies since the time of the Aids epidemic, is in serious jeopardy. The World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the alarm last week when it said the deaths of 66 children in the Gambia could be linked to adulterated cough syrup manufactured by the Indian pharmaceutical company Maiden Pharmaceuticals.

Adulteration of cough syrup with diethylene glycol has been a known issue since 1937, when more than 100 Americans died after consuming a contaminated cough medicine manufactured by a US company. After that episode, most countries upgraded their regulatory standards to ensure mandatory testing of chemical solvents, such as propylene glycol, that are used in the manufacture of cough syrups. This was true even for India, yet the country has seen at least five instances of mass deaths linked to adulterated drugs since 1972. In one such event in 1998, in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi, 33 children died after developing acute renal failure. In another, as recently as January 2020, contamination was believed to have been the cause of the deaths of 12 children in the northern state of Jammu. The common thread in these cases is what appears to be negligence on the part of the manufacturer for failing to test the chemical solvents for DEG contamination.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs

Campaigners say many people have had to stop or switch antiretroviral medication regimes – but the government denies supply crisis

Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

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Save your breath: traditional Kyrgyz dance helps ease chronic lung disease

Exercise to help COPD hospital patients is being rolled out across Kyrgyzstan and to neighbouring countries

  • Photographs by Danil Usmanov

Every day on the respiratory ward at one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest hospitals, Aidai Temiraly Kyzy, a 24-year-old nurse, puts on the music and leads her patients in the Kara Jorgo, the national dance of the central Asian country.

This involves a range of body movements and leaves everyone smiling – but Kyzy is not doing it for fun. The session is part of a treatment programme offered to people with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a common, preventable and treatable lung condition.

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UK Foreign Office rushed £4.2bn of aid cuts, official audit finds

Support slashed despite warnings about impact, with offices told not to discuss plans with local partners, says National Audit Office report

The British government forced through £4.2bn in aid cuts so quickly it had little time to plan the impact they would have, or consult partners, according to an official audit.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said bilateral spendingaid given directly to another governmentfaced some of the harshest cuts by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – 53% compared with less than a third of the overall aid budget – because of political and legal commitments to multilateral spending.

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I got help for postnatal depression that saved me. Most women in India do not | Priyali Sur

With up to one in five new mothers suffering depression or psychosis, experts say the need for help is ‘overwhelming’ India

A month after giving birth, Divya tried to suffocate her new daughter with a pillow. “There were moments when I loved my baby; at other times I would try and suffocate her to death,” says the 26-year-old from the southern Indian state of Kerala.

She sought help from women’s organisations and the women’s police station, staffed by female officers, in her town. But Divya was told that the safest place for a child was with her mother.

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Afghanistan to restart polio vaccination programme with Taliban support

The WHO and Unicef campaign will restart after three years, and the hardliners say they will assist and allow frontline female staff

Afghanistan will restart nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to assist the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline workers, the UN said on Monday.

The World Health Organization and Unicef said the vaccination drive would begin on 8 November with Taliban support.

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‘Maestro of humanity’: Italian surgeon Gino Strada dies at 73

Tributes paid to doctor whose NGO set up world-class hospitals in war zones such as Iraq, Yemen and Sudan

Tributes have been paid to Gino Strada, the Italian surgeon and “maestro of humanity” known for setting up world-class hospitals for the victims of war, who has died aged 73.

The medic, who in 1994 co-founded the humanitarian organisation Emergency to provide free, quality healthcare for those injured in conflict, died on Friday in France, reports said.

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‘Like Uber for snake emergencies’: tech takes the sting out of bites in rural India

Venomous snakebites cause tens of thousands of deaths each year. But homegrown apps are coming to the rescue – and protecting reptiles from reprisals

When 12-year-old Anay Sujith felt a sharp sting in his leg while asleep in his hut in a village in Kerala, “I started yelling and woke up my parents,” he recalls. They immediately sought help – not with a phone call, but through an app.

A team from Kannur Wildlife Rescuers (KWR) reached the boy’s home, in Ramatheru village in the coastal city of Kannur, within minutes and he was admitted to hospital 20 minutes later. He had been bitten four times by a venomous Russell’s viper, one of the “big four” snakes in India responsible for the greatest number of venomous snakebites.

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Covid ‘perfect storm’ as more patients hit by fungal infections

Weakened lungs and immune systems make people increasingly vulnerable, warn scientists

A rash of cases of a rare “black fungus” infection affecting thousands of critically ill Covid patients in India caused alarm last month. Now scientists are warning that other dangerous or even deadly fungal infections have spawned in critically ill coronavirus patients globally, including in the UK.

Fungi are ubiquitous – in soil, water, air, faeces and human skin. Usually, people’s elaborate, adaptive immune systems are enough of a repellent but when that shield is weakened by disease, congenital conditions or age, they are far more vulnerable to microscopic assailants.

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High in the Himalayas, villagers hit by Covid are left to fend for themselves

In India’s remote peaks, the pandemic’s toll is worsened by lack of medical facilities, roads and information

Phalguni Devi has spent a fortnight living in a cattle shed. Looking out on a rainy afternoon in early June, she worries that if the rain does not let up, her fever-like symptoms will worsen.

Devi, 51, shares the shed with a cow and two cats, and this has taken its toll. Herbal concoctions have not worked and the visit to a pharmacist in the nearest town, in the Nijmola valley in the Himalayas, which took an entire day, did not help.

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Blood brother: the Kashmiri man who is India’s biggest donor

The ‘blood man’ of conflict-racked Kashmir has donated 174 pints of blood since 1980 but feels ‘crushed’ by his poverty

Shabir Hussain Khan was taking an afternoon nap when he heard a commotion outside his house. A friend had been injured in a football match and had lost a lot of blood. Khan, who did not have any transport, rushed to the hospital by foot to donate some. It was 4 July 1980. Yesterday the man known locally as the “blood man of Kashmir” donated his 174th pint of his blood to strangers at the public hospital close to his Srinagar home.

“Blood is not something you can buy in the market,” says Khan, who has an O-negative blood group. “In those days blood donation was not common, nor were blood banks. The way blood is available readily now, it was not like that before. Also there was no connectivity at that time. We only had radios and two or three landline phones in the entire locality.”

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Spat at, abused, attacked: healthcare staff face rising violence during Covid

Data shows increased danger for those on the frontline in the pandemic, with misinformation, scarce vaccines and fragile health systems blamed

Hundreds of healthcare workers treating Covid patients around the world have experienced verbal, physical, and sometimes life-threatening attacks during the pandemic, prompting calls for immediate action from human rights campaigners.

Covid-related attacks on healthcare workers are expected to rise as new variants cause havoc in countries such as India and rollouts of vaccination programmes belatedly get under way in some countries, according to the UN special rapporteur on the right to health.

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