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Current Events 22 March 2016



22 MARCH 2016

Medicine for drug-resistant TB launched

On the eve of World Tuberculosis Day, Health Minister J.P. Nadda launched Bedaquiline — new drug for Drug Resistant TB — as part of the national programme. The drug will be introduced in 104 districts across five States.

Speaking at a press briefing, Mr. Nadda said the “process of fighting TB is continuous. Hence there can be no dilution and no diversion. Our attention needs to be steadfast and aggressive.” The programme would not suffer on account of budgetary allocation.

The new class of drug is a diarylquinoline that specifically targets Mycobacterial ATP synthase, an enzyme essential for the supply of energy to Mycobacterium tuberculosis and most other mycobacteria.

Bedaquiline is being introduced at six tertiary care centres across India. These sites have advanced facilities for laboratory testing and intensive care for patients. Bedaquiline will be given to multi-drug resistant TB patients with resistance to either all fluoroquinolone and/or all second line injectables and extensive drug resistant TB.

The national programme will also benefit from the introduction of over 500 Cartridge-Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CBNAAT) machines — a revolutionary rapid molecular test which detects Mycobacterium tuberculosis and rifampicin drug resistance, simultaneously. This test is fully automated and provides results within two hours. It is a highly sensitive diagnostic tool and can be used in remote and rural areas without sophisticated infrastructure or specialised training.

Emphasising on the need for collective commitment from all stakeholders, B.P. Sharma, Union Health Secretary, said the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP) was one of the most successful programmes. “The programme has made significant impact on prevalence and treatment of TB. The quality of treatment has to be even over the public and private sectors. It has to be well supported by a strong procurement so that it can be sustained till 2030. But we need new tools for diagnostics and new research,” Mr. Sharma said.

Navy’s aircraft on mission in Seychelles

Signalling India’s deepening naval engagement in the Indian Ocean, the Indian navy has for the first time deployed one of its advanced maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Seychelles for surveillance of the island nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

It is the first such deployment of the Boeing P 8I to a foreign country. The aircraft has been in Seychelles since March 20, according to the Navy. The move is “in accordance with the MoU between the Governments of India and Seychelles,” it said in a statement.

“It is a significant tactical development that India is able to extend this kind of surveillance,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, director, Society for Policy Studies. The deployment was a sign that India was a “credible security provider to the smaller states in a consensus manner,” he said.

The aircraft deployment, which followed earlier surveillance missions of the Seychellois EEZ by naval ships, reflects India’s increased maritime engagement in the region. India and China are locked in efforts to widen their respective spheres of influence in the strategically vital Indian Ocean.

India has been reaching out to the smaller Indian Ocean island nations through various Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) exercises that include Search and Rescue (SAR) support, oil pollution response exercises, and assistance in legal matters. Besides supplying naval vessels and aircraft, the Indian navy has supported countries such as Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles with training, hydrographic surveys, surveillance operations and counter-terror patrols.

“What we are seeing is China and India trying to expand their presence in the extended Indian Ocean region. India is of course the natural choice for the smaller nations because of geography and politics,” Mr. Bhaskar said.

The Indian Navy has, in the past, undertaken surveillance missions in the Seychellois EEZ twice a year, but by deploying naval ships. The P 8I is a cheaper, economical, faster and more effective option than the naval ships, and sends a signal about navy’s overall ambition and capabilities.

The last such surveillance deployment was undertaken by ships of the 1st Training Squadron of the Indian Navy in October last year.

Pointing out that P 8I is at the higher end of the spectrum in terms of surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities, Mr. Bhaskar said he was intrigued by the “professional compulsion that may have led to the choice of a P 8I over a Dornier.”

The navy said in a statement that the aircraft will remain deployed till March 23. “During this period, the aircraft will undertake surveillance of the Seychellois EEZ. The deployment will also facilitate professional interaction between the aircrew and the Seychelles People’s Defence Force (SPDF).

Deployment of Indian Navy’s latest and technologically most advanced maritime reconnaissance aircraft is an indicator of India’s commitment towards ensuring the security of Seychelles EEZ. This deployment would assist in curbing illegal activities and piracy and contribute towards security and stability in the Indian Ocean Region,” the navy said.

Doha meet focusses on keeping media relevant in digital age

More than 100 leading global outlets have been brainstorming ways to keep media relevant and profitable in the digital age, where the Internet and social media have disrupted established models of news gathering and dissemination.

“We are 20 years into the digital revolution of the media,” said Gary Pruitt, president of the Associated Press (AP) news agency, during a gathering in Doha, where around 300 journalists from across the globe converged at the China-backed World Media Summit (WMS).

‘Robot journalism’

Focussing on technological solutions to the new challenges, Mr. Pruitt pointed out that the AP had experimented with drones for news gathering. Besides, it had deployed the tools of Artificial Intelligence in the form of “robot journalism” to produce reports minus human intervention.

While acknowledging the relevance of technology in transforming the media landscape, N. Ram, Chairman and Publisher of The Hindu Group of Publications, highlighted a modern newspaper’s societal role in “agenda building.” He pointed out that “a good newspaper is a forum for comment, debate, controversy, reflection — it should be ‘a nation talking to itself’.

“We stand for news media that is free, that has the right to be bold, to explore, to investigate,” Mr. Ram observed. Yet, he warned that that journalism that demands “just rights,” without obligations of professional and social responsibility, would lose equilibrium. “Emphasise one and you get into trouble.”

Cai Mingzhao, president of the Xinhua news agency, also pointed to media’s necessary role in making a difference in improving people’s lives.

For instance, a six-month investigation by Xinhua reporters on poverty in remote areas had persuaded changes in official policy, he observed.

Primacy of Internet

Mr. Cai added that in China, “mobile Internet has become a primary source for people to consume information.”“As executives of media organisations, we all feel the profound changes in the media ecosystem,” he observed.Mr. Cai, who is also the Executive President of WMS, acknowledged that while revolutionising mass communication, the Internet had also “opened a new door.”

However, weighing into the debate about the growing clout of “citizen journalism” through the social media, Mr. Cai stressed that the advantages of professional news organisations are “prominent” and “irreplaceable.”

Nepal seals agreement on transit rights through China

Underlining the growing role of China in South Asia, Nepal secured transit rights through China following an agreement in Beijing between Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang.

Earlier, China extended a ceremonial welcome to Mr. Oli who held official talks with the Chinese leadership. News reports said Mr. Oli would also conclude agreements on building of multiple train routes connecting Nepal with China’s key production centres.

However, playing down the impact of the agreements between Nepal and China, official sources told The Hindu that the future of the agreements depended on the issue of “economic viability” of the transit facilities and train connectivity projects.

The Ministry of External Affairs, however, refused to issue an official statement immediately, considering that the agreements were between two sovereign countries.

However, officials pointed out that India-Nepal ties could not be compared or curtailed by Nepal’s agreements with China.

“After all, 98 per cent of Nepal’s third country trade goes through India and to the port of Kolkata,” an official pointed out. India at present has two rail lines under construction and three more are being planned to increase Nepal’s trade ties.

During the February visit of Prime Minister Oli to New Delhi, India agreed on giving dedicated access to Nepal to the port of Vizag.

Officials pointed out that in comparison to the Nepal-China agreement, India and Nepal had 25 crossing points, two integrated checkpoints and 2 more checkpoints were under construction.

A challenge for South Asia

Even as official sources played down the impact of the transit rights through China, Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli clinched in an agreement with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Beijing and other proposed agreements for rail connectivity, diplomat and academic. Dr. S.D. Muni pointed out that the development represented “a challenge not just for India but for entire South Asia.” However, he cautioned, it should not trigger a panic reaction from India.

Dr. Muni pointed out that China would have to ponder about how it could implement a rail and transit agreement for Nepal without opening up the Tibet region to the world.

The agreements, however, will take some time before being implemented on the ground and political developments may impact the deals concluded. However, Dr. Muni pointed out that the implementation of the deals would depend on how far China was willing to invest in Nepal considering the economic and political risks associated with the deals. Nepal could not seal a vital fuel supply agreement with China which Nepali sources said would also come up for detailed discussion during the seven-day visit of Mr. Oli to China.

Nepali commentator Kanak Mani Dixit, pointed out that the five month-blockade on the Nepal-India border which ended in February, “pushed Nepal to open its northern borders with China for transit trade.”

“Historically, the Himalayas were seen as barrier but now the Himalayas can be a connector between Nepal and China,” said Mr. Dixit, underlining that transit and train agreements will create new dynamics in South Asia.

Delhi HC extends interim stay on ban of FDC drugs

In a relief to the pharmaceutical companies, the Delhi High Court extended the interim stay on the Union government's decision to ban some Fixed Drug Combination (FDC) medicines till the next hearing on March 28. The government said in an affidavit that lifting the ban would be “against public interest”.

The High Court had last week stayed the operation of the Centre's ban on FDC drugs of about 30 pharma companies after initially giving interim relief on March 14 to Pfizer's cough syrup, “Corex”. Companies such as Cipla, Procter & Gamble, Lupin, Piramal and Glenmark have obtained relief from the court.

Expert panel findings

The Union government had banned the FDCs based on the findings of an expert panel that these medicines lacked therapeutic effects and posed health risks to the patients. The drug companies termed the government's decision arbitrary and moved the court seeking its revocation.


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