Archive | July, 2009

H1N1 cases in Lebanon reach 82 as WHO abandons count

16 Jul

Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT: The number of people with the A(H1N1) virus, otherwise known as swine flu, has risen to 82, Lebanon’s Health Ministry said Friday, as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it would stop issuing figures about those affected. “Twenty-two new cases of swine flu have been identified since the [Health Ministry’s] last statement on July 10, bringing the total number of infected to 82 cases,” a statement from the ministry read. The tally comes after Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh on Thursday put the total number of swine flu patients at 70. A number of the patients include Lebanese who caught the virus locally after coming into contact with swine-flu patients.

“In my opinion, the number is likely to multiply because the virus spreads quickly,” Khalifeh told the National News Agency Friday. He nevertheless downplayed the seriousness of swine flu, saying research had shown it was “not serious because death rates have been limited around the world and it affects patients who already have health issues.”

Khalifeh is due to attend an emergency conference of Arab Health Ministers next Wednesday. The Cairo meeting will discuss contingency plans ahead of the Muslim pilgrimage and budgetary matters for the Arab Health Ministry.

The latest update of Leba-non’s swine flu statistics comes as the WHO said keeping count of individual cases was proving too taxing for countries where the virus was spreading quickly.

“In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed over six 

months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks,” the WHO said Thursday in a briefing note posted on its website.

The agency said it would continue to monitor the growing epidemic and asked countries to closely track “unusual events, such as clusters of cases of severe or fatal pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection, clusters of respiratory illness requiring hospitalization, or unexplained or unusual clinical patterns associated with serious or fatal cases,” as well as increased absenteeism from schools or workplaces.

Countries not yet affected by swine flu are advised to report the first confirmed incidences of the virus and to provide weekly aggregated patient numbers together with details about the cases.

The WHO partly attributed its change in reporting requirement to the mildness of symptoms in most patients. “Moreover, the counting of individual cases is now no longer essential in such countries for monitoring either the level or nature of the risk posed by the pandemic virus or to guide implementation of the most appropriate response measures,” the briefing said. The organization said further spread of the virus was “inevitable.”

Lebanon has implemented a series of preventative measures to prevent swine flu from spreading further or affecting the economy. All those returning from abroad with the virus are examined and receive immediate treatment, with medication also given to all passengers who have come into contact with the patient. Thermal sensors have also been installed at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport to screen travelers for abnormally high body temperatures, a symptom 

of the virus.

Those who have contracted swine flu are mostly males under the age of 20, the Health Ministry has said. All of Lebanon’s swine flu patients have received medical treatment but most did not require hospitalization and so far there have been no complications and no deaths reported.

Lebanon imposed a ban on pork imports in late April hoping to thwart the virus, although swine flu cannot in fact be transmitted through eating pork-derived products. Beirut followed up by creating a cross-ministry, national emergency committee to combat a potential national flu pandemic. The first three cases of swine flu in Lebanon were discovered on June 1.

A(H1N1) has killed 429 people and infected over 95,000 since the epidemic first broke out in North America late March this year, the World Health Organization said in its final update a week ago. But with the UK saying last week it had an estimated 55,000 new cases of the virus, the WHO numbers are already grossly outdated. Cherie Blair, the wife of Britain’s former Premier Tony Blair, has been reported to be suffering from swine flu. Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, is also said to have had a mild case of the virus.

One citizen’s blood donor initiative saves more than 1,000 lives

11 Jul
Donner Sang Compter Secretary-General Samar Khoury Donates Blood at the Middle East Hospital

Donner Sang Compter Secretary-General Samar Khoury Donates Blood at the Middle East Hospital

Yorgui (left) and his brother Marc raising awareness at Lebanon's Balamand University
Yorgui (left) and his brother Marc raising awareness at Lebanon’s Balamand University

BEIRUT: When was the last time you donated blood? That question creeps guiltily into one’s head when talking to 23-year old student Yorgui Teyrouz. Teyrouz is what one might call resourceful. Through his lowly mobile phone, he has built up a successful blood bank database that matches volunteer donors to those in need of a transfusion.

An undergraduate student at the Lebanese American University, Teyrouz first thought of the idea as a scout leader, when he suggested creating a blood database among members.

As a volunteer at the Lebanese Red Cross, he became aware of how scarce blood donors were.

But it was only after the grandfather of a friend failed to find donors for a blood transfusion of the very rare blood type AB – that Teyrouz decided to launch a fully-fledged mobile phone database.

“In my existing database, I had only two AB donors who were able to give two units of blood, but my friend’s grandfather needed five units. He died because he wasn’t able to get enough blood,” says Teyrouz. “No one should be allowed to die because they can’t find the right blood.”

In 2007, he founded Donner Sang Compter to coordinate the growing number of willing donors with needy patients. In French, the name means “to give without expecting anything in return,” but is also a play on the word sang, which means blood.

Today more than 1,000 patients have benefitted from blood, platelets and plasma donated by the database’s 5,000 registered donors, and the number of people who call in search of blood is growing steadily every month. In June alone, Donner Sang Compter answered 112 separate blood demands, filling an important gap in the medical sector.

While many people hear of the service through word of mouth, Teyrouz and his team of volunteers also give talks at schools, clubs and universities, and set up awareness stands to recruit new donors. There is also a Donner Sang Compter group on Facebook with more than 6,200 members.

Teyrouz’s answer to donor scarcity was recently awarded a $50,000 prize in the King Abdullah II Awards for Youth Innovation and Achievement. The Jordanian award, which was this year presented at the World Economic Forum in May, recognizes youth-driven community projects in the Arab world. Teyrouz will use the money to build a sustainable blood bank database and employ full-time staff members.

While people might be reluctant to donate blood to strangers, the feeling of helping save someone’s life is “amazing,” Teyrouz says. “We can all make a positive change.”

Karma aside, donating is also good for you, as Teyrouz points out.

“There have been many studies which prove that donating blood is healthy for the donor and helps clean the blood.”

A subtle underside to the Donner Sang Compter project is that it is helping to break down sectarian divisions. “We’re not differentiating between religions,” Teyrouz says, relating a story about a Muslim youth who donated to an elderly nun and of a sheikh who benefited from the blood of a young Maronite. Teyrouz repeats a Donner Sang Compter slogan: “Blood has only one color.”

Teyrouz receives an average of 10 phone calls every day from people desperately seeking blood donors. During the interview, he takes a call from somebody who needs A + blood. Opening up his database, Teyrouz flicks quickly through his Excel sheets to find a match.

“There’s a quote I came up with,” Teyrouz says, looking up. “The biggest proof of responsible citizenship is to serve someone you don’t know.”

 If you would like to donate blood or are in need of blood, call Donner Sang Compter on 03 31 48 68


Syria amends honour killing law

2 Jul
President Bashar al-Assad

Article 548 was abolished by Bashar al-Assad’s presidential decree

THIS FROM THE BBC: Syria has scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences handed down to men convicted of killing female relatives they suspect of having illicit sex.

Women’s groups had long demanded that Article 548 be scrapped, arguing it decriminalised “honour” killings. Activists say some 200 women are killed each year in honour cases by men who expect lenient treatment under the law.

The new law replaces the existing maximum sentence of one year in jail with a minimum jail term of two years. Justice Minister Ahmad Hamoud Younis said the change was made by the decree of President Bashar al-Assad, following a recent increase in “wife-killings… on the pretext of adultery”.

The new law says a man can still benefit from extenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour “provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing”. The legislation covers any man who “unintentionally” kills his wife, sister, daughter or mother after catching her committing adultery or having unlawful sex. It also covers cases where the woman’s lover is killed.

Reports say women’s rights activists have given a cautious welcome to the change, with one group calling it a “small contribution to solving the problem”. Their objection remains, however, that the new law still apparently invites men to murder women if they catch them having sex or suspect them of doing so.