Coronavirus

France, Italy, Belgium act to stop use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 on safety fears

KONFRONTASI-France, Italy and Belgium acted to halt the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat patients suffering from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, amid questions about the safety of the generic anti-malaria drug.

France on Wednesday cancelled a decree allowing hospital doctors to dispense the medicine, while the Italian Medicine Agency (AIFA) suspended authorization to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 outside clinical trials.

The curious case of South Asia's 'low' coronavirus deaths

KONFRONTASI-Scientists and public health experts are continuing to conduct research into why some South Asian countries - despite their ramshackle health infrastructure and dense populations - have witnessed lower coronavirus mortality rates compared with many Western countries.

By early May, the world's richest countries accounted for more than 90 percent of all reported deaths from COVID-19, according to a paper published in The Lancet medical journal. Adding China, Brazil and Iran to that list takes the number up to 96 percent.

By contrast, many densely populated developing countries in South Asia and parts of Africa have fared far better when it comes to the mortality rate from COVID-19, data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) shows.

In Europe, the observed case fatality ratio (CFR, or the percentage of deaths among confirmed coronavirus patients) has been high, with France reporting a rate of 15.2 percent, the United Kingdom 14.4 percent, Italy 14 percent and Spain 11.9 percent, according to JHU data. In the United States, the CFR is 6 percent, the data shows.

By contrast, in South Asian countries, those rates have been far lower. India has a CFR of 3.3 percent, Pakistan 2.2 percent, Bangladesh 1.5 percent and Sri Lanka 1 percent.

"The rest of the world - historically far more used to being depicted as the reservoir of pestilence and disease that wealthy countries sought to protect themselves from, and the recipient of generous amounts of advice and modest amounts of aid from rich governments and foundations - looks on warily as COVID-19 moves into these regions," write Richard Cash and Vikram Patel, public health experts at Harvard University, in The Lancet.

Doctors and scientists say there are a number of possible explanations for the discrepancy in how COVID-19 is affecting populations in different parts of the world, whether due to varying demographics, different levels of exposure to similar viruses or even incomplete data on mortality in some countries resulting in faulty conclusions.

In Pakistan, home to 220 million people and rickety health infrastructure that offers just six hospital beds per 10,000 people, the first case of the coronavirus was reported on February 26, a returning traveller from neighbouring Iran.

Since then, the virus has spread rapidly, with at least 42,125 cases reported countrywide as of May 18, making Pakistan the 20th in the world in terms of the total number of cases. It has reported 903 deaths, making it 26th worldwide on that list, with a CFR one-third that of the US, and up to 13 percent lower than some European countries.

Is the data accurate?

The first question researchers have asked when examining the data is whether the number of deaths being reported in Pakistan and other countries is, in fact, accurate.

In neighbouring India, for example, some have questioned whether deaths are being accurately documented, with as many as 78 percent of deaths not being medically certified under normal circumstances.

In Pakistan, too, this is a possibility - although medical experts working with the government in its fight against the pandemic suggest the error rate would be far lower.

"There is such a stigma around the whole business of COVID, that people do not want to bring their patients to the hospitals," said Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the largest government hospital in Karachi, the country's most populated city.

The bodies of those confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 at the time of death are dealt with through strict measures at government hospitals, with officials in full protective kits bathing the body as part of traditional Islamic burial.

"The district [officials] come to receive the dead body, and we pack it in a body bag. There needs to be a better mechanism for transporting the dead, because this is something that people don't want to [happen]," says Jamali.

"Bathing [the dead body] is a very important ritual for Muslims in Pakistan, so it is not possible that you to completely sideline people and say you will bury [their family members] yourselves."

Nevertheless, Jamali and other experts agreed that this appeared to result in only a modest decrease in the reporting of deaths - whether COVID-19-related or not.

Dr Faisal Sultan, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's focal person on the coronavirus crisis, says the government has put systems in place to ensure that all deaths are being accounted for, including direct coordination with provincial health authorities and community outreach using Pakistan's extensive network for polio vaccination.

"The health system is so sensitised right now to COVID that in the present situation, the possibility of [large numbers of] underreported deaths is unlikely," he told Al Jazeera.

Dr Faisal Mahmood, head of infectious diseases at Karachi's Aga Khan University Hospital, the largest research hospital in the country, concurred, saying results from a preliminary survey at the city's graveyards had not suggested a rise in deaths as opposed to the previous year.

Al Jazeera also interviewed doctors and officials at major government hospitals in Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore, the capital Islamabad and the southwestern city of Quetta - where a number of coronavirus cases have been reported. None noted any marked increase in patients who were dead on arrival, whether from the coronavirus or other causes.

However, Dr Mahmood cautioned: "It may be that our death rate is not low, but that our epidemic is slow or that we are earlier in our epidemic, and that eventually, we will have the same death rate."

Indonesia's chronic testing lag undermines fight against COVID-19

KONFRONTASI-More than a month after Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised to ramp up coronavirus testing, medical workers are complaining of persistent delays in the process.

The Southeast Asian nation, the world’s fourth most populous, has the highest coronavirus death toll in East Asia outside China, and one of the lowest global testing rates.

Coronavirus can still be an opportunity for peace in Afghanistan

OPINION-The coronavirus pandemic is swiftly rearranging global priorities. The contagion, which has killed more than 288,000 people globally, gave rise to some new rivalries, but it also forced old foes in several parts of the world to pause their conflicts. In March, responding to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's appeal for a global ceasefire, conflicting parties in Colombia, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen have expressed their willingness to pause hostilities.

Coronavirus taking heavy toll on US prison population

KONFRONTASI - The prison population in the United States, the largest in the world, is being badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic even as officials are saying the disease has plateaued.

More than 80 percent of the nearly 2,500 inmates at a prison in Marion, Ohio as well as 175 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, making it the most heavily infected institution across the country.

Coronavirus and narcotics: Can drug cartels survive COVID-19?

OPINION-The year 2020 has been terrible for people across the world, but it has been particularly bad for Latin America. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis caused further suffering in a region already plagued by political uncertainty, corruption, and violence. The pandemic, coupled with sudden slumps in oil prices, significant regional currencies, and imports from China and the United States, created a perfect storm which devastated both the general population and the private sector.

Six killed by Kenyan police enforcing coronavirus curfew: HRW

KONFRONTASI-At least six people have died in Kenya from police violence during the enforcement of a dusk-to-dawn curfew implemented to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The measure, which came to power on March 27, prohibits people from moving outside between 7pm (16:00 GMT) and 5am (02:00 GMT).

The six deaths investigated by HRW happened during its first 10 days, the US-based group said in a statement on Wednesday.

Being optimistic in the midst of Calamity

By. Imam Shamsi Ali* 

Islam is the religion of optimism and hope. Having faith as a Muslim gives us hope but being in despair is a sign of being ungrateful to Allah's blessings. 

Islam teaches us to be grateful all the time, and an important essence of that gratefulness is hope and optimism. That no matter how bitter the life is, how challenging and difficult the circumstance we live in, we are always being blessed abundantly by the Almighty Allah. 

Coronavirus threatens global peace and stability, warns UN chief | News from the world

KONFRONTASI -    The UN chief called the pandemic coronavirus “a generation’s fight” and a threat to global peace and security.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the UN Security Council that the pandemic could increase social unrest and violence, which would significantly affect the world’s ability to fight the disease.

It is, he said, the most serious test of the UN since its creation 75 years ago and has already hampered efforts to resolve international, regional and national conflicts.

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