Monday, November 18, 2013

Love letter to Beirut

Beirut's iconic Pigeon Rocks
Yes, it’s past mid-November and you are expecting me. But regrettably, I won’t make it this year!
It’s for a good reason though. I might tell you about it a little later, when I feel I can.
But for now, I will miss the annual pilgrimage I have been making for the past few years and the two weeks I count up to for 350 days of the year.
You might wonder why I love you, after letting you down for 20 years. You might also wonder why, as a non-Lebanese, I still call you home and wish to return to you when so many natives are yearning to leave.
Maybe it’s because I gave you the most precious 15 years of my life during the civil war. Maybe it’s because of the lessons learned and the pains endured during those years. Maybe it’s the people – their resilience, their creativity, their sense of humor and their joie de vivre.
Be that as it may, I will miss you and start counting the days till we meet again
I will be looking forward to the eagerness of heading your way, the awe of flying over the Beirut shoreline with Mount Sannine in the background and the excitement of spotting my favorite beach, the Sporting Club, from the sky.
The clapping on touchdown that most people say is annoying. I find it welcoming. You had to live the civil war to understand the significance of having a plane land at Beirut airport after months, or sometimes years, of closure.
You also had to live the civil war years to appreciate the feeling of being affectionately hugged on entering the airport terminal and then getting the better of the taxi drivers’ asking fare for the journey to town.
Getting home to a place I have known all my life and being met by my sister Asma (who usually arrives before me), my cousins Lillian and Dalal and my friend Zepure is perfect bliss. We then spend two weeks like teenagers at a summer camp.
Walking everywhere in Beirut, and discovering so many new places, cafés, restaurants, galleries… that sprung up in the past 11 months is exhilarating. It’s also fun being recognized in the street by my online avatars.
Sitting at a favorite café trottoir to sip a cappuccino and watch the world go by is soothing. I will meet at least half a dozen friends and make half a dozen more new ones while there.
Always a good time to meet the friends... Here in 2011
Seeing the friends again, catching up with their news and thanking them for their generosity on taking you on trips all around Lebanon are fulfilling.
There is also my annual hug from HMA Tom Fletcher… Where else can you go for tea with a British ambassador without being someone important?
Nothing beats a kaaki with Picon cheese and summak
And where else can you enjoy delicious food everywhere -- even when picking a kaaki from a street cart or a manoucheh from a small bakery.
I could go on and on.
I miss you Beirut and my family and friends there. But I’m already looking forward to planning a visit in the New Year. See you soon...    
Related posts:
Love is blind... -- January 28, 2011
Hello! -- October 12, 2010

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Assad brings polio back to Syria

Polio, one of the most feared diseases, back in Syria
One more of the countless consequences of the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its sanction by the international community is the confirmed outbreak of polio cases, the first in Syria in 14 years.

It is sad that polio, once one of the most feared diseases that paralyzed thousands of children every year, is back and could spread throughout the region due to the large amount of movement by Syrians fleeing their country.

In 2013, only three countries -- Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan -- remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.

Will Syria now be added to this list?

The map before the confirmed cases in Syria (WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a surveillance alert for the region to “actively search for additional potential cases.” It also recommends all travellers to and from polio-infected areas be fully vaccinated.

It is all the more heartbreaking given that polio cases in Syria emerged as World Polio Day was being celebrated on October 24.

On Tuesday (October 29), WHO stated, “Following reports of a cluster of 22 acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases on October 17 in Syria, wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) has been isolated from 10 of the cases under investigation.”

It said most of the victims are very young -- below two years of age -- and were un- or under-immunized. Estimated immunization rates in Syria declined from 91 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2012.

Even before this laboratory confirmation, health authorities in Syria and neighboring countries had begun planning and implementing a comprehensive outbreak response, WHO says. On October 24, an already-planned large-scale supplementary immunization activity (SIA) was launched in Syria to vaccinate 1.6 million children against polio, measles, mumps and rubella, in both government-controlled and rebel areas.

Implementation of an SIA in Deir ez-Zor province commenced promptly when the first “hot cases” were reported.

WHO expects the larger-scale outbreak response across Syria and neighboring countries to begin in early November and to last at least six to eight months -- depending on the area and based on evolving epidemiology.

It warns: “Given the current situation in Syria, frequent population movements across the region and subnational immunity gaps in key areas, the risk of further international spread of wild poliovirus type 1 across the region is considered to be high.”

A single confirmed case of polio paralysis is evidence of an epidemic
Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. The strategy to eradicate polio is therefore based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours.

Polio can strike at any age, but it mainly affects children under five years old. It is spread through person-to-person contact.

When a child is infected with wild poliovirus, the virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. It is then shed into the environment through the faeces where it can spread rapidly through a community, especially in situations of poor hygiene and sanitation. If a sufficient number of children are fully immunized against polio, the virus is unable to find susceptible children to infect, and dies out.

Most people infected with the poliovirus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. These symptomless people carry the virus in their intestines and can “silently” spread the infection to thousands of others before the first case of polio paralysis emerges.

For this reason, WHO considers a single confirmed case of polio paralysis to be evidence of an epidemic --particularly in countries where very few cases occur.

Polio can be prevented through immunization. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, almost always protects a child for life.

In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began, polio paralyzed more than 1,000 children worldwide every day. Since then, 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio thanks to the cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, backed by an international investment of more than $8 billion.

WHO, in partnership with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the largest private-public partnership for health, has reduced polio by 99%. Polio now survives only among the world's poorest and most marginalized communities, where it stalks the most vulnerable children. The Initiative's goal is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations.

The oral polio vaccine costs as little as 11 U.S. cents
There are two forms of vaccine available to ward off polio - oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 U.S. cents.

According to WHO, polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 223 reported cases in 2012. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.

But it points out that as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.
May the children of Syria be protected from this disease.