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First self-test for hepatitis C virus prequalified by WHO

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New Delhi, July 10 (IANS) In a first, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday prequalified the hepatitis C virus (HCV) self-test that will help expand access to testing and diagnosis and accelerate global efforts to eliminate the disease.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a variety of infectious viruses and non-infectious agents leading to a range of health problems.

An estimated 354 million people worldwide live with hepatitis B or C, and for most, testing and treatment remain beyond reach.

The new product, called OraQuick HCV self-test, manufactured by US-based OraSure Technologies is designed for use by anyone, without any expertise.

The WHO had, in 2021, recommended HCV self-testing (HCVST) to complement existing HCV testing services in countries, and may help increase access to and uptake of services, particularly among people who may not otherwise test.

“Every day 3,500 lives are lost to viral hepatitis. Of the 50 million people living with hepatitis C, only 36 per cent had been diagnosed, and 20 per cent have received curative treatment by the end of 2022,” said Dr Meg Doherty, WHO Director for the Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes.

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“The addition of this product to the WHO prequalification list provides a safe and effective way to expand HCV testing and treatment services, ensuring more people receive the diagnosis and treatment they need, and ultimately contributing to the global goal of HCV elimination,” she added.

Importantly, the WHO prequalified HCV self-test will help “low- and middle-income countries have access to safe and affordable self-testing options — essential to achieving the goal of 90 per cent of all people with HCV to be diagnosed”, said Dr Rogerio Gaspar, WHO Director for the Department of Regulation and Prequalification.

–IANS

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Virtual evaluation of medical units to enhance health services in UP

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Lucknow, July 14 (IANS) The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is planning to implement virtual evaluations for the National Quality Assurance Standards (NQAS) certification of Ayushman Arogya Mandirs, which envisages providing comprehensive primary health care services to remote and peripheral areas.

Previously, the NQAS team conducted time-consuming physical verifications of these health units.

With this new approach, the number of NQAS-certified Ayushman Arogya Mandirs is expected to increase rapidly. This initiative is anticipated to significantly improve the quality of health services, providing better healthcare to the public in a more efficient manner.

The number of Ayushman Arogya Mandirs in India has surpassed 1.70 lakh, with over 17,000 located in Uttar Pradesh. In a significant move to improve healthcare services, the Union Health Ministry has recently launched ‘Ayushman Bharat, Quality Health.’

Revised guidelines have been issued for NQAS and Kayakalp certification for integrated public health laboratories.

The primary aim of introducing virtual assessments and a dashboard for the NQAS certification of Ayushman Arogya Mandirs is to enhance public access to healthcare and ensure the delivery of quality health services. During virtual visits, there will be opportunities for interactions with patients, staff, and community members.

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Pinky Jowel, Mission Director of the National Health Mission, has issued a letter to all District Magistrates, Additional Directors, and CMOs of the state regarding this new initiative. The letter mandates that each district must conduct virtual evaluations of 10 to 20 medical units every month.

This initiative will also enable the evaluation of Ayushman Arogya Mandirs in remote areas, ensuring comprehensive healthcare improvement across the state.

Nishant Kumar Jaiswal, General Manager of the National Health Mission, informed that 275 medical units in the state have received NQAS certification so far. These include 56 district-level units, 42 community health centres, and 24 primary health centres. Efforts are being made to bring an equal number of units under this certification in the next three months.

He mentioned that the Central government only provides this certification to health units that treat and care for patients according to standards. Health units that are NQAS certified will have enhanced facilities for local residents.

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He further said that the National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHSRC), which provides the NQAS certificates, has recently received international ISQua EEA accreditation. This means that NQAS is not only an international standard certification but that NHSRC is also a body that complies with international standards.

–IANS

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Scientists find protein to block muscle fatigue in long Covid, Alzheimer's

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New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) US researchers have identified a protein responsible for causing fatigue in people with long Covid, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

While infections and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s are known to cause inflammation in the brain, the patients often develop muscle problems that seem to be independent of the central nervous system.

A team led by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that it is caused by a specific protein that travels from the brain to the muscles and leads to loss of muscle function.

The study, conducted in fruit flies and mice, also identified ways to block this process. This may help physicians treat or prevent muscle wasting caused by bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, and long Covid.

Aaron Johnson, Associate professor of developmental biology explained that when people are ill, “messenger proteins from the brain travel through the bloodstream and reduce energy levels in skeletal muscle.”

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The “process reduces energy levels in skeletal muscle, decreasing the capacity to move and function normally”, he said, in the study, published in the journal Science Immunology.

For the study, the team modelled three different types of diseases — an E. coli bacterial infection, a SARS-CoV-2 viral infection, and Alzheimer’s.

They found that when the brain is exposed to inflammation, it builds up damaging chemicals called reactive oxygen species. This causes brain cells to produce an immune-related molecule called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which travels throughout the body via the bloodstream.

In mice, IL-6 was responsible — and the corresponding protein in fruit flies — for reducing energy production in muscles’ mitochondria, known as the cells’ energy factories.

They also found that IL-6 activates what is called the JAK-STAT pathway in muscle, and this is what causes the reduced energy production of mitochondria.

Currently, several therapeutics already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for other diseases can block this pathway, the team said.

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–IANS

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Here’s how smoking can worsen your diabetes

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New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) While smoking can cause definite health issues among people of all ages, in people with diabetes, it can worsen the risk of heart disease, and stroke and make the illness harder to manage, according to a top diabetologist on Sunday.

Taking to the social media platform X.com, Dr V Mohan, Chairman of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, explained ways in which smoking can affect people with diabetes.

He said that smoking increases insulin resistance.

“Smoking makes it harder for your body to respond to insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels and worsening diabetes control,” the doctor said.

It also raises the risk of severe complications “such as heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.”

Smoking can also worsen blood pressure and cholesterol levels — both critical factors for managing diabetes effectively.

Smoking can also impair blood circulation in people with diabetes, and also accelerate the risk of death.

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“Smoking damages blood vessels, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of foot ulcers and infections that can lead to amputations,” Dr Mohan said.

“People with diabetes who smoke are more likely to experience fatal health outcomes compared to non-smokers. This includes a significantly higher risk of total mortality and cardiovascular mortality,” he added.

A 2023 study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), along with Dr Mohan and other researchers showed that India has a staggering 101 million individuals afflicted by diabetes, while the number of prediabetes stands at 136 million. The country is also home to a whopping 315 million people suffering from hypertension, and 213 million with high cholesterol, among others.

“Take charge of your health: quit smoking and manage your diabetes better,” Dr Mohan said.

–IANS

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SGPGI doctors in Lucknow perform world's first robotic surgery

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Lucknow, July 14 (IANS) Doctors at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) here have performed the world’s first robotic surgery to treat a rare case of pelvic lipomatosis, an official said.

The official spokesperson said, “The case related to a 24-year-old man who was diagnosed with a rare disease.”

Given the complexity of the case, the surgical team at SGPGI decided to perform an augmentation cystoplasty with bilateral ureteric reimplantation. This procedure involved enlarging the bladder using a section of the patient’s intestine and repositioning the ureters to ensure proper drainage and function.

The surgery was performed for more than seven hours. Such a complex procedure where the surgical correction of both the bladder and ureter is done in one setting with a surgical robot has not been reported anywhere in the world, the official added.

Uday Pratap Singh, who led the surgery, said this operation offers numerous advantages over traditional open or laparoscopic surgery.

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“The use of the da Vinci Xi robotic system allowed us to perform this complex surgery with unparalleled precision. This milestone is a testament to the capabilities of robotic surgery in treating rare and challenging conditions,” he said.

The patient’s post-operative recovery has been remarkable, with significant improvement in bladder and kidney function.

“This achievement underscores SGPGI’s commitment to advancing medical science and providing cutting-edge care to patients with complex urological conditions,” said SGPGIMS Director R.K. Dhiman.

–IANS

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Indian-American scientist discovers new biomarker for obsessive compulsive disorder

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New Delhi, July 13 (IANS) A team of researchers led by an Indian-American scientist Dr Sameer Sheth has identified a specific neural activity pattern for patients who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and have undergone deep brain stimulation (DBS) for its treatment.

The team’s goal was to determine how low-frequency brain oscillations in the theta (4-8 Hertz) to alpha (8-12 Hertz) range, which have been shown in a substantial body of scientific literature to play an important role in cognitive processes, were altered in people with severe, treatment-resistant OCD.

To accomplish this, the team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the US used a novel feature of contemporary DBS devices: the ability to record brain activity in addition to providing stimulation.

Unlike most studies, which are done in lab conditions, this one was done in real-life situations.

Before DBS, predictable and periodic neural activity was seen and after its activation, symptomatic reactions were seen, because DBS helps the patients let go of their phobias and embedded responses, allowing them to behave more normally, the researchers noted in the study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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“This neuro-psychological biomarker can serve as a better litmus test to check on the improvements in the lives of people having OCD and could be used for other debilitating conditions as well for they stem from similar neural patterns,” said Dr Sheth at Baylor College of Medicine.

OCD is a prevalent and debilitating mental health illness that affects approximately 2-3 per cent of the global population. In severe circumstances, patients spend a significant amount of time engaging in repetitive compulsions and dwell on intrusive ideas.

OCD has a significant impact on the health and quality of life of patients and careers. Approximately 20-40 per cent of people with severe OCD are resistant to traditional therapies.

Since the early 2000s, DBS therapy has been utilised to control neural activity in specific areas of the brain associated with OCD symptoms.

–IANS

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