In early July this year, the United States issued a health alert for its citizens traveling to Pakistan to get vaccinated against extensively drug-resistant (XDR) typhoid fever as there was an ongoing outbreak of XDR typhoid in parts of the country’s Sindh province.
Before that, news about this endemic health issue, somehow, could not get proper media attention in Pakistan. The life-threatening infection, typhoid fever, is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi and its new strain is said to be resistant to five antibiotics—obviously limiting treatment options.
In her cover story for the current edition of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, Ramsha Jahangir has taken up this important health issue while reporting from Hyderabad and the coastal city of Karachi. Quoting a record being maintained by Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) she informs us that at least one thousand cases of XDR typhoid have been lab-confirmed in 14 districts of Sindh—of which 800 patients were reported in Hyderabad alone between 2016 and 2017.
In the backdrop of a rising trend in antibiotic resistance, she also informs us about the growing consumption of antibiotics in the country, up from 800 million defined daily doses to 1.3 billion doses in 15 years since 2000.
Medical experts attribute 40 percent of Pakistan’s infections to be caused due to unhygienic water. The next story by Mahrukh Sarwar is about challenges vis-à-vis access and availability of safe drinking water in the country. Globally some two billion people, roughly 28 percent of the world’s population, use contaminated drinking water.
While no fresh and official stats related to Pakistan’s water quality are available, a 2015-2016 report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) found that of 369 water sources it examined from over 23 major cities across the country, some 255 (69 percent) were unsafe.
However, a recent research estimates some 50 million to 60 million people of the country use groundwater within the area at risk with contamination. This means around one fourth of Pakistan’s over 200 million people may be exposed to contaminated groundwater. According to the PCRWR more than 90 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from groundwater.
As far as access to clean water is concerned, according to a 2018 report by WaterAid, Pakistan is among the countries where the highest percentage of people cannot get clean water within a half-hour round trip. Pakistan is at 9th position among top 10 countries whereas neighboring India tops the list with 163 million population without access to clean water.
In our Q+A section, Dr Faisal Khan, the founding director of the Institute of Integrative Biosciences at CECOS University, Peshawar talks about the use of machine learning and AI in biological research and highlights key concerns in this regard. He also talks about synthetic biology which involves designing genetic circuits on computers. He explains how Pakistan can invest in SynBio and start exporting synthetic products, certainly a good idea to help solve the country’s chronic trade deficit problem.
As the man behind Basecamp 2.0, a start-up incubator in Peshawar, Dr Khan also recalls how a team from Pakistan was able to secure positions at the iGEM competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Last but not least, read Dr Rehan Hafiz’s article on Approximate Computing to know more about the field and related developments happening inside Pakistan and abroad and as to how, once it happens, it can translate into considerable savings in the power requirement, specifically for signal processing and multimedia applications. He talks in detail about alternate computing paradigms through which scientists are trying to reduce power required for doing arithmetic computations keeping in view the challenge ‘to find right balance of approximation and quality of output.’
Dr Umar Saif, Editor in Chief
Umar Saif tweets @umarsaif