By Almas Shamim

A few decades ago, acquiring a serious infection like Tuberculosis would have reduced chances of survival manifolds. Not just TB, but many other infections expressed all their severity in the times bygone. Things changed dramatically with improved living conditions and then with the introduction of medicines that could help combat these diseases- the antibiotics.

Innumerable lives have been saved by the use of antibiotics. Perhaps it was possible for you and meto be born because our parents and grandparents could live on and not succumb to deadly infections – owing to antibiotics. However, things won’t remain the same forever. Soon, all the known antibiotics would be rendered useless and we all would be again susceptible to deadly infections that have no cure. And this will occur due to the sharp rise in “resistance”.

The same evolution that helped man to walk on two feet and rule this planet- also helps other forms of life. The micro-organisms too evolve into forms that are better suited to survival with changing times. So, if a medicine acts in a particular mechanism to kill the organism, the organism mutates and evolves into a form that can overcome that mechanism of the medicine. Such mutations are boosted when the organisms are acted upon by incomplete courses of antibiotics, meaning, when we don’t complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by our doctor, we are aiding in the spread of resistance that will soon lead to a “no-cure” situation in the world.

We may be forced to believe that with newer and stronger organisms, newer and stronger antibiotics will also come up but sadly, that does not seem to be the case. Man’s technological advances are not keeping up with nature’s evolutionary progress and the new antibiotics that are being made are not sufficient to deal with all the newer forms of organisms and diseases that are on the rise. Funding is another big reason why newer antibiotics may not see the light of day. Research and development that is needed for newer drugs is mostly triggered by pharmaceutical companies that are mostly based in American and European countries and tend to stick to medicines that are more profitable- so, they focus more on developing medicines for diseases that are commoner in the Western countries than in countries like India/ Bangladesh/ Pakistan/ Nepal- because of the better market. So, though the need for newer antibiotics is on the rise, the market feasibility is still not great enough for the pharmaceutical giants to invest in this sector. Hence the threat of rising resistance becomes all the more large.

Many times doctors are forced into prescribing antibiotics by patients themselves. We question the competence of a doctor if he/she has not prescribed us a strong antibiotic for a week. It is said that “without medicines a cold lasts for 7 days, and with medicines, only for a week”. While this, of course, is just a saying, we must be careful in deciding whether we really need a course of antibiotics for a common cold (which is mostly viral) that usually resolves by itself. Though proper treatment- choosing the right antibiotic and proper adherence to the prescribed course-is important, the best way would obviously be that of prevention. Preventing infections at home/ school and workplace would involve simple steps such as washing hands properly before taking food and after defecation, using a handkerchief to cough or sneeze into and later washing the handkerchief properly; good cross ventilation is also extremely important in reducing the chances of exposure to an infective organism. Apart from this, the govt. should also ensure proper infection control in hospitals and all public buildings to reduce the chance of exposure to infection. Incorporating public health engineering into construction practices goes a long way in ascertaining infection control measures.

November 16- 22, 2015 was observed as the World Antibiotic Awareness Week. We must resolve that the awareness should be spread and instructions followed for more than just one week in a year.

To sum it up:

*Take precautions such that we don’t acquire infections

*Choose antibiotics properly, if at all! Drug sensitivity testing, though not commonly available and practiced, can help tremendously in choosing the correct antibiotic.

*Complete the full course of antibiotics. Before changing medicines, consult your clinician.

*During the course of the infection, adopt further precautions so that it is not transmitted to others.

*Never stigmatize the patient! Never!

For more info on Antibiotic Awareness, visit:

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi

By Almas Shamim

Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’ as it is so often called, is more a festival of noise, smoke and lots of waste.

The noise coming from the ‘bombs’ are hardly pleasing to the ear and the smoke that builds up after long ‘ladis’ of ‘mirchipatakha’ have been lighted, can choke even those with the healthiest lungs!

In spite of this flip side, Diwali retains its position as one of the most awaited and widely celebrated festivals in the country. While it’s true that our environment and health would both be way better if certain components of Diwali- bursting crackers, for instance- were cut short, it is also true that such a Diwali may not be seen in the near future! So, accepting the fact that few of us, if any, would be interested in celebrating a completely ‘cracker-free’ Diwali, let us go through a few pointers that we should keep in mind with respect to our and our loved ones’ health:

1.I see-

And I want to continue seeing after Diwali is over. I’m sure you too would, so protect those eyes. Even tiny sparks from phuljhadis can cause damage to your eyes and you definitely don’t want to spend your Diwali evening sitting in G.B. Pant’s casualty. Special protective glasses are available online, but if you don’t want to order them- just being cautious and conscious enough to keep the crackers away from your body, especially eyes, can suffice.

2.I hear-

Plug some cotton in your ears. If not completely eliminate, they will at least dampen the impact of the noise on your eardrums.

3. I eat-

So you are placing big anaars to burn with your bare hands, distributing phuljhadis to little kids and then picking up the used up pataakhas and dumping them in a bucket of water (and not a plastic bucket!), and immediately afterwards you run back into your house and pick up that delicious motichoorkaladdu and lick your fingers after devouring it! Well- great ! But, remember to wash your hands before you eat it! Crackers carry heavy metals which are mighty toxic to our system. Let us try not gulping them down with our food.

4. I diet-

Go easy on the sweets! Are you a diabetic? Well, tempting as they are, sweets could be disastrous to your health. For some, even one can be too many. Keep alternatives ready for when your mouth would water, looking at others relishing sweets! Monitor and suitably alter your insulin or pills the coming days.

5. I feel-

Be considerate! If you know that there’s someone in or next to your house who is ill and may not be able to take the loud noise too well, or if there’s a young infant who will panic at the noise, be considerate to switch to crackers that are less noisy. Concern for asthmatics should not be forgotten who may not tolerate smoke well.

6. I prepare-

Medicine box- don’t have one? Great time to prepare one now. Though burns are the most commonly reported injuries during Diwali, other complaints that accompany festivals and marriages could be a problem now too. You could get a severe headache (what with all the noise), or acidity (what with all those sweets!). It’ll be better if you have some painkillers, gauze bandages, antacids at hand.

Of course, these are not the only points- precautions when dealing with fireworks can go on and on. Leaving you with a video on some more practical considerations in making this festive day a safe and healthy one.

Happy Diwali!

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi

By Almas Shamim

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard and read the harmful nature of drug addiction and the havoc it can wreck in an individual’s life. ‘Don’t do drugs’, ‘Say no to drugs’ are words that are very commonly used. Yet, the fact remains that people of widely ranging age groups have been reported to be using addictive substances/’drugs’.

In such a situation, does it really help if we simply put out messages for adolescents and young adults to abstain from drugs? The situation is very similar to asking adolescents and older adults to abstain from sex. In both circumstances, while some do succeed in abstaining, others go ahead to exert their autonomy and indulge in sex or/and drugs. What, then, becomes of the latter group?

They are ostracized by the society for being addicted to drugs and signed off as failures who couldn’t ‘abstain’ from these ‘evils’. The heightened stigma pushes this group further away from the mainstream, to a risky life of no return. The very society which, more often than not, influences people into the habit of drug use- refuses to show ownership of these members once they have been consumed by their habit. And even here, like in all other aspects of life, the poor fare worse than the rich.

The real danger of such an attitude towards drug use is that it presents life as a black or white situation- where you are either a clean, sober, healthy person or a poor, wretched, drug addict with innumerable diseases. Such an attitude forces people who use drugs down a pre-determined path towards poor physical, mental and social health.

This need not be the case.

The key to a healthy society is not ‘abstinence’, for the simple reason that it does not necessarily work. The key is ‘Harm Reduction’. Harm reduction is an umbrella term given to the many small steps that can be taken for people who use drugs, so that their life can be supported and improved. To begin with there should be sufficient knowledge amongst people on the various side effects that the various ‘substances’ can cause, the interaction these substances will have with any other medications they are taking and the safe range of dose and frequency of the drug use that will not cause any harm to the user. A special concern of IV drug users is that they tend to share their syringes- this can lead to the spread of transmissible diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C among others. Access to new and disposable syringes can go a long way in the control of spreading these infections in this vulnerable population. Collection of used syringes, provision of clean cotton swabs and maybe even drug use booths can help in reducing the severe harm that is associated with drug use. All this can be accompanied by an Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) which will help the user to find a substitute to the used ‘substance’ if he/ she is motivated to quit drug use.

It is extremely important for us to realize that ‘Harm Reduction’ and providing syringes to drug users is not a method to promote drug use. On the contrary, it is to support them who either choose not to abstain or are unable to abstain from drug use, but have a right to good health and inclusion in the society.

India’s “National AIDS Control Organization” has also been actively involved in ‘Harm Reduction’ and recognizes it as a major step in the prevention of HIV infection.

To know more on harm reduction, do visit these sites:

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi

By Almas Shamim

I clearly remember the day. I was around nine years of age, in fifth standard and had just returned home, happy that another tiring day was over. My mummy turned me around, lifted my grey uniform skirt and pointing at a small patch asked me, ‘Yekyahai?’ (What is that?)

I carelessly told ‘Oh, I don’t know…. I must have sat on something…. Maybe during the lunch break … oil from someone’s tiffin maybe’

But, my mummy was in a panic mode- she took me to the toilet and yes, her fear was right!

My underwear was soaking red! I had had my menarche- the first time I got my periods.

What followed for me was a teary and sad week when I refused to go to school and lay in bed as if I was dying and begging my mother to tell me if there was anything else about to ‘happen’ to me, anything else which she hadn’t told me about.

Sometimes, when I look back I wonder why had I behaved so silly, but, then I am reminded – I was only nine years old- a child!

Yes, it wasn’t as common to have menarche at such a young age back then, now-a-days, it is commoner. Yes, my mother hadn’t anticipated that I would get my periods so soon, because both my mummy and my sister had not had periods until they were well into their teen years. But, would my mummy have told me about menstruation had I reached 10, 11 or even 12? I seriously doubt that. My family has not been one where menstruation is spoken about openly. She would have waited until I learnt it myself- by experience or through friends.

It is not any different in many other homes. Things as common as plain biology are held back from children- the way our body changes, the way girls develop breasts or the way they menstruate. This transfer of information may seem trivial to many but is essential not only because it gives some additional knowledge to the child, but also because it make the child realize that it is ‘normal’ and nothing to fear or hate, and that their parents/ teachers will always be there to stand with them and support them if anything about their new body irks them or confuses them. Having this support system is very important to have a healthy body image and also to approach reliable and correct people if there are instances of abuse or pregnancy.

Talking about menstruation to children (both boys and girls) not only helps them who have their menarche around the time their friends do, it also helps those girls who don’t get their periods until late- a girl who has not yet had her periods has a chance of being called ‘names’ by her friends, of being told that she is not normal or less of a girl than the others- all these could have disastrous consequences on the mental health of a young girl. It helps boys to understand differences better and not ‘bully’ girls for being different. Again, ‘talking’ can help dispel these myths and make children aware of how normal it is and how if it happens late or if a girl doesn’t get her periods at all- it does not make her any less of a person and she is as capable of anything that others are capable of.

Comprehensive sex education to all children about the bodies of both boys and girls and the changes they should anticipate, will go a long way in grooming children into healthy, confident adults.

Leaving you with a link to a you tube video (good luck viewing it in our internet connection!) which has a funny take on periods:

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi

By K.Venkatesan, HOD, Homescience, JNRM, Port Blair

When a political leader passes away, the cadres belongs to their particular party normally taking part in the procession. But around 5 lakhs of general public comprising students, youth, women elders and children irrespective of caste and religion garnered to give bid adieu to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in Rameswaram despite he doesn’t have the political badge. Around 70% of them were youth and students community. They were thronging to have a final glimpse of their beloved dream hero and role model Dr.Kalam. The police and security personnel didn’t find hard to manage that much gathering. The police admired that we thought managing the public and youth will be herculean task. But that was not the case. They youth eased our job.  Who taught them  to be self disciplined  and who preach them the values of righteousness. He is none other than Dr.APJ.Abdul Kalam. His sudden demise was sent a shocking wave across the spine to the people of home and aboard. The Prime Minister said the “Real Ratna of Bhrat” left us. Obviously Bharat has lost not only an elder son, but a visionary scientist who had the VISION 2020. Dr Kalam was an inspirational person by his ever smiling gesture for the people beyond generations.

Revolving our country into a developed one is the first and foremost vision and dream of Kalam sir. That’s the reason why whenever he meet the younger generation he asked them to “Dream-Dream-Dream” further he adds “Small Aim is Crime”.

Next to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Dr. Kalam was the one who very much affectionate towards children’s and concerned about the youth of our country. Dr. V.Ponraj, Adviser to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam used to tell Dr. Kalam’s only properties were his literatures (books) and 64 crore youths of india. That much indomitable faith kept by Dr Kalam towards the younger generation was to see motherland as developed one in all aspects. viz., Education, Health, Employment generation, Defence and Technology etc., The people friendly atmosphere created by Dr Kalam in Rastrapathi Bhawan made him to call affectionately as “PEOPLES PRESIDENT”. There is no need of becoming worldwide popular, but by following the way of Dr Kalam atleast we have to adopt harmony, inter religious, righteousness and maintain brotherhood in our own locality. At the time of interview one of the question raised by media personnel was “as a Scientist what made you to be happy or what is your great achievement”. The reply of Dr Kalam was  FRO  (Floor Reaction Orthosis) to a Polio affected children’s. The FRO is the epitome of convergence of engineering and medical science which reduced the caliper weight from 4 kg to 400 km in turn alleviated the pain of the children which brought smile in their face and parents too.  Whatever meeting or public programme Dr Kalam participates, the children’s and youth throng to get his autograph and he never bothered for children’s cluster rather loved to be with them.

It has now become the site for germination of dream, vision, thoughts, action, innovation, creativity, courage, honesty, integrity, culture of excellence and social service and ultimately to create an enlightened citizens. In his “Song for Youth” Dr. Kalam  wrote, I pray the Almighty: "May the divine peace with beauty enter into our people; Happiness and good health blossom in our bodies, minds and souls". He is the one who brought biodiversity in the historical Mughal Garden of Rashtrapathi Bhawan later which was called Spiritual Garden.  Through “What Can I Give Mission” which connected several crores Youth through electronically and discussed societal models. In what can I give mission he exhorted the students to come forward for tree planting, save the earth, cleanliness etc., That day itself it paved the way for the today Swachh Bharat Movement. “Tirukkural” couplets are played vital role in the life of former president. The speech of Kalam sir won’t complete without quoting Tirukkural. He advised the students to defeat the defeat and should not lose heart rather regenerate energy to achieve the ultimate goal. The speech and address made by Kalam was depending upon the group whether they are students, teachers, youth, women, farmers he asked them to take administer oath related to their field which is developed by him. In addition to that he always ask “ WHAT I WILL BE REMEMBERED FOR”. Under which do something for the society either cleaning, tree plantation, health, education etc. through that the society should remember your contribution.

After dignitaries paid their respects to the mortal remains of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, people in Delhi and various parts of the nation are pouring in 1000's. Lakhs of people are in queue. Mostly 70% of them are youth and students. School after school children are thronging to have a glimpse of their beloved dream role model Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In the year 2004 Dr. Kalam became the first Indian President to visit the Siachen glacier, which is the highest battlefield  for interacting  with our army personnel.  More credit that as a supreme commander of all three forces he was the first person to fly a Sukhoi jet, travel in a submarine etc. and what not.  At the time of his visit to this islands on 4th September 2009 he delivered a speech on the Seminar on Security and Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and he said he visited here a number of time, the people of this islands bravely faced the consequences especially at the time of  tsunami.

During a last moment of journey with Dr Kalam’s mortal body, Shri Ponraj said  “a dream hero who implanted a vision in the minds of 640 million of India is going to take peaceful rest as a silent seed, which will transform the youth of our nation to become a great and enlightened citizens”.

The Various State Governments are vying  each other for paying tribute to Dr Kalam,  through naming and renaming the educational institutions and roads in the name of that great soul. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar  has announced  the Kishanganj Agriculture College will be named after former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

"The government has decided to rename the college as APJ Abdul Kalam Agriculture College," Nitish Kumar added.  Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh announced the  Technical University has been renamed as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University.  For remembering the contribution made by Dr Kalam  in the first successful land-to-land test of the Prithvi Missile which was conducted from the other part of the mainland and it landed on the then and previously uninhabited 'Wheeler Island' on November 30, 1993.   Shri Naveen Patnaik, Odisha Chief Minister announced Wheeler Island in Bhadrak district as “Abdul Kalam Island”. The Government of Tamil Nadu  instituted an award in memory of Abdul Kalam, celebrate his birth anniversary as Youth Awakening Day.  Shri Oman Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala announced  Science Festival Trophy After Kalam and Kerala Technological University named after Dr Kalam. The Department of Posts, Government of India will release the Dr Kalam’s stamp on his birth anniversary.

What we are going to do for Dr Kalam:

At the time of his visit to this islands on 4th September 2009 he delivered a speech on the Seminar on Security and Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and he said he visited here a number of time, the people of this islands bravely faced the consequences especially at the time of  tsunami.  Whenever I met Dr Kalam during our discussion he has shown enormous love towards the Islanders, because he himself hailed from Rameswaram Island and he admitted that he know the pain and problems of the Islanders. He was very much concerned about the development of Andaman & Nicobar Islands especially, he asked me to work on PURA, (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas), New and Renewable Projects, Conserving Biodiversity etc.

In Andaman and Nicobar Islands also as a rich  tribute to Dr Kalam, the Port Blair Municipal Council (PBMC) may think of naming the road after Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and  the educational institute  could be named as Dr Abdul Kalam College. The ensuing year the JNRM will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee Celebration. The entire science block may be named as Dr Kalam,s Block. 

The inspiration received from Dr Kalam the youth of our country  will become a asset for the nation to fulfill the vision of Dr.Kalam. We miss your selfless smile and sparkling eyes sir.