'96 Batch - General News

Saturday, September 20, 2003

IT majors eyeing bioinformatics

By Harichandan A. A.

BANGALORE SEPT. 20. In February this year, a bioinformatics centre in the University at Buffalo (UaB), New York, signed a memorandum of understanding with the India-based IT major, Tata Consultancy Services. TCS also announced the opening of a regional office in downtown Buffalo at that time.

Back home, other IT majors were also eying the bioinformatics pie, about $2 billion a year, growing at 25-30 per cent according to some estimates. That interest however is part of a much larger `life sciences practice' in which Wipro, Satyam, Infosys Technologies and TCS itself, have groups of various sizes.

Most at this time won't share plans about investments and revenues, but TCS's MoU with UaB, is a pointer. The company, whose IT clients include Eli Lily and Johnson and Johnson, may fund research at UaB in exchange for commercial rights to the results, a drug development tool, for example.

M. Vidyasagar, a scientist and Executive Vice President, Advanced Technology, TCS, said "if they have specific proposals, we may fund them, but as of now, common ground is still being established".

The company was drawn to Buffalo for three reasons: First, The Centre for Bioinformatics, headed by a noted scientist, G. Skolnick, rumoured to have accepted the position only after a phone call from New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Second, one of the largest experimental structural genomics centre in the world, the Hauptman Woodward Institute, is in Buffalo. Nobel laureate Hauptman was present at the announcement of TCS's tie-up with UaB.

Third, the university's growing concentration of bioinformatics talent is complemented by a powerful supercomputer, which "We would like to use for any number crunching," Dr. Vidyasagar said.

TCS also has a 40-man development team in Hyderabad, developing BioSuite, a set of software tools for protein mapping and other computational tools for drug development, funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. "TCS has the commercial rights to this package," Dr. Vidyasagar said.

Infosys set up its Life Sciences practice in August 2002. The team includes former analysts from ICICI Ventures and IL & FS and PhDs in biology.

A spokesperson said clients include "a global leader in contract research, a European biotechnology leader, and an emerging India based global pharmaceutical company. Further, Infosys is also working with the U.S. division of a global pharmaceutical leader on a performance management dashboard for their senior executives".

While similar information may be found on the web about the other IT majors, TCS, looks like the most focused, today. But it is "early days to share revenue figures," Dr. Vidyasagar said. Show me the money: Part of the reason is that unlike Y2K or BPO, bioinformatics is "not an area where the labour cost arbitrage works out for them (the IT companies)," says Rishikesha T. Krishnan, Associate Professor of Corporate Strategy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. In a recent research paper, Dr. Krishnan and Anshu Gupta and Varun Matta, from IIT Delhi, say it is unlikely that Indian companies will emulate the IT success, in biotechnology and bioinformatics.

During 2000-01, riding on the human genome project euphoria, bioinformatics was seen as very investible, by many analysts in the U.S. At the time there were over 50 U.S. companies with bioinformatics products and services — (1) Tools that support lab experiments, (2) databases of proteins, DNA sequences, gene expression, and medical genetics and (3) analytical software tools for (inSilico) `rational drug design'.

Of the $2 billion, products would amount for up to a fourth while services make up the rest. Given this limited market, Indian companies would have to compete with U.S. companies, and in this case, `offshoring doesn't work' as bioinformatics must quickly feed into biotech research, Dr. Krishnan says.

TCS's deal with UaB is also a pointer to the fact that a strong eco-system is absent in India, to do hardcore biotech research. Unlike in BPO, global pharma firms see no compulsion to set up shop in India, and can in fact directly hire talented Indians from say IISc, or NCBS, to work in the U.S.

Lastly, Indian drug majors such as Ranbaxy and Dr. Reddy's are still making money by selling cheap generics and not by developing original products. While they have now started committing money for product R&D, how much of that will go into bioinformatics is unclear.

Call for change in style of living

By Our Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 20. The need for a change in style of living for avoiding health problems in the modern mechanical life was stressed by the speakers at a national seminar on coconut, coconut products in health and disease organised by the Kerala University Biochemistry Department here today.

Speaking at the seminar, the head of the department of Cardiothoracic surgery of the Sree Chithra Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, K. S. Neelakantan, said that as many as 40 per cent of the diseases occur due to smoking.

Use of alcohol and food habits also create problems.

However, regular exercises can check the occurrence of such diseases, he added.

The results of a comparative study of Coca-Cola and tender coconut was also presented in the seminar today.

The professor in the Biochemistry Department of the Kerala University, T. Rajamohan, said that the use of cola could lead to diseases such as ulcer, high blood pressure and other digestive disorders.

In the valedictory address, the Health Minister, P. Sankaran, stressed the need for popularising the benefits of coconut among the people.

Once steps are taken by the Government to process coconut water and distribute it, the use of several aerated drinks would come down, he added.

The director of the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, G. M. Nair, also spoke on the occasion.

Making a fast buck out of murky linen at MCH

By M. Dinesh Varma

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 20. With the power laundry section at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital (MCH) slowly heading towards obsolescence due to the apathy of officials, outsourcing of murky linen pieces from the MCH and SAT Hospital is turning out to be a money-spinner for an opportunistic group operating on the campus.

The power laundry unit comprises five washing machines, six dryers and three hydro-extractor units and two sluicing equipment for wringing clothes. At least four of the major equipment are of 1957 Danish-make with the installed capacity of the machines varying from 30 kg to 130 kg.

However, of the estimated output of 600 pieces per day from the MCH and SAT Hospital, roughly half the quantity was currently being collected, delivered and cleansed at the power laundry. The rest of the linen output, ranging from bedsheets to theatre aprons, was being outsourced to a local lobby of dhobis who allegedly charge Rs. 7 per piece through a network of persons, which include hospital insiders.

The outsourcing of soiled linen is done citing the poor state of most machines in the laundry unit. Most of the machines, including four washing machines and three dryers, are either in disrepair or in urgent need for renovation.

According to sources, the administration was now spending around Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 a month for outsourcing the work. It is being pointed out that ploughing back a part of the money — now being drained away for outsourcing dhobi works — into upgrading the power laundry machinery could increase the capacity utilisation of the unit.

A section of the staff at the power laundry unit says that though the average linen output had been averaging around 400 pieces, the net capacity could be increased to even 1,000 pieces a day with some investment on upgrading the unit.

A senior hospital administrator, when contacted, said that in a cost-benefit analysis it was proving to be more economical to outsource the work rather than finding funds for upkeep or modernisation of the obsolete unit.

It is also pointed out that with the staff at the power laundry being appointees of the Health Services, the MCH administration was powerless in dealing with any act of indiscipline relating to this section of employees.

Self-financing MCs start admission to merit seats

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The self-financing medical colleges in the State have started admitting students who were selected in merit quota through the counselling conducted by the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations.

The self-financing medical college managements had refused to admit students who brought the green card issued by the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations to the colleges on Thursday stating that they had not received the list of candidates to be admitted to the colleges.

Dr Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College administrator J.M.Steward told The New Indian Express that the college received the list of candidates to be admitted to the college by fax this evening.

The college admitted four students from the list after the fax message was received, he said.

Secretary of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church Medical College, Kolencherry, Joy.P.Jacob said that the college received the list by fax only on Friday.
He said that the college would initiate steps to admit students to the college soon.

There was no dispute over the admissions to the merit quota in the college, he said.

Commissioner for Entrance Examination C.K.Viswanathan said that he had received complaints that some self-financing medical colleges did not admit students who had come with the green card issued by the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations.

He has forwarded the complaints to the Health Secretary.

According to sources, some self-financing medical colleges had even demanded fees that was more than that decided by the Government to merit quota seats in self-financing colleges.

Two students had even cancelled their option to one of the self-financing medical college following the refusal to admit students on Thursday, C.K.Viswanathan said.

Dental, ayurveda, siddha colleges agree to Govt proposal

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The representatives of the self-financing dental, ayurveda and siddha colleges have agreed to implement the tuition fees structure in government colleges in the merit quota.

However, at a meeting convened by Health Minister P.Sankaran here on Tuesday, the representatives of the self-financing nursing and medical lab technician colleges did not agree to the proposal. The self-financing nursing and MLT colleges wanted the Government to allow them to collect the same fees fixed for management quota seats in merit quota as well.

The tuition fees fixed for last year in the self-financing nursing colleges was Rs 50,000. The managements were allowed to collect a special fees of Rs 15,000 and a caution deposit of Rs 10,000. The tuition fees fixed for government colleges is Rs 5,900.

The colleges had the provision to collect a miscellaneous fees of Rs 1,000. This is for the first time that the self-financing MLT colleges were introduced in the State. The Minister told the meeting that the proposal of the self-financing colleges would be placed before the Cabinet and a decision would be taken in this regard at the earliest.

The contention of the self-financing nursing and MLT college managements was that they would not be able to run the institutions profitably in case the fees for merit quota was fixed as equivalent to that of government colleges.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Major part of funds spent on rarely-used costly medicines

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Health Department which went in for the emergency purchase of medicines worth Rs 15 crore following the recent epidemic outbreak had spent major part of the funds on purchase of costly and rarely-used drugs instead of life-saving and essential medicines.

The controversial purchase had also caused huge loss to the Government as the prices of most of the items fell considerably immediately after the temporary order was placed in June and July without inviting quotations.

While the Health Directorate had not been able to provide even 15 percent of the most essential drugs such as paracetamol, chlorpheneramine, amoxycyllene and cloxacyllene required in the State, the primary health centres (PHCs) were dumped with costly drugs including Rabipur vaccine (to treat rabies), human insulin and human diploid cell vaccines in bulk quantities.

As many as 65,000 vials of Rabipur vaccine, costing Rs 181 per vial, have been bought in the interim purchase at a cost of nearly Rs 1.5 crore.

It is higher than the total purchase made in the previous year.

Similarly, human insulin was bought in bulk at Rs 175 per dose even as it was available in the open market at a rate of Rs 145 per dose.

Even the PHCs were being supplied with more than 1,000 vials of Methyl Prednasolone, a steroid group drug costing Rs 585 each.

These controversies in the emergency purchases have come up amid the controversy over the unusual delay in finalising the Central Purchase Committee (CPC) list for purchasing medicines for the current financial year.

The State had faced severe shortage of medicines during the three-month period of epidemic outbreak, especially in primary and secondary health centres, due to this delay in finalising the CPC list.

It was in this context that the Health Directorate was given special permission to purchase medicines from the local market on emergency grounds.

The usual practice is to start purchasing medicines as per the CPC list by the beginning of the financial year.

This year, the CPC is yet to prepare the final list of medicines to be bought for the current financial year. According to Director of Health Services, Dr V.K.Rajan, the delay in finalising the CPC list was due to some procedural hindrances.

He also denied the allegations regarding the purchase and supply of medicines during the epidemic period and maintained that everything was above board.

''The unusual delay in finalising the CPC list this year and the interim purchase must be read together. Otherwise, there was no point in delaying the CPC list as the requirement details from each District Medical Office had been send to the DHS by last December itself,'' according to the Kerala Government Pharmacists' Association general secretary K.C. Ajith Kumar.

An expert committee had rejected the initial list of medicines prepared by the DHS which had 400 expensive drugs and this, according to Kumar, was the real reason behind the delay in finalising the CPC list.

MBBS admissions on Sept. 17, 18

By Our Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 12. The Government on Friday issued notification to admit candidates on September 17 and 18 against the 50 per cent Government quota seats for MBBS course in self-financing medical colleges in the State from the rank-list of 2003.

According to the notification, the fees payable by candidates allotted against the Government seats would be on a par with the amount levied by way of fees in Government-run Medical Colleges.

The allotments for the MBBS course in the Academy of Medical Sciences, Pariyaram, and the options for the courses submitted by candidates in the self-financing medical colleges including the ACM, at the time of the first phase of centralised allotment process held from July 2 to 11 stands cancelled.

However, the options submitted for all courses other than MBBS in the self-financing medical colleges that have not been cancelled by the candidates as of now will remain valid.

The allotment of seats would be made at the time of personal appearance and the candidates would have to report to the allotted colleges on or before September 22 for admission.

The combined inter-disciplinary options for engineering- medical-B.Pharm courses submitted earlier will remain valid along with the revised options.

A centralised allotment process will be held for allotment of seats to the MBBS course in the self-financing colleges. The institutions are the Academy of Medical Sciences, (KNM), Pariyaram, Kannur, Dr. Somerwell Memorial CSI Medical College (SMC), Karakkonam, Jubilee Mission Medical College (JMC), Thrissur, Pushagiri Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, (PMC), Thiruvalla, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church Medical College, (MMC), Kolencherry and the Amala Institute of Medical Sciences, (AMC), Thrissur.

The schedule for centralised allotment to be held at the TJM Hall, LMS coumpound, Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram, is as follows:

September 17, Wednesday: (merit and reservation)

9 a.m.: Medical ranks 1 to 500; 10 a.m.: ranks 501 to 600; 11 a.m.: 601 to 700; 12 noon: 701 to 800; 2 p.m.: 801 to 900; 3 p.m.: 901 to 1000; 4 p.m.: 1001 to 1100; 5 p.m.: 1101 to 1200.

September 18, Thursday: (reservation only) EZ/MU/BH/LC/BX/SC/ST:

9 a.m.: 1201 to 1400; 10 a.m.: 1401 to 1600; 11 a.m.: 1601 to 1800; 12 noon: 1801 to 2000; 2 p.m.: (reservation only) LC: 2001 to 2500; BX/SC/ST: 2001 to 4500; 4 p.m.: (reservation only) SC: ranks 4501 to 6000 and ST ranks 4501 to 25000.

Candidates who wish to be considered for allotment to the MBBS course in these colleges should appear in person or through authorised representative (with the authorisation letter in the format given in annexure XIX of prospectus) half-an-hour before the scheduled commencement.

Candidates already admitted to any course, candidates who have taken allotment to self-financing colleges, candidates who have valid options existing and candidates who do not have valid options at present can also appear for this allotment subject to the rank range shown in the schedule for centralised allotment.

Those who do not wish to be considered for allotment to the MBBS course need not appear for allotment.

The seats that fall vacant in the engineering, medical and B. Pharm course consequent on this allotment will be filled as per the valid options of the candidates.

The details regarding the selection/admission to the dental, Ayurveda, siddha, nursing and pharmacy courses in self-financing colleges would be notified later.

PG student succumbs to her injuries

By Our Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 9. A post-graduate student of the Thiruvananthapuram Dental College, who was seriously injured after she fell from the fourth floor of the P.G. Hostel on September 27, succumbed to her injuries at the Medical College Hospital here today.

Police identified the deceased as Mini Mol, a resident of Aroor in Alappuzha district. Police suspect Mini Mol to have fallen off accidentally from the top floor of the hostel while she was studying. The Medical College Police have registered a case of unnatural death and investigations are on.

Mosquitoes posing health hazards

By Our Special Correspondent

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM SEPT. 9. Surveys by the Health Department show that the mosquito density in many parts of the State is dangerously high. No district of the State is safe.

The situation is worse in areas with rubber and teak plantations. Mosquitoes breed in rainwater collected in coconut shells used in the rubber plantations when tapping is suspended during rains.

In teak plantations, mosquitoes breed in water collected in fallen leaves.

Saw-dust left in the open and soaked by rain also helps multiplication of mosquitoes.

House index, Breteau index and container index are used to assess the risk from mosquitoes. Safe levels had been defined under these indices.

If the indices are well above the safe levels, outbreak of diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis is to be expected.

With substantially high tourist arrivals and emigration, Kerala is at the risk of being exposed to yellow fever also, if mosquito population remains high.

The House index gives the percentage of houses with containers having mosquito larvae. This should be less than 5 per cent though the low risk level is one per cent according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

The high-risk level is 10 per cent or above. Many areas in the State have the index above this level.

Breteau index gives the number of infested containers per 100 households. This should be at least 5 per 100 households.

However, in many areas of the State, it touched the high-risk level of 50 containers per 100 households.

The Health Department is planning State-wide use of larvae eating fishes to control the mosquito population. Use of pesticides to kill mosquitoes has been found to be not very effective as a long-term measure as mosquitoes develop resistance.

Application of pesticides also affects the environment.

Use of larvaceous fish is more effective, especially when local species are used. The department is planning the use of fish belonging to the Gambusea genus that are easy to multiply. They can also survive in varying conditions and eat eggs and larvae. However, large-scale use can result in competition for food resources with local species of fishes and amphibians.

The department has already taken steps for distribution of the fishlings to the people and for releasing them in ponds and shallow water bodies.

Only three months are required for their breeding.

The department hopes that it would be able to distribute sufficient number of fishlings before the monsoon season next year.

Hospitals turn ‘husband-friendly’ in the city

KOCHI: Several city-based hospitals are introducing novel concepts like husband-friendly system and painless labour to provide the best health-care facilities for women and children.

The first hospital to introduce these concepts in the city is Dr Joy’s Clinic at Vyttila. The hospital allows husbands to be with their wives during delivery. Another facility provided at the hospital is painless labour. The facility gives women a chance to remain with their relatives till the time of delivery, instead of being in the labour ward for hours.

‘‘When a patient is given the medicine for painless labour, she can be with her family members till the actual time of delivery. We will examine her regularly and will shift her to the special room later,’’ said Dr Anne Joy, gynaecologist, Dr Joy’s Clinic.
But not many women are opting for these latest health concepts like painless labour as they consider it too modern. The doctors at Dr Joy’s Clinic had to take classes for many couples to make them try this new facility.

‘‘Most women think that they really have to go through a lot of pain during pregnancy and most of them are not ready for this modern facility, which is most often prescribed for women with high-blood pressure or diabetes,’’ says Dr Anne.

Giving husbands a chance to be with their wives during pregnancy is also being experimented in many city-based hospitals, but not many are actually trying it out.
‘‘Majority of the husbands do not want to see the pain that sometimes last for hours but nowadays educated couples are opting for this method,’’ says a renowned gynaecologist at a city-based hospital.

The Ernakulam Medical Centre had tried these unique concepts earlier and many hospitals in the city are gearing up to introduce the system following the changing trend in global health standards.

Medicos resent internal assessment

By Our Staff Reporter

ALAPPUZHA SEPT. 5. The student community seems to be sore over the existing internal assessment system in various medical colleges in the State.

While demanding a probe into the death of a student, the students at the Alappuzha Medical college said they believed that the situation which led to his alleged suicide was an outcome of the flawed internal assessment system coupled with the rigid attitude of a section of teachers. The students complained that the suicide of five students at the Alappuzha Medical College over a period of five years was a result of this.

A section of teachers at the college often use the results of internal examinations to harass students whom they dislike, alleged the SFI State president, T. V. Rajesh.

The Medicos Association president, Sajeesh, noted that a good number of first year MBBS students were being denied the opportunity to write the university examinations because of the existing stipulation that only those students who score 50 per cent marks in the internals could write the university examinations.

Mr. Sajeesh noted that at present the internal assessment was being calculated as a percentage of marks scored in various examinations held in the college and assessed internally. He noted that the chances of bias of teachers is more in the internal examination.

In the present system of internal assessment, if a student failed to perform well in one or two examinations, it would ruin his career, he noted. "Out of personal reasons, a good number of students may find it difficult to perform consistently,'' he added.

Often a large number of students who did not get the stipulated marks approach courts to get permission to write the university examination, he noted. Mr. Sajeesh pointed out that more than 20 students were denied opportunity to write the university examination at the Alappuzha Medical College. "The situation is similar at the Kozhikode Medical College also,'' he said.

Medico's death: VS seeks action

By Our Special Correspondent

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 5. The Leader of the Opposition, V. S. Achuthanandan, has demanded stern action against those responsible for the suicide of first year MBBS student of Alappuzha medical college, Anikh Arackal.

In a statement here today, Mr. Achuthanandan pointed out that this was the fifth suicide by students of the college. Anikh's body was found on the railway track at Valanjavazhi in Alappuzha and there was already the allegation that Anikh killed himself unable to bear victimisation by teachers. All the previous suicides were also due to deliberate detention in examinations, he said.

The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that there was no action on the Assembly's Petitions Committee that the system of examination being followed at the college was responsible for the suicides.

Directive to freeze polio vaccines under distribution

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: An entire batch of polio vaccines currently under distribution in various offices of District Medical Officers (DMO) in the State has been frozen following a directive from the Director of Health Services.

According to sources, the reason for freezing the existing stock is due to ``apprehensions regarding the potency of the vaccines.''

The Health Directorate was alerted by the Central Health Ministry last week directing it to freeze the particular batch of vaccines. The DMOs received the circular freezing the vaccines from the Health Directorate only on Friday.

The vaccines which have been frozen are imported ones but repacked by various Indian companies, including the Panacea Biotech, Hasskine Biopharma, Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals.

The particular batch of vaccine will be sent back to Delhi for further tests.

The Health Services authorities are not sure whether the particular batch of vaccines had already been used for vaccination.

They only maintained that there was no need for panic as the vaccine, even if it was distributed, will have no negative impact as a heavy dose is required for any adverse reactions on children.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Kochi medical college: Raghavan submits memo to Union Health Minister

NEW DELHI: Kerala Cooperative Minister M V Raghavan submitted a memorandum to the Union Health Minister here on Thursday urging her to take up the restoration of recognition to Kochi medical college.

Union Minister of State for Defence O Rajagopal and a college office-bearer were with him. Raghavan said the Minister assured them that the issue would be taken up with the Medical Council of India.

Raghavan said the admissions would have to be done before September 30 this year. The college did not admit students last year while it had admitted 50 students in 2001 and 100 students in 2000 , he said.

He said the Union Minister's attention was drawn to the matter that even private colleges were given recognition while the issue of Kochi medical college , which was now under the government, was pending.

HC directs Kerala Govt to implement 3-shift system for nurses

KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Wednesday held that the action of the government in making government hospital nurses to work 14 hours a day consecutively for 6 days a week was an infringement of the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The Court directed the government to implement 3-shift duty system for the nursing staff in all the Government hospitals.

The direction was issued by Justice K K Denesan while allowing a writ petition filed by Seenath Beevi, head nurse in the Taluk Head Quarters Hospital, Thiroorangadi, challenging the inhuman practice that has been in vogue for years, even though 8-hour duty is the law.

As early as in August 1994, a division Bench of the Kerala High Court directed the government to implement 8-hour duty system for the nurses. In March 2000, a Single Judge gave specific directions to implement the system. But for one reason or the other, the government did not heed.

Allowing the petition filed by Seenath Beevi, the court held that the government was not justified in delaying the implementation of the 8-hour shift system even ignoring the observations of the division Bench and the specific directions by the single judge.

The court declared that compelling the petitioner to be on duty continuously for 14 hours a day for 6 days consecutively a week was illegal and unconstitutional.