Marriage not sole option for underage pregnant girls – Lasimbang

August 11th, 2020

Jannie Lasimbang

PENAMPANG: Give underage pregnant girls the chance to be educated and single mothers instead of the sole option of marriage to cover family shame, urged incumbent Assistant Law and Native Affairs Minister, Jannie Lasimbang.

Lasimbang said the Parti Warisan Sabah-led government officially raised the minimum marrying age to 18 and in a time consuming legislation before it was interrupted by a power struggle in the state.

However, beyond legislation, the biggest challenge faced in tackling underage marriage would be the community who think marrying off their underage children who accidentally got pregnant would be the right thing to do.

“The biggest thing would be related to the social norms. For an example, if they get pregnant… cover their shame, get their child married. They (parents) never tell them (daughters) about the other options,” said Lasimbang at the PACOS Trust World’s Indigenous Day Webinar press conference here.

“Such as, ask the girl or the girl’s family whether she wants to get married or not. If she is pregnant, she could also not get married and consider the child for adoption or if the family is ready, she could be a single mother.

“It is not necessary to marry them off because as we know she might not get a chance [to an education], as according to statistics and our research, some 98% will not go back to school and other things. So, it is better that they are given this option,” she explained.

Besides that, Lasimbang said awareness campaign should go on and integrating a comprehensive sex education into the system must be considered in the nation.

“This is something that is a bit sensitive but we want to cooperate with the women’s ministry and also the education ministry at the federal level. They could introduce suitable curriculum,” she revealed.

“We also want parents to take more care of their children and not allow them to be exposed to social media that may not benefit them.

“Finally, the importance for young people to be independent and also support for them. If the family is in need, normally due to poverty, there should be support for them in terms of economic.

“In terms of single mothers, for example, we still have too little funding to support them although they are now recognized by the Welfare Department as one of the sectors that really need help,” added Lasimbang, also incumbent Kapayan assemblywoman.

Lasimbang said she was surprised that the highest number of people requesting for assistance in her constituency in the past were from the single mothers group.

“I thought the senior citizens would need more help but, everywhere, it is mostly about single mothers. They are usually abandoned by their husband, some are very young and some are young with no support,” she added.


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Govt to reduce price of face masks to RM1

August 11th, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: The government will reduce the price of three-ply face masks to RM1 a piece, says the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

Its Minister Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi said the wholesale price for three-ply masks will be at RM0.95 per piece.

“The (gradual) reduction in the price of face mask is a soft landing approach to ensure the stocks that were brought in before with a higher cost, due to air transport, can be sold to reduce the losses of importers due to the decrease in price.

“The Ministry is also ready to further reduce the ceiling price to a lower level in the near future.

“The government hopes that these measures can help reduce the burden of parents who need to provide face masks to their school- going children, as well as for the public,” he said in reply to Chong Chieng Jen (PH-Stampin), who asked the rationale for the Ministry to increase the ceiling price of three-ply masks from RM0.80 per piece to RM1.50.

Alexander explained that on April 1, the Ministry gazetted the maximum retail price of the three-ply mask to RM1.50 a piece, and RM1.45 per piece for wholesale.

He said the decision was made after taking the feedback from manufacturers and operators into consideration.

Among them include the low supply of face masks to cater to the demand of society during the pandemic; the high cost of air transportation faced globally due to Covid-19; and the increase in cost of raw imported materials due to the currency exchange and the dip in the ringgit compared to US dollars.

“The Ministry appreciates the efforts of local manufacturers who also supported the government and helped ensure the availability of face masks in the local market.

“Among the support provided include not exporting the face masks and to ensure domestic supplies are sufficient,” he said.

Alexander said the Ministry, together with the Finance Ministry, had also worked to increase the supply of face masks in the local market by giving exemptions on import duty and sales text to manufacturers and importers of face masks.

The decision to further reduce the maximum retail price of the three-ply face mask from RM1.50 a piece to RM1.20 was first tabled to the Cabinet on July 17, and will come in force on August 15, he said.

Alexander said the government then made it compulsory for everyone to wear face masks in crowded public areas on Aug 1.

“Following that decision, the demand for face masks had increased. As a caring government, I would like to state that the supply of face masks is sufficient at the moment,” he said.

He said that the production of face masks is also being increased, adding that the price of face masks sold by manufacturers has also reduced.


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Covid-19: Nine new cases, none from Sivagangga, Kurau cluster

August 11th, 2020

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia recorded nine new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday (Aug 11), bringing total infections in the country to 9,103.

Out of the nine new cases, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (pic) said five were imported cases, while the rest were local transmissions.

The five imported cases consisted of three Malaysians and two non-citizens who were returning from Japan, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Singapore.

On the four local transmissions, Dr Noor Hisham said it involved all non-Malaysians.

“Three cases were detected in Kuala Lumpur after undergoing screening at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Depot and one was detected in Sabah,” he said in his daily press statement on Tuesday.

No new cases were recorded for the Sivagangga cluster in Kedah or the Kurau cluster in Perak on Tuesday (Aug 11).

“There are two positive Covid-19 cases that are being treated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) but no case requiring ventilator support,” he added.

He also said that there were currently 169 active cases in the country.

Dr Noor Hisham said that six patients have been discharged bringing the total cumulative discharged cases to 8,809.

Malaysia’s recovery rate currently stands at 96.8% out of the overall number of cases, said Dr Noor Hisham.

No death was recorded on Tuesday (Aug 11), keeping the death toll at 125.


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Combine arts and science streams

August 11th, 2020
AFP picAFP pic

LETTER: The practice of streaming students has been in place for years. In the 60s, it was done after the Lower Certificate of Education results. Students who did well in science were placed in the science class. The rest went into arts.

There were, however, some who preferred to join the arts stream, despite being eligible to do science. The belief then was that children who did science were on a better career path. That is now proven baseless.

Look at the civil service science graduates who are subservient to their art graduate colleagues. In the private sector, most CEOs are not graduates in science.They are either accountants or lawyers. This partly explains why more students prefer to pursue the arts rather than the sciences.

This is not just a Malaysian phenomenon. The argument that the world needs more scientists to solve global problems may no longer hold water.

We are now witnessing a growing convergence of the two disciplines. With the rising global interest in innovation, the convergence is becoming even more obvious. We know that innovation, for example, involves critical thinking and design, where the arts dominate.

The same goes for design where science alone, without creative skill, will not produce optimal designs. The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the strong convergence of arts and science. While science helps develop the therapy and vaccine, introducing both to the community is challenging without adequate social acceptance.

The art of changing attitudes and the behaviour of society becomes critical in implementing the therapy. We have seen evidence of this in the recent pandemic lockdowns, where some people simply refuse to comply with guidelines. Again, it is a clear demonstration of the need for convergence.

It has now become obvious that both the arts and the sciences are converging in many fields of human endeavour. Therefore, instead of streaming students into science, creating more public literacy in both the arts and sciences would be a better option.

by Professor Dr Ahmad Ibrahim.

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11 new Covid-19 cases including 3 linked to Kurau cluster

August 10th, 2020
(File pic) The Health Ministry recorded 11 new Covid-19 cases as of noon August 10, 2020, bringing the cumulative total of infections in Malaysia to 9,094. Photo by AMRAN HAMID/NSTP(File pic) The Health Ministry recorded 11 new Covid-19 cases as of noon August 10, 2020, bringing the cumulative total of infections in Malaysia to 9,094. Photo by AMRAN HAMID/NSTP

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry recorded 11 new Covid-19 cases as of noon today, bringing the cumulative total of infections in Malaysia to 9,094.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said of the 11 new cases, five are imports involving Malaysians who returned from Australia (three cases in Selangor), Japan (one in Kuala Lumpur) and Singapore (one in Johor).

“There are six local transmission cases, five of whom are Malaysians.

“One is a non-citizen who was screened at their work place in Selangor, and was asymptomatic, and has been admitted to the Sungai Buloh Hospital in Selangor,” he said during a press conference at the ministry today.

The five local cases involving Malaysians are three linked to the Kurau cluster in Perak; and one in Johor, who is a pre-operation patient screened at a private hospital, and was sent to the Enche Besar Hajjah Kalsom Hospital.

The fifth case, said Dr Noor Hisham, is an asymptomatic patient in Melaka who was tested before admission to a ward at a private hospital, and has since been admitted to the Melaka Hospital.

There is one positive case that is being treated in the Intensive Care Unit. The patient does not require breathing assistance.

Dr Noor Hisham said no new fatality was reported today, and the death toll stands at 125.

He added that 19 patients recovered today and were discharged from hospital.

By Dawn Chan.

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Kurau cluster grows, with 3 more cases detected, including toddler

August 10th, 2020
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said  reminded the public that although visits are now allowed, standard operating procedures, including observing physical distancing, must be adhered to. BERNAMA photoHealth director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said reminded the public that although visits are now allowed, standard operating procedures, including observing physical distancing, must be adhered to. BERNAMA photo

KUALA LUMPUR: The Kurau cluster in Perak has grown, with three new Covid-19 cases, including a toddler, detected over the last 24 hours.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the cases were discovered during active case detection and close contact tracing in Perak and Penang.

“They are family members of the first case in the Kurau cluster, known as Case-9050, involving a younger sibling, an in-law and a 2-year-old nephew.

“Case-9050 had close contact with the three new cases during a Hari Raya Aidiladha visit on July 30. The nephew developed a fever and flu after that day (July 30).

“The younger sibling and the in-law, however, are asymptomatic. We are still investigating the cause of the infection,” he said during a press conference at the ministry today.

Dr Noor Hisham added that the trio was admitted to the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital in Perak.

He said 125 individuals linked to the cluster have been screened. Five tested positive, 112 were negative, and eight more are awaiting results.

He said the Kurau and Sivagangga clusters, which have caused a spike in cases in Malaysia in recent days, emerged due to recent festive visits.

“The majority of positive cases in the clusters involve family members who are senior citizens and children, aged between 2 and 70,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham reminded the public that although visits are now allowed, standard operating procedures, including observing physical distancing, must be adhered to.

He also advised those who are unwell or have Covid-19 symptoms to refrain from taking part in gatherings.

By Dawn Chan.

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New clusters in Kurau and Meranti

August 10th, 2020

PETALING JAYA: Two new clusters have been identified as the country records 13 new Covid-19 cases, says the Health director-general.Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (pic) said the new clusters were the Kurau cluster and the Meranti cluster.

With 13 new cases recorded yesterday, he said they brought the total in the country to 9,083 cases.

Of the 13, nine were imported cases while the rest were local transmissions, he noted.

The nine imported cases consisted of five Malaysians and four foreigners.

In the local transmission cases, Dr Noor Hisham said three were from Penang – two from the Sivagangga cluster and one from the Kurau cluster.

He added that the fourth case of local transmission was detected in Putrajaya from the Meranti cluster.

In the Kurau cluster, Dr Noor Hisham said to date, two positive cases had been detected.

He said the first case in the Kurau cluster was Case 9,050 which was reported on Aug 7.

The second case was the brother-in-law of this case who was detected as a result of active case detection and close contact screening.

“The brother-in-law and his family in Penang were tested.

“On Aug 9, the individual was found to be positive for Covid-19 but five of his family members who have been tested so far are negative, ” he said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham said that currently, 115 close contacts of the individual had been tested – 106 were negative while nine others were awaiting their results.

Meanwhile, in the Meranti cluster, Dr Noor Hisham said it originated from Case 9,083, a health worker who tested positive for Covid-19 on Aug 8.

“The individual was a close contact of Case 8,968, a Covid-19-positive patient who was detected in a pre-operation screening.

“Upon further investigation, Case 8,968 had a history of seeking treatment at a healthcare facility in which Case 9,083 was working.

“Based on the close contact screening and active case detection that is currently underway, 15 individuals have so far been tested, ” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham added that the cause of the infection in the Meranti cluster was still under investigation.

Separately, in the Sivagangga cluster, Dr Noor Hisham said as of noon yesterday, 4,636 people had been screened.

Of the total, 45 people, he said, had tested positive.

Thirty-one of them were detected in Kedah, 11 in Perlis and three in Penang.

“Close contact screening and active case detection activity is still underway.

“Preventive measures such as disinfection and decontamination of areas that have been identified in this cluster are being carried out, ” he added.

Of the 9,083 cumulative total infections in the country, 174 of them are active cases, with one receiving treatment in the intensive care unit.

Nine patients have been discharged, bringing the total discharged to 8,784 cases.

Dr Noor Hisham added that no deaths were recorded, keeping the death toll at 125 cases.


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Let’s build resilience in kids

August 10th, 2020
Parents must ensure children stay joyful and happy. FILE PICParents must ensure children stay joyful and happy. FILE PIC

LETTERS: Recently, I received news from my son, who is abroad, that his varsity mate had hanged himself in the dormitory.In the same evening, I heard from a retired colleague that one of her grandchildren’s friends, who was only 12, took his life by jumping off a high rise in the United States.

In our own country, a young adult, who was an all-rounder, ended his life recently. It is disturbing that young people who had the world ahead of them resorted to such an act. My concern is what we teach in school and at home to ensure that children, adolescents and young adults do not think of ending their lives.

Do we teach our students to appreciate life and nature? Do we instil resilience in children from young? Do we talk about life and death to the younger generation?

I did a course on “Health and Disease” at the Faculty of Medicine at Universiti Malaya during my undergraduate days. A senior professor lectured that we could not plan our birth, but we could plan to die in dignity. Dignity, according to him, is to live a full-fledged life based on where we started right up to a happier position later in old age.

I think it is important to educate children from young about life and death and not instil hopelessness in them, as each of them has his life journey to lead.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us to appreciate the simple things in life, such as valuing time, learning to be silent and saying positive things. If we have to reprimand someone, do it constructively.

Many a time, we think that only adults go through stress in life, having to juggle between work, home and social responsibilities. Even a young child at home may undergo stress, but quite often it is not addressed.

Worse still is when individuals do not show any sign of stress and suddenly end up leaving the world. It is all very personal.

For a start, schools should stop focusing on exams and grades, at least during this Covid-19 pandemic, and instead concentrate on the wellbeing of students.

Media and social media platforms should focus on humour and joyful living rather than just on economy and finance. Yes, money is important, but it cannot buy happiness, or take away stress or bring back a lost life. Teachers and parents play a key role in ensuring that children and students are always happy and cheerful.

Many simple yet effective activities can be carried out together as a family or as a class while still adhering to physical distancing. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us a great deal about resilience, having hope and accepting the challenges of a new normal.

In the meantime, let us educate ourselves and our children and students to stay joyful and happy.

by Dr Vishalache Balakrishnan.

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Understanding highly spreadable Covid-19 mutants

August 10th, 2020
On Aug 6, Health director-general Datuk  Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah mentioned the possibility of the Sivagangga cluster viruses having what is referred to as the D614G mutation, referring to a mutation in the sequence of the spike protein at position number 614. - NSTP /AMRAN HAMID On Aug 6, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah mentioned the possibility of the Sivagangga cluster viruses having what is referred to as the D614G mutation, referring to a mutation in the sequence of the spike protein at position number 614. – NSTP /AMRAN HAMID

THERE’S no escaping the pervasive imagery of the ball-like shape we know as Covid-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2. The virus’ physical shape serves the sole purpose of delivering the genetic payload contained within, referred to as a genome, to the next host.

Once inside, the virus hijacks the host cells to make more viruses using the information encoded in the genome — the total genetic content of an organism. All livings things have a genome, and although viruses are not considered alive, they too have genomes.

The SARS-CoV-2 genome is composed of a chemical substance called RNA, very similar to DNA that we are more familiar with because the majority of organisms use DNA as the constituents of their genomes. The information encoded within the genome can be extracted by a process called genome sequencing.

This process generates large amounts of data in the form of the letters A, C, G and T, which are strung along in various combinations. Each letter is referred to as a nucleotide, the basic unit of a genome.

The genome of SARS-CoV-2 contains nearly 30,000 nucleotides. Humans have more than three billion nucleotides, many bacteria will have millions. The 30,000 or so nucleotides contain the information for synthesising about 30 proteins (as a comparison, humans have over 20,000 proteins).

In general, the genomes are analysed to identify variations, sometimes termed as mutations, also used to track the genetic footprint left behind by the virus as it transmits from host to host. Analysis of the variations can reveal the potential effects of the mutations on the virus’ capacity to infect its host and cause disease.

At the time of writing, more than 78,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes have been sequenced the world over and deposited in a publicly accessible database — GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data) — including about 100 genomes from Malaysia.

It was the discovery of a specific mutation profile that led scientists to classify Covid-19 as a newly discovered (novel) coronavirus, distinct from its genetic cousin, SARS. Mutations point to SARS-CoV-2 being more adept at invading the human host, making it more transmissible than SARS.

On Aug 6, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah mentioned the possibility of the Sivagangga cluster viruses having what is referred to as the D614G mutation, referring to a mutation in the sequence of the spike protein at position number 614.

This mutation first emerged in Europe in February, and peer-reviewed research regarding the mutation was published in the journal Cell last month. That paper reported that there are now more Covid-19 cases carrying the G614 mutation than the original D614, suggesting that G614 is more infectious and spreading faster.

Of the genomes sequenced here, the D614G mutation has been detected in nine. These highly transmissible mutants are already on our shores. Malaysians must therefore adhere to the procedures in place. Complacency may lead to us being overwhelmed by these highly spreadable mutants.

It is still not understood why this molecular-level change results in a more infectious variant of the virus. Recently published studies in Nature and Science suggest that individual genetics play a role in the severity of the disease, brought about by the different ways an individual’s immune system is responding to the virus infection.

For severe cases, the evidence points to the immune system going overboard in responding to an infection, akin to the Malay proverb “marahkan nyamuk, kelambu dibakar“. Since the immune system is not able to figure out the appropriate response to eliminate the virus, it throws everything in its arsenal to rid the body of the invaders, resulting in more harm than good.

This points to the genetics and environmental circumstances of the individual hosts as being crucial factors that determine how each body responds to the infection or is affected by the virus. Therefore, the obvious next course of investigation to understand Covid-19 is to understand what sets all these individuals apart.

To do that, scientists would have to gather massive amounts of data that include genome sequences of individuals who have succumbed to Covid-19 together with those who have survived and are asymptomatic as comparisons.

The writer is a bioinformatician at the Department of Applied Physics, Faculty of Science and Technology, and Institute of Systems Biology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and current president of the Malaysian Society for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

By Dr Mohd Firdaus Raih.

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Insist on strictly sustainable development of ocean resources

August 10th, 2020
Malaysia, as a key member of the Group 77 and China, the negotiating group of developing countries in the UN, regards the oceans as a “Common Heritage of Humankind”.Malaysia, as a key member of the Group 77 and China, the negotiating group of developing countries in the UN, regards the oceans as a “Common Heritage of Humankind”.

“THE oceans are our great laboratory for the making of a new international order, based on new forms of international cooperation and organisation, on new economic theory, on a new philosophy.” That’s the view of internationally renowned ocean law and policy expert, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, an expert in maritime and environmental protection, who died in 2002 in her 80th year.

Nearly two-thirds of our oceans are beyond national jurisdiction — in which no single state has authority. These cover 45 per cent of Earth’s surface, plunge to depths of more than 10km and represent 95 per cent of Earth’s total habitat by volume.

They contain vast riches of biological and inorganic resources and produce half of our life-giving oxygen. They constitute the world’s largest long-term carbon sink and largest reservoir of genetic resources, including many used as medicine for cancer, for example, and others with major commercial and industrial applications.

With no government in charge, these “Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction” are overexploited, polluted and degraded, and the few laws in place to protect them are often weak and poorly enforced. In 1982, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It took 12 years for the convention to enter into force, but represents, in effect, a “constitution for the oceans” — laying down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans.

It spells out the right of states with respect to oceans to navigate, fly over, fish, research, lay submarine cables and pipelines, construct artificial islands and more, balancing freedom with responsibility. But ever faster ships and refrigeration have enabled exploitation of deeper and more distant areas, resulting in an increasing loss of biodiversity and depletion of fish stocks.

Today, a growing body of scientific research has documented that we are nearing the oceans’ ecological limits. The short-sighted era of the “freedom of the seas” is over, or should be. Certainly, the oceans are increasingly regulated. In addition to UNCLOS, the Convention on Biological Diversity and other international and regional agreements now address fisheries, marine pollution and conservation.

But they do not yet adequately address all ocean uses, such as biological prospecting and new ideas about climate change mitigation techniques, which demand detailed international rules and standards. Another issue is equity in access to deep resources that belong to all humanity.

Deep-sea expeditions and explorations involve sophisticated research vessels, instrumentation, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles — all representing huge financial costs and technologies available only to affluent developed countries.

This issue is easily seen in the patents associated with marine resources used in pharmaceuticals, enzymes and other products based on deep-sea organisms. The leaders among those patent holders are the United States, Germany, Japan, and a handful of other countries with access to the required technologies.

They reap the financial rewards, enabling further investments into discoveries. Bottom line: without serious investment in capacity building and technology transfer, income gaps will widen further with time.

UNCLOS, sadly, was drafted before the exploitation of genetic resources in the deep sea was foreseen. As a result, it is unclear in that convention if, like fish in the water column, such resources are subject to the “freedom of the high seas” regime. Or are genetic resources, like seabed minerals, subject to the “common heritage of mankind” regime.

A major step was taken in December 2017 when the UN, after more than a decade of discussions, agreed to convene negotiations on an International Legally Binding Instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.

The negotiations began in 2018 and continued through 2019, then were derailed this year by the Covid-19 pandemic. Negotiations focus on marine genetic resources (including benefit sharing), area-based management tools (including Marine Protected Areas), environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and technology transfer.

Malaysia, as a key member of the Group 77 and China, the negotiating group of developing countries in the UN, regards the oceans as a “Common Heritage of Humankind”. In these critical negotiations, we must argue in favour of strictly sustainable development of these resources, that the oceans be reserved for exclusively peaceful purposes, and that benefits from these global commons be shared equitably, with particular consideration for the needs of the poor.

The writer is a senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia. This article is based on a keynote address at the Institute of Oceanography and Environment, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, on July 27.

By Zakri Abdul Hamid.

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