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Bound by Tradition: Struggle to protect the Peruvian Condor from extinction

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Bound by Tradition: Struggle to protect the Peruvian Condor from extinction

In Peru, a festival that celebrates the Andean Condor could be hastening its demise.

Jose Luis Amable is standing on a small-town sidewalk high in Peru’s Andes Mountains when his cellphone rings. “How many do you want?” he asks the caller, his Spanish inflected with his native Quechua lilt. “One or two?” To secure the illicit goods, the trim, boy-faced 26-year-old will change out of his pointy leather shoes, slacks, and leather jacket, slip into wool pants and a wool poncho, grab a rope, and hike to his secret source high in the mountains. After 10 years on the job, Amable knows what works. To catch an Andean Condor, he says, you can’t beat a dead horse.

Amable sits silently in a pit beneath the carcass of a calf or horse from before dawn until dusk for days on end, wishing the whole time that he was playing the keyboard with his band, The New Sensation. It’s a miserable stint, but at least the breeze carries away the reek of decay. The vulture he’s after has an almost supernatural sense of smell, Amable says, so he doesn’t eat anything or even drink water in his morbid hidey-hole–he’s convinced the slightest whiff of his urine could tip off his quarry. Eventually, he hears a thwump as a condor lands. Since its feet are unable to grasp, it can’t swoop in and take its meal to go. So as the huge bird feasts, Amable reaches up from the hole, grabs the scavenger’s feet, and ties one with a long rope secured around his waist.

When he first started catching condors, Amable was terrified of the flesh-ripping beak and talons. These days he’s calm and confident when handling the birds, and insists that neither he nor his target suffer injury. Once he scores a condor, he hands it off to his customers, who take it to a safe house in their village. They pay him handsomely in return, some $400 per bird. Capturing a condor is illegal, but the money makes it worth the risk. “I do it for the work. They come begging me for condors,” says Amable, adding that he catches 15 to 20 a year. “It is our custom.”

According to Andean mythology, the condor ruled the upper world, and today indigenous communities view the bird as a symbol of power and health. The condors Amable snags are the centerpiece of the Yawar Fiestas, or Festivals of Blood, that take place in dozens of Peruvian villages in July. On the appointed date, days or weeks after its capture, the condor is presented to the town by its guards. The villagers pray before this icon, bless it, offer it Andean moonshine, and, accompanied by music and dancing, parade it into the arena. There a bull with cotton string sewn into its sides awaits. The condor’s legs are tied with the string, so it straddles the bull. Then it’s showtime.

The door flies open and this awkward, yet oddly beautiful, pair explodes into the arena, a symbol of a violent past. The condor represents the Quechua-speaking Indians, who revere it like a god; the bull stands in for the Spaniards, who ruthlessly conquered and ruled them. A bullfighter with a cape keeps the action moving.

A few days after the condor rides the bull, the villagers hold a ceremony and, usually, release the bird.

At a recent Yawar Fiesta in Yanaca, about 500 miles southeast of Lima, a raucous crowd packed the terraced hillside above the arena, cheering as the bull bucked, trying to free itself of the goliath slashing at his back with its beak. The condor extended its 10-foot wingspan as it pecked ferociously, trying to maintain its balance as the bloody battle raged. Dust rose like glitter in the sun-drenched mountain air.

“This is the tradition of our ancestors,” hollered the announcer to the crowd. “This is a tribute to our customs. No one will take this away from us. This is Yawar Fiesta!”

The announcer might have been speaking directly to a spectator standing head and shoulders above the crowd, squinting his green eyes against the sunlight: British-born biologist Rob Williams, 45, who directs the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s Peru program. That day, as is his custom at these events, he spoke to few people. Instead he shot pictures of the condors while his Peruvian staff, an anthropologist and two biologists–one with deep roots in the town–mingled with the crowd.

Williams’s quiet presence belies his talkative nature and the fact that he’s the strongest voice in Peru for condor conservation. In the past few years, in his free time and mostly on his own dime, he has crisscrossed the remote, granite-peaked Andes to attend Yawar Fiestas, including one where he tried in vain to save a condor wounded when the bull it was tied to slammed against the arena wall. He’s spent hours talking to villagers about condor sightings, scoured the scant survey reports, and designed small studies near Cuzco to get a better grasp on population size. Williams has uncovered a blackmarket trade in condor feathers directed at foreign tourists enticed by the feathers’ purported mystical powers. He’s knocked on the doors of government officials, becoming a driving, if controversial, force behind putting the vulture on the national agenda. He’s endured vicious criticism and even an apparent attempt on his life, all to protect the species. “On top of all the problems the condor faces, like hunting and poisoning, we have the capture of condors for Yawar Fiesta, yet another threat the condor just can’t take.”

After earning his doctorate from Britain’s University of East Anglia, Williams moved to Ecuador in 1999 to work for he Wildlife Conservation Society and then BirdLife International. There he oversaw a national condor census that estimated the population at 65 to 75 individuals; it’s since dropped to 50. When he moved to Peru in 2003, he thought he’d finally start to see abundant condors. He didn’t. “Pretty soon there won’t be any Yawar Fiestas because there won’t be any more condors,” he says. “If we don’t do something, we are all going to lose the condor.”

Andean condors, ancient birds that have survived from the time of saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths, evolved to soar. They ride thermals for hours, wings locked in place, primary feathers tilted upward, covering up to 150 miles in a single day in search of carrion. With its 10-foot wing-span and 33-pound frame, the Andean Condor makes its cousin the California Condor seem like a lightweight. Unlike other American vultures, the difference between the sexes is obvious: Females lack the large, fleshy lump, or “carnuncle,” that adorns males’ heads. The birds reach sexual maturity at age six or seven, reproduce every two years at most, and have a single chick–making them a contender for the bird with the slowest reproductive rate. It also makes them extremely sensitive to threats, says Sergio Lambertucci, a condor specialist at Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Research. “It can go from healthy to extinction very quickly.”

Humans have pushed these carrion feeders to dangerously low levels. Condors are hunted and poisoned throughout their range, victims of the misconception that they prey on living herd animals. Since 1977 killing or capturing condors has been illegal in Peru, but anecdotal evidence and a few site-specific counts in South America indicate their numbers are declining.

Condor

That’s why Williams is urging the region’s condor specialists to go out on a limb. If experts in each of the countries where condors remain offer up a population estimate, he’s sure the total will be closer to 6,000 than the 10,000 cited by BirdLife International. That lower number would open the door for lobbying BirdLife to move the condor from its current “near threatened” status to “vulnerable” or even “endangered”–designations that afford far more protections and probably more conservation funds. Census numbers already exist for four nations: In addition to the 50 in Ecuador, Williams ballparks the Peruvian population at 300 to 800. San Diego Zoo condor specialist Michael Mace, who has reintroduced the birds in Colombia and Venezuela, believes there are likely 400 individuals between the two countries.

Yet scientists in Chile and Argentina, where condor populations are thought to be much stronger, haven’t been willing to write down a figure, and some Peruvian biologists question Williams’s calculations. Williams understands their reluctance to make estimates that aren’t based on rigorous science. “But I’m willing to stick my neck out and be criticized for it,” he says.

Such un-scientist-like behavior has won Williams vocal critics. Peruvian ornithologist Thomas Valqui says he has yet to see a single scientific data point that demonstrates the condor is declining in Peru. Some even doubt Williams’s motives. “Maybe he thinks his access to funds will be easier if he creates a state of emergency over the condor,” says Peruvian biologist Fernando Angulo, who has long clashed with Williams on various topics. Yes, condors are in trouble, he says, but the situation isn’t as dire as Williams paints it.

Still, says Jose Alvarez, the Peru Ministry of Environment’s biological diversity director, determining an exact number is largely beside the point. “Whether or not the numbers are exaggerated, it is clear we have a problem,” he says. “We can’t just wait and do nothing only to find ourselves in a situation like the California Condor faced, where we must spend millions upon millions on reintroduction.” He’s one of Williams’s allies, pointing out that “it isn’t part of his job; he has done it on his own time and with his own resources. He was the first one to sound the alarm.”

In 2009 Williams drove to a village known for its Yawar Fiestas to meet with local officials and discuss, among other things, condor conservation. He parked his marked Frankfurt Zoological Society truck in front of the police station and went into the government office next door. Driving away afterward, he had trouble controlling his vehicle. “I drove sideways off the road,” he recalls. “I got out and checked the truck. The wheel nuts on three tires had been deliberately loosened.” He never discovered the culprit.

There are plenty of people who don’t appreciate Williams’s condor work. But when they get in his face to express their displeasure, he’s diplomatic, his coworkers say, focusing on their shared interest in the birds. He wasn’t always so empathetic.

Karol Mejia, a young biologist with family in Yanaca, says that when she began working with Williams in 2011, he was outraged that the festivals took place. Over time, after many conversations with villagers and local authorities, his perspective changed. “He saw the affection the villagers have for the condor and that they don’t understand the damage they’re doing,” she says. “He began to see the communities as possible allies for condor conservation.” In recent years Williams has been pivotal in inviting Yawar communities to participate in national condor conservation talks. He’s also begun considering creative solutions that would allow the tradition to continue while reducing pressure on wild birds, such as providing one captive condor for allfiestas.

The Yawar Fiesta dates back to the mid-1800s. By the 1940s some 90 communities were taking part, but the festival all but disappeared in the 1980s, when political violence ravaged Peru. As peace and increased prosperity have come to the Andes in recent years, at least 51 towns have held a festival. No one knows how many condors are affected by the practice. Some towns use multiple birds. Others share one. Despite the care villagers take, Williams knows of at least four condors that died in the past decade in pre-fiesta captivity or from bullfight injuries. Even when the condors are released in apparent health, it’s a mystery how they, and their offspring, fare; anecdotal evidence indicates that Peruvian condor nesting could be at the height of Yawar season.

Some community leaders agree there’s a problem. Unfortunately their solution is for other towns to stop holding the festival. After all, Yawar has become a moneymaker, morphing from a private tradition to a “cultural industry,” as sociologist Fanni Munoz puts it. “People from other parts of the country and other countries come for the fiesta,” says Walter Bocangel, mayor of Coyllurqui, which claims to be Yawar’s birthplace. “If there is no condor, it’s not a good fiesta, and the people blame their leaders.” Bocangel isn’t certain how much the festival brings in, but it’s the only day tourists visit, he says. He knows holding condors captive is illegal, but he also knows the authorities haven’t posed much of a threat. “Because of the distance, government officials don’t come,” he says. “That’s the advantage we have.”

Those days may soon be gone. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment, which oversee endangered species, are drafting a national condor conservation plan, with input from Williams, villagers, and other stakeholders. Officials hope to have it ready this year; in the meantime, they’re cracking down on the feather trade and the fiestas themselves. In late July, Zosimo Solano, of the Agriculture Ministry, tried to confiscate a condor in Chalhuanca, near Yanaca. He says he and his undermanned police detail were no match for the drunken, angry crowd. They had better luck the next time, in a different village. Solano, after receiving a tip, raced to speak with community leaders before the festival began. As the townspeople stood on a windswept mountainside, the bird tethered to a rock, he filmed them saying that they were unaware capturing condors was illegal and that they’d never do it again. They untied the condor. She extended her massive wings, leapt into the air, and glided out of view. Their festival continued without its star attraction.

On an early October morning, tourists crowded onto a viewing platform at the rim of Colca, the world’s deepest canyon. Williams, there to tally condors, was the first to spot a slight shadow moving across the opposite wall. “That’s definitely a young female,” he said, noting her comb-free head. Excitement rippled through the crowd as the condor neared. When she circled directly overhead, hundreds of skyward-pointing cameras created a chorus of rapid-fire clicks that mixed with multilingual exclamations of awe.

After she disappeared over a ridge, there was a burst of activity around the craft vendors. “When the condors come out, people get excited and start buying,” said Redy Chicana, who sells jewelry. “The more condors, the better the sales.”

A bullfighter runs from a charging bull with a condor pecking at its back in Cotabambas.

The economy of this entire valley, and much of the tourism streaming through Peru’s second-largest city, Arequipa, a few hours away, depends on the condor. The vast majority of tourists come for the birds, surveys show, and tour guides are keenly aware of their moneymakers. “In the 1990s I’d bring tourists here, and we could see 50 to 70 condors flying at the same time,” says tour guide Omar Cano. “Now, if you are very lucky, you could maybe see 25 to 40.”

Colca villages don’t hold Yawar Fiestas, but the canyon isn’t all that far,as the condor flies, from areas where they’re common. That’s driven some Colca authorities to try, unsuccessfully, to get Yawar Fiestas outlawed altogether. For his part, Williams would like to see Yawar communities adopt Colca’s approach to condor tourism: offering up-close views of the birds in their natural environment.

Tourists themselves may unwittingly contribute to the bird’s demise. A vendor at Colca sold two condor feathers to Colombian tourist Diani Safdeye and a friend of hers, Kelly Searcy, from Miami. “We use the feather to pray. It represents the spirit of the animal it came from,” said Searcy. “We weren’t looking for the feathers,” Safdeye added. “They found us.”

Safdeye gingerly removed the feather from her loose bun and passed it to Williams. He didn’t see any yellow blood staining the shaft. “It’s a secondary feather. It looks like a natural molt,” he said. “It must be a found feather, not taken from a hunted bird.”

“These people wouldn’t kill a condor,” Safdeye told him, shocked. “They live with them.”

“Actually, there’s a condor hunter who lives in the valley,” said Williams, who has investigated the feather trade and published his findings in the journal Vulture News. He knows of at least three hunters who kill condors for feathers. Tourists pay up to $60 for a single feather, or $200 for a dreamcatcher woven with them.

For a long time, Williams says, nothing was done to stop the sales. But recent raids on shops in Cuzco are heartening, he adds. Between the busts and the forthcoming conservation plan, Williams is finally seeing his work get traction. Far from slowing him down, the gains are spurring him to dig in and redouble his efforts.

Williams is on the hunt for funds to conduct simultaneous condor counts across the country and to start a tracking project. Combined, these endeavors would offer unprecedented knowledge about how many condors are out there, and their movements.

Williams has plenty of experience tagging birds and has outfitted three with transmitters. What he needs is someone to help him capture them. And he knows just the man for the job.

He and Amable, the condor catcher, chat often, swapping information gleaned from their very different experiences with the birds. Amable says he wants to quit the illicit trade, find other work, and dedicate more time to his music. But it’s been hard to turn down the money. Williams is sure he can pay him enough to lure him away from the Yawar Fiesta circuit.

Amable says he’d jump at the chance. “I want to know where the condor goes, where it sleeps, how long the eggs incubate, everything,” he says. “I’m interested in really getting to the bottom of it.”

And so this improbable pair may soon be working not at cross-purposes but together, to protect the bird that so captivates them both.

~ Catherine Elton

World News

HERBAL FORMULAS CAN HELP IN COVID-19 FIGHT: EXPERTS

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HERBAL FORMULAS CAN HELP IN COVID-19 FIGHT: EXPERTS

At his multi-million dollar-state of the art lab just outside of Vancouver, Dr. Ma Yuan-Chan and his team of researchers spend endless hours working to deliver the promise of ancient remedies using the precision of modern technology.

Here, Dr. Ma, a globally renowned professor of pharmaceutical sciences, has led his team to establish the profiles for a large variety of North American and Chinese herbs to determine their identity, potency, and efficacy.

They include Ginkgo biloba, Ginseng, Rhodiola, Echinacea, and Golden Seal; commonly found in the makeup of top-selling herbal medicines, which are inevitable in most of our medicine cabinets.

The analytical methodologies developed at Dr. Ma’s lab have become the international benchmarks to determine the quality of raw materials and finished natural health products in Canada, the United States and China. They are listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia and the Chinese Pharmacopoeia –  the leading authoritative guides for herbal drug ingredients and formulas.

Now, amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ma and his team have turned their attention to a combination of herbs in a formula called Shuanghuanglian or SHL, used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat cold, flu and respiratory ailments.

“It is by no means a cure or vaccine for the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Ma, who has published over 100 peer-reviewed research papers used by universities, regulatory bodies and drug companies in Asia, Europe, and North America.

“Our observation and that of the international herbal medicine community is SHL targets viral replication and boosts immune response on the viruses causing colds, cough, sore throat and fever.

“It is a product that has been widely used since the sixties as an antiviral and antimicrobial Chinese medicine,” said Dr. Ma, whose scientifically produced SHL formula is licensed by Health Canada, “to relieve symptoms of the common cold, including fever, coughing and sore throat.”

So what exactly is Shuanghuanglian aka SHL?

According to Health Canada, which has licensed the SHL produced by Dr. Ma’s Labs, the herbal formula is a combination of extracts from the honeysuckle flower, the root of the Chinese skullcap, and Forsythia, a genus of flowering plants in the olive family.

It is approved for use in Canada to help relieve symptoms of the common cold including fever, coughing and sore throat – also signs of the onset of COVID-19. Health Canada does not recommend the use of SHL by pregnant women or new mothers who are breastfeeding.

This month, The Chinese government acknowledged the important role Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has played in treating COVID-19 patients and has added treatment of the virus to the specifications of three traditional medicines.

Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and president of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said the three Chinese patent medicines

Jinhua Qinggan Granule, Lianhua Qingwen Capsule and Xuebijing Injection

have proven to be clinically effective in treating COVID-19.

The key herbs in these traditional medicines are also part of the SHL formula, which is now being studied in China for approval to be used by COVID 19 patients.

“Unfortunately, SHL got some bad press in February after some Chinese media misreported that it is effective in inhibiting the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Ma. This triggered an online shopping frenzy.

The Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica Chinese Academy of Science clarified by stating: “Modern medical research believes ShuangHuangLian oral liquid is effective in fighting viruses, curbing bacteria and boosting the immune system.

“Presently, ShuangHuangLian oral liquid is undergoing clinical research at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and Wuhan Tongji Hospital.”

Whether SHL can be added to the arsenal to combat COVID 19 remains to be seen.

But it continues to be a go-to herbal remedy for the 400 million patients who are treated with traditional Chinese medicine in China every year.

It is estimated the total TCM market within China will rise to $107 billion by 2025; TCM has also spread beyond traditional Chinese communities, with the global TCM market valued at $121 billion USD.

As scientists, pharma giants and government health agencies race to develop vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, there is increasing scrutiny into the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine in eradicating the disease and other ailments caused by a broad spectrum of the virus, including coronaviruses.

Figures from the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine showed a total of 74,187 confirmed COVID-19 patients, which account for 91.5 percent of the total infections on the Chinese mainland, had been administered TCM as part of their treatment. Over 90 percent had shown improvement by the end of March.

According to Yu Yanhong, secretary of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, speaking at a March 23 press conference in Wuhan, traditional remedies have alleviated symptoms, reduced the severity of the virus, improved recovery rates and reduced mortality rate, NBC reported.

In a review recently published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, by researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese Medicine, and the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences, University of Macau, China, scientists report that in addition to conventional supportive care, “greater than 85% of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients in China are receiving Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment.”

The use of Chinese medicine has been supported by the Chinese national medical authorities during other recent pandemics, including the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009 and H7N9 in 2013, according to the South China Morning Post.

Traditional Chinese medicine has proved effective in shortening the recovery time of patients with mild symptoms, and a mixture of tai chi, acupuncture and massage can help with their mental health, according to Zhang Boli, a Chinese medicine expert with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

China is also working with the World Health Organisation to share information on the use of TCM in epidemic prevention and control. It has shared its experiences and donated TCM products to Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Singapore, Cambodia and France to help in their fight against COVID-19.

China has also developed a Chinese-English bilingual online platform — the Beijing Remote Health Service Platform

to share with the world its experiences of fighting the disease using TCM.

With the increase scrutiny on herbal medicine efficacy in the fight against the current pandemic, there is also increased skepticism by the western medical establishment and pharma giants about the use of TCM.

Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM is a system of medicine that has evolved over 3,000 years and is rooted in maintaining the harmonious flow of energy in the human body.

Ironically, the “harmony principle” is the very essence of the discord between TCM adherents and skeptics.

“Traditional Chinese medicine doctors look at the balance of body, mind, and spirit to determine how to restore qi (energy flows), the yin-yang (opposing forces in the body) balance, and good health,” states the Health Ministry of British Columbia, the first Canadian province to regulate TCM and Acupuncture as a medical health professional.

Because of its fundamental philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine differs from Western medical practice in diagnosis and treatment methods and is difficult to apply Western scientific standards to it.

Last May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) provoked controversy among Western medical experts by endorsing TCM in a chapter of its influential guide of recommended health practice, the International Classification of Diseases.

“Global extension of traditional Chinese medicine with multiple western medicine based disciplines will benefit people all over the world,” WHO said.

Among the most vocal critics of the WHO declaration was Dan Larhammar, a molecular cell biologist and president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He said the lack of detail about the remedies contributes to doubts over their efficacy, stressing the need for more scientific rigour in studies about TCM.

Qiu Haibo, vice-president of Zhongda Hospital of Southeast University, explained that Western medicine, mostly chemical drugs, were designed to hit a single target, while TCM drugs work like a team and act on multiple targets.

“In the case of Covid-19, the virus can cause inflammation and immune disorder, leading to impaired organ function, including the lungs and heart.

“Western medicine focuses on one area while TCM can treat various problems, ” he said.

Liu Qingquan, president of Beijing Hospital of TCM, said the treatment for infectious diseases mainly focuses on three methods – clearing heat, eliminating dampness, and detoxification.

“TCM is able to quickly mobilize the body’s defence system to evict invading enemies and prevent viruses from causing significant damage to the body.

“Eliminating dampness boosts immunity to fight the virus while clearing heat can change the internal environment of the body so that the virus cannot escape or hide, ” he said.

Dr. Ma, in Vancouver, believes much of the debate about TCM revolves around the purity, potency and consistency of the product from batch-to-batch, not so much about whether the actual plant ingredients have healing attributes.

“We have spent years to develop reliable analytical methods to better identify the quality of raw materials and finished products,” said Dr. Ma

“Many products on the market have been found to be counterfeits, tainted with marker compounds or even misidentified as the wrong species. The goal of our research is to rid the market of these adulterated products by putting developmental efforts into creating an authoritative database that benchmarks the identification of these compounds.”

Health Canada has a similar view with that of Dr. Ma, who has 40 years of natural health experience, including standards collaborations with the Natural Health Products program at the National Research Council of Canada.

Health Canada is currently consulting on a potential new set of regulations for the labelling of “self-care” products, including cosmetics, natural health products and over-the-counter drugs.

It wants to make the rules more consistent for everything from vitamins to traditional Chinese medicine to non-prescription drugs like Aspirin and Tylenol. The proposed changes would mean herbal remedies claiming to relieve cold symptoms would require the same level of scientific evidence as an over-the-counter drug.

For Dr. Ma, this is a good thing because his SHL formula, which treats a broad spectrum of the virus, including coronaviruses, is already where Health Canada wants to go.

Wesley Richards who operates Canadian Western Herbs Corporation, which sells Dr. Ma’s SHL formula and other health products via canadianherbs.ca  said natural health products generate more than $12 billion in revenue annually in Canada, and exports are valued at $1.5 to $2 billion.

“But you can’t put a price on safety, efficacy and consistency…we need good qualitative and quantitative data to ensure the consumer is getting what they are paying for,” said Richards.

“There are some out there claiming all kinds of cures and treatments especially now with COVID 19…if you are unsure check for the Health Canada NPN number to see if the labelling is accurate.”

“As for our SHL formula…it’s like having vitamin C in your cabinet…only better.”

Robert Pierce, president of the Vancouver-based Prairie Naturals, said Dr. Ma has perfected the dosage, potency and consistency of the SHL formula through years of scientific analyses.

A 30 year veteran of the natural health products industry, Pierce is now distributing the SHL formula through 2,500 outlets across the country.

“It’s a proven formula and Dr. Ma’s science has only made it better,” said Pierce.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches the capacity of hospitals around the world and as health agencies find ways to flatten the curve of infections, over 115 medical trials have been registered in China, several blending TCM with western medicine and therapies.

The central quest here is to see if the country where the COVID-19  virus originated might also be the birthplace of solutions to stop the pandemic

In British Columbia, the Home of Canadian Traditional Chinese Medicine Society, HCTCMS, a non-profit organization established by a group of traditional Chinese medicine doctors and acupuncturists, believes TCM can help in the fight against COVID-19.

The society is petitioning the B.C. government to expand the role of TCM and Acupuncture professionals to support the fight against COVID-19.

“Chinese herbal formulas, acupunctures, or other forms, the medical expert teams in China had demonstrated TCM and Acupuncture to relieve and to mitigate the symptoms caused by COVID-19; thereby, preventing the disease from mild stage to progress further into severe/critical stage.

“Due to the shortage of test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and hospital staff, not every presumptive case can be treated in the hospital.

“By approving TCM and Acupuncture to intervene, this infectious disease when it is at the mild stage will reduce the number of hospital visits to prevent overloading of the B.C. health care system,” states the petition.

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Prince Charles Lauds British-Sikhs’ Role In Covid-19 Fight

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Prince Charles Lauds British-Sikhs’ Role In Covid-19 Fight

The 71-year-old heir to the British throne, who recovered from his COVID-19 diagnosis last month, said he can only imagine the “great sadness” as the event cannot be celebrated in the usual way as he lauded the vital role being played by the community on the frontlines of the crisis.

LONDON  – Prince Charles on Monday issued a video message to convey his “lakh lakh vaidhaiyan” to the Sikh community in the UK and across the Commonwealth on the occasion of Vaisakhi and praised the “selfless service” of the British-Sikh community in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The 71-year-old heir to the British throne, who recovered from his COVID-19 diagnosis last month, said he can only imagine the “great sadness” as the event cannot be celebrated in the usual way as he lauded the vital role being played by the community on the frontlines of the crisis.

“In these challenging times, the Sikh community is making an extraordinary and invaluable contribution to the life of this country and to so many others, just as it has always done,” he said in his message which he opens with “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh”.

The royal goes on to wish Sikhs a “happy, safe and peaceful” Vaisakhi, as the festival which celebrates the birth of the Khalsa and speaks of all the heartwarming reports of different faith communities pulling together to offer each other support and friendship in these challenging times.

In the message issued by his Clarence House office, he notes: “In the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, Sikhs are playing a vital role on the frontline of this crisis, whether in hospitals or other key roles, or through the remarkable work that is being done by gurdwaras to support local communities and the most vulnerable.

“In all this, it seems to me, Sikhs so marvellously embody the values on which Guru Nanak founded your religion, over five centuries ago: hard work, respect and selfless service to those less fortunate than yourselves.” He said that both he and his wife, Camilla – Duchess of Cornwall, are grateful for all the Sikh community’s “outstanding efforts”.

“At the same time, I know that many of you are suffering personally from the cruel effects of this pernicious virus, or tragically have lost those you love. I can only say that my heart goes out to you under such very difficult circumstances,” he said.

Vaisakhi will not be marked with the customary large gatherings and melas in different parts of the UK this year as the community is urged to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, with all events cancelled.

London’s annual Vaisakhi on the Square held at Trafalgar Square, scheduled for next Saturday, was cancelled.

A similar mega Vaisakhi event held at Handsworth Park in Birmingham, one of the cities with the UK’s largest Sikh population, stands cancelled amid the lockdown, with celebrations in Leicester, Southall and Gravesend also called off.

The events at annual Vaisakhi events, including colourful street processions in the form of nagar kirtans, feeding the community with langars as well as cultural activities including the traditional Sikh martial art of Gatka, have been replaced by a focus on community service to help the vulnerable during the lockdown.

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Indian-origin Malaysian NRI on death row in Singapore wins acquittal

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The man was arrested after he entered Singapore with three black bundles of heroin hidden in his motorcycle.

SINGAPORE – In a rare case, an Indian-origin Malaysian on death row in Singapore for possessing drugs has been acquitted by the country’ apex court.

According to the judgement on Tuesday, Gopu Jaya Raman successfully proved that he did not know that controlled drugs were hidden in the motorcycle he was riding into Singapore.

On March 24, 2014, Gopu was arrested after he entered Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint on the north with three black bundles of diamorphine hidden in his motorcycle’s fender.

Diamorphine also known as Heroin, is an opioid most commonly used as a recreational drug for its euphoric effects.

When immigration officers stopped him and found the drugs, he said he did not know the drugs were hidden in the motorcycle.

Gopu, also claimed the motorcycle was not his.

Tay Yong Kwang, the sole dissenting judge in Tuesday’s judgement, noted that Gopu had trafficked drugs into Singapore on two other occasions before he was caught on March 24, 2014. He had been trying to repay a 4,000 Malaysian Ringgit loan.

He was not convinced by Gopu’s reasons for entering Singapore or how he came to possess the motorcycle.

He said Gopu’s admission to trafficking drugs into Singapore on the same motorcycle on two other occasions did not bolster his credibility.

After the authorities found the drugs, they got Gopu’s help to try to nab others in the ring who might turn up to collect the drugs, the judgement stated. The operation, however, was called off when no one turned up.

Authorities monitored his conversation with the man who had helped to get him the motorcycle.

After listening to a number of exchanges, officers told Gopu to send a message, indicating that he had no knowledge of the drugs.

In Tuesday’s judgement, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash found that Gopu would have missed the drugs when he was checking for them, given the bundles’ “size and dark colour”.

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