Thursday, April 26, 2018

1) New research shows impacts of malaria in pregnant women in Papua and how to beat the disease

2) Christians in Papua fear growing Islamization 


1) New research shows impacts of malaria in pregnant women in Papua and how to beat the disease
Date 4/26/2018 4:29:08 AM
(MENAFN - The Conversation) This is the fifth article in our series on 'Mother and Child Health' to commemorate Indonesia's Kartini Day on April 21. 
This year's theme for World Malaria Day, April 25, is 'Ready to Beat Malaria'. This article aims to shed a light on malaria in pregnancies and how it will affect babies. 
Malaria in pregnancy poses substantial risks to mothers and their babies. Pregnant women are the most vulnerable population because they have a bigger risk of getting infected by malaria compared to male adults. 
One in four people in Indonesia lives in areas with a high risk of contracting malaria. In 2016, malaria killed 161 people in Indonesia. Globally, the disease killed 445,000 people in 2016. 
There are only few reports on the impact of malaria infection in pregnancy in Indonesia and there is little data on the number of pregnant women with malaria in the country. Our team at the Eijkman Institute has tried to fill this gap by studying the effects of infection by the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in pregnant women and their children in Timika, Papua, a province with high rates of malaria infection. The study also attempts to identify a correlation between malaria infection in mothers and the health of their babies. 
What do we know about infection in pregnancy? 
Symptoms of malaria in pregnant women vary, depending on their transmission level and the women's immune status. In sub-Saharan Africa , malaria in pregnancy is mostly due to the infection of parasites known as Plasmodium falciparum. In Asia-Pacific and South America , infection by Plasmodium vivax parasites mostly occurs. 
When Plasmodium falciparum infects red blood cells, the parasites can accumulate in the placenta as their way to avoid host immunity. 
Studies have shown that antibodies protect women against malaria infection. Other studies indicate that women with their first pregnancy are more susceptible to malaria infection than those who have been pregnant several times as the latter has higher antibody level that blocks the parasites. 
In Asia and Africa, the latest data show that women with their first pregnancy are likely to have more of the parasites in their blood compared to those with multiple pregnancies. 
A study demonstrated that antibodies played a role in improving the condition of the babies from infected mothers. 
This finding suggests that developing vaccines to target malaria in pregnancy is feasible. Even though several studies have found that antibody against Plasmodium falciparum infection in pregnant women will reduce the risk of having poor birth outcomes, such as still birth and low birth weight, other reports have suggested that this may not always be the case due to different antibody responses. 
High vs low endemic region 
The 2017 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and earlier research indicated that in a high endemic region, where malaria infection is common, immunity to the disease is high. 
The report also stated that some infections occurred with no symptoms. But even with no symptoms, the parasites may still exist in the placenta. This can cause anaemia in pregnant mothers and low birth weight for first babies. 
In a low endemic region, the pregnant women's immunity against the disease is lower than those in high endemic areas. This means pregnant women in a low endemic region face bigger risks of having severe anaemia and other adverse outcomes such as stillbirth and premature births. 
The eastern part of Indonesia remains a high endemic area for malaria. The latest studies in Timika found that malaria infection can lead to maternal anaemia, premature deliveries, stillbirths and low birth weights. Meanwhile, drug resistance and lack of preventive steps, such as providing bed nets and anti-mosquito sprays, have contributed to the worsening effects of malaria infection in pregnant women. 
Findings in Papua 
For our research in Papua, we collected blood samples of pregnant women and their placental sections to study their antibody response to malaria. We have identified a number of factors that contribute to malaria cases in pregnant women. 
Our research shows consistency with previous findings that conclude that women in their first pregnancy have lower immunity than women with multiple pregnancies, making the former more susceptible to malaria. 
Analysis of placental sections shows approximately 40% of women with parasites detected in their bloodstream harbour no parasites in their placentas. This means that finding parasites in the bloodstream does not indicate infection in the placenta. 
Interestingly, our preliminary data suggest that a high level of parasites in the bloodstream has caused low birth weights in babies. The high number of parasites in the blood is, however, not always associated with parasite accumulation in the placenta. 
These results suggest that precautionary steps are needed for pregnant women with parasites found in their bloodstream to minimise risks of babies with low birth weights. Treatments with drugs should aim to reduce the number of the parasites in their blood. 
Next steps 
Indonesia has introduced integrated efforts to reduce the adverse outcomes of malaria for mothers and their babies. These include distributing bed nets and providing prompt treatments for pregnant women. 
Recently, scientists from the Eijkman Institute, the Timika Research Centre and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK studied the impact of malaria screening and treatment on infected pregnant women. 
We are still waiting for the results and plan to translate these into practice so the National Malaria Control Program can adopt these findings in much-needed policies to fight malaria. 
Further studies are needed to identify factors affecting the health of babies born to mothers infected with malaria. The studies are expected to help provide better treatments for these babies. 
    Indonesia Malaria Pregancy Papua 

The Conversation

2) Christians in Papua fear growing Islamization 

Christians concerned as mosques mushroom, shrines damaged and Muslims seen to be spreading influence

Yan Kossy has lived in Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, for many years without being disturbed by the influx of outsiders but he said he finds the recent accumulation of mosques in the surrounding area unsettling.
For example, Muslims recently built an Islamic center and cemetery on a ground higher than where people have lived and sources of water for thousands of years.
Some have taken it as a sign of disrespect and a bid to show the superiority of their religion while others fret about the environmental impact it could wreak.
"The cemetery could contaminate our drinking water," Kossy said.
Christians were further antagonized when the road to a popular Christian shrine was damaged during the construction of Islamic buildings in the area.
Meanwhile, after the Islamic center was built another problem arose: the loud sound from nearby mosques as they made their calls to prayer.
Marianus Yaung, a resident of Jayapura District, said Muslims who have come to the region often fail to respect the rites or ways of local people.
"They come and build whatever they want," Yaung told, citing the construction of the controversial Al Agshan mosque in Sentani.
The mosque was built higher than church buildings in the surrounding area, causing Christians to protest.
"They should have discussed their plan first with local people. But they didn't, which has been interpreted as a sign of disrespect," Yaung said. 

Dominikus Surabut, a tribal leader in Papua, said everyone has the right to practice their faith and develop their religion.
However the growing Muslim presence in the area, coupled with their recent behavior, is becoming problematic as it also provides room for the spread of radicalism, he added.
A number of radicalized Muslim groups have gained ground in Papua, he said, citing the existence and influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir, based in Keerom District in northern Papua. It controls 500 hectares of land and centralizes all of its activities there.
Surabut said he has also heard rumors about the presence of Jamaah Islamiah in Merauke, southern Papua, which has set off more alarm bells among local people.
"We are more concerned about the presence of Hizb ut-Tahrir [a pan-Islamic group] in Keerom because we know some of their members have received military training," he added.
The government banned the group last year but it remains active in the country with considerable influence.
Missionaries insulted
The threat to Christians and clergymen because more evident recently after Muslim cleric Fadzlan Garamatan accused missionaries of misleading the public.
In a video that was circulated in March, Garamatan blamed European missionaries for the excessive amounts of alcohol being imbibed by Papuans.
He also accused them of bathing members of the public in pork fat in adherence to bizarre cultural traditions.
According to Islamic teachings the consumption of pork is forbidden because Muslims believe the meat and fat of a pig absorbs toxins and can be 30 times more toxic than beef.

Papuan Christians denounced such accusations and reported the cleric to the police on March 26.
Rev. John Bangsano, who coordinated the Ecumenism Movement of Churches in Papua, said Garamatan insulted European missionaries and insulted the country as a whole with such unfounded remarks, which appeared to be aimed at fomenting unrest.
"He has indicted the Papua people as a whole," he said, adding Garamatan has set up numerous social media accounts in a bid to discredit and humiliate missionaries and Papuans alike.
"We oppose such hate speech. It destroys the sense of social harmony that has been well-established in Papua between Christians and Muslims long before he came along," he said.
Father John Djongga challenged the cleric and said his accusations were baseless.
"If he has any evidence to back them up he should be able to show who the missionaries are and identify where they are located," said the Catholic priest.
As of late April, the case remains under police investigation.
Boy Rafli Amar, the nation's police chief, said the police are taking the case seriously and branching out to track to cleric down.
"We are coordinating with the directorate of cybercrime in Jakarta because it is possible the cleric is not in Papua," he said.
Deliberately derailing Christianity
Franciscan Father Konstantinus Bahang said the reactions of Christians to Islam of late have been fueled by both fear and, increasingly, loathing.
Their fear stems from the growing domination of Islam in all spheres of life, particularly the economy as Muslims open more businesses that further ramp up competition.
"Most of the people who are well-connected and who are prospering are Muslims, while Papuans are getting left out," said Father Bahang, a lecturer at the Fajar Timur College of Philosophy of Theology in Jayapura.
Islam symbols are becoming more commonplace in public spaces, he said.
"These are public service spaces for Christians and Muslims alike, but now Muslims control them," he added.
Jayapura city now has over 80 mosques and mushollas (mosque-like prayer rooms) built in or near local markets, residential areas and government offices.
The neighboring district of Sentani has 24 mosques while Jayapura District has 52.
From the perspective of religious psychology, this mushrooming presence can be seen as a bid to try and marginalize other people's religious beliefs, Father Bahang said.
Papua has a population of about 3.6 million people, of which 61.3 percent are Protestants, 21 percent are Catholics and 17.4 percent are Muslims.
Father Bahang said many indigenous children are already being educated or groomed to serve as the next leaders of Islam in the region.
"These children will some day have to face their own people," he said.
He sees this as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the church by weakening its influence.
"The good thing is that, despite the differences, the sense of solidarity among Christians remains ironclad," he said.
Many people in Papua have still not cottoned on to fact that the growing presence of Islam represents a potential political threat.
He said if tensions boil over the results could be disastrous and conflict could escalate quickly.
"All parties need to work together to find solutions before that happens," Father Bahang said.
He suggested the authorities prepare a regulation specific to the region to control interreligious tolerance in Papua, in accordance with the Special Autonomy Law.
Religious leaders also need to work on building dialogue to preempt further problems and involve people at a grassroots level, he added.
When asked to comment on this issue, Saiful Islami Al Payage, chairman of the Papua chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said that "all of these things need to discussed internally."

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