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How to fight a complex, unpredictable virus – By Prof. Ahmed Azad FIAS

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Ahmed A Azad

Only quality clinical and health sciences research and innovation will provide the technological base for Bangladesh to successfully counter this and future medical emergencies. Photo: Dado Ruvis/Reuters

Bangladesh had three-months’ notice to prepare for a possible outbreak of Covid-19 but failed to prepare for it. The authorities have tried very hard to convince everyone to use the public health measures that are known to minimise community transmission, but these have not been easy to implement in the densely populated environment of Bangladesh. Lack of coordination, insufficient testing, contradictory and inconsistent directives, and an eagerness to prematurely reopen businesses, have allowed Covid-19 to spread to all corners of the country. Large numbers of healthcare workers, policemen, journalists, transport workers, and other frontline workers, have worked tirelessly and selflessly to help stop the carnage, and in the process far too many of them have paid dearly with their lives. 

With rampant infection and death rates increasing every day, and faced with the resulting economic freefall, the government has decided to divide the country into non-contiguous red, yellow and green zones, and impose lockdown in the red zones first. Till now only a very small number of red zones with the highest number of infections have been locked down on an experimental basis. More experiments will waste valuable time and further delay may see more yellow zones turning red, and more green zones turning yellow. An all-out war has to be launched against the virus in all red zones simultaneously through total lockdown (not public holiday!) enforced if required with curfews and troop deployment, together with extensive testing to identify infected individuals and their close contacts, followed up with their isolation and treatment in designated public buildings within the red zones.

The obvious weak links in fighting Covid-19 are low capacity of RT-PCR testing and ineffective contact tracing. For contact tracing, the authorities could invite young people living within a red zone to help in neighbourhood surveillance—a strategy that has worked very well in Vietnam’s fight against Covid-19. The huge numbers of tests needed in each red zone is simply not possible with RT-PCR because of the limited availability of very expensive equipment and reagents and shortage of trained personnel. To complement RT-PCR testing, the government should seriously consider the use of alternative tests that are inexpensive, rapid and not dependent on specialist equipment or personnel.

To cope with a second wave of Covid-19 in sizable parts of Melbourne (Australia), besides total lockdown a RT-PCR testing blitz has also been launched in which saliva has been substituted for throat and nose swabs. About two months back Bangladeshi media reported on a rapid antigen detection kit, developed by Gonoshasthya Kendra-RNA Biotech Ltd., that also detects SARS-CoV-2 in saliva samples. While RT-PCR test detects viral RNA, the rapid antigen test detects viral surface proteins. So, both tests should essentially provide the same information about the presence or absence of virus.

However, the locally-produced rapid antigen kit is claimed to provide results within 10 minutes, does not require any equipment or trained manpower, and costs only a fraction of RT-PCR. These claims should be verified independently by using the same saliva sample for both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests. If validated and approved by DGDA, this inexpensive and simple homegrown kit would be ideal for rapid testing and follow up of a large number of people in the red zones. A rapid antibody detection kit (also developed by GK-RNA Biotech) which has been approved by DGDA for studying antibody response to Covid-19 could nicely complement the rapid antigen kit, as together, they would identify all infected individuals who have also seroconverted. The rapid antibody kit can also be used as a powerful research tool to ask and answer a number of fundamental questions about the consequences of Covid-19 infection.

Antibody testing of blood from Covid-19 patients has yielded some unexpected results. A recent study showed that 3 percent of RT-PCR positive patients failed to produce antibodies against Covid-19 and 4 percent of patients who were RT-PCR negative were correctly picked up by antibody test (Quan-Xim Long et al, Nature Medicine, April 2020). Another study from John Hopkins University also shows (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2020) that RT-PCR can produce 20 percent false negatives. This demonstrates the value of using RT-PCR/antigen test and antibody test in parallel. In another study comparing Covid-19 symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, antibody response was found to be much weaker in the asymptomatic group, and within 8 weeks of infection 40 percent of asymptomatic and 13 percent of symptomatic patients showed no antiCovid-19 antibodies in their blood (Quan-Xin Long et al., Nature Medicine, June 2020). This brings into question the prospects of long-term natural or vaccine-induced immunity.

The rapid antibody test could also be useful in selecting suitable plasma donors from among recovered patients. Analyses of 370 plasma samples from Covid-19 recovered patients showed that almost 17 percent had almost no antibody response, and while over 80 percent generated varying levels of antibody, only about 10 percent had high levels of neutralising antibodies able to neutralise a laboratory-safe Covid-19 pseudovirus (New York Blood Centre and Rockefeller University, medRxiv, 2020). The above studies show that plasma from asymptomatic and seronegative recovered patients will be of little utility, and only about 10-12 percent of the seropositive plasma will be suitable for harvesting and enrichment of strong antiCovid-19 neutralising antibodies. This could be the first step towards developing a therapeutic vaccine.

Although an effective prophylactic vaccine is highly desirable, there is no guarantee that one will be produced soon or be available to Bangladesh. Attempts to produce effective vaccines against many pathogens has failed even after years of trying, and it would not be wise to put all our eggs in the vaccine basket. It is quite possible that deliverance may come not from a preventive vaccine but from drugs as happened with HIV/AIDS. A previous op-ed (Covid-19: Taming the Beast, The Daily Star, April 14, 2020) pointed to some therapeutic approaches that Bangladeshi scientists could try using with Bangladesh’s own capabilities and strengths. Bangladeshi scientists have demonstrated that full genome sequencing is well within their capability, but instead of being in a race to be the first or who can sequence the most viral genomes, they could collaborate on trying to understand why different people react differently to Covid-19, why some infected people remain asymptomatic, and why some infected patients never produce antiCovid-19 antibodies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the very poor state and safety of our health services and hospitals, shortage of trained healthcare workers, and insufficient testing capacity needed to meet the challenge. Covid-19 has also doubled the number of “very poor” to 40 million. An annual budget in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic would have been expected to specifically make special allocations for the health, wellbeing and rehabilitation of the poorest and most vulnerable, for improving hospital treatment and public health, and educating and training of adequate numbers of clinicians and healthcare workers.

Covid-19 is not about to disappear soon, and could come back in future in a more deadly form. Only quality clinical and health sciences research and innovation will provide the technological base for Bangladesh to successfully counter this and future medical emergencies. Unfortunately, the token increase in health and education budgets are not enough to have much impact on bringing about the above changes or building technological capacity for the future. Perhaps Covid-19 will nudge our policymakers to realise that investment in health, education and medical research today will be a lasting investment in a healthy, just and prosperous Bangladesh.

Ahmed A Azad is a retired academic and biomedical scientist, who has had a lifelong involvement in the discovery, development and commercialisation of biotech vaccines and drugs.


The Late Prof. Subhi Qasem FIAS (Jordan)

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It is with a sense of sadness and sorrow that the President and the Director General of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) in Amman, Jordan, announce the passing away of the eminent Jordanian scientist: Prof. Subhi Qasem, FIAS.

Prof. Subhi Qasem was a former Minister of Agriculture in the government of Jordan (1991).

An IAS Fellow since 1988, Prof. Qasem was previously a professor of agriculture at the University of Jordan.

Prof. Qasem studied at Kansas State University and graduated from the University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minneapolis, with a PhD in Plant Pathology and Plant Breeding in August 1959. He worked with the Ministry of Agriculture for 5 years before joining the University of Jordan, Amman, Jordan.

Prof. Qasem has occupied various academic and administrative posts at the University of Jordan, the last of which was the deanship of the Faculty of Graduate Studies in 1986. He is accredited with being the founding dean of the Faculties of Sciences, Agriculture and Graduate Studies.

In 1992, Prof. Qasem established himself as a full-time consultant working in the area of S&T education and R&D as well as agricultural policy and the environment. He has numerous publications to his credit covering the above aspects including a number of mission reports commissioned by UNESCO, FAO, UNDP, the World Bank, UNEP, ALECSO, IDRC, USAID as well as the IAS.

Prof. Qasem’s outstanding services to science in the Third World and Jordan, have been recognised culminating in the Medal of the Kawkab (Star) Award and the Istiklal (Independence) Medal, both of Jordan, which were bestowed upon Prof. Qasem by the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Dr. Qasem’s most recent research focused on Quality Issues of Arab Educational System: Option and Solutions.

Prof. Qasem will be greatly missed by his colleagues and fellow scientists in Jordan and the Islamic World. “Ina Lillah Wa Ina Ilaihi Raj’oon.” IAS President, Fellows and staff offer their heartfelt condolences to his family and friends throughout the World.


7th Science and Technology Exchange Program (STEP)

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In the wake of the global crisis that has led to the outbreak and the subsequent pandemic of the Coronavirus, various countries, including Islamic countries, have suffered from enormous damage in areas like public health, human mental security, and the global economy. In such circumstances, today the world is increasingly in need of hope for the future and also scientific endeavor and cooperation of the elites to achieve a healing cure and to share the successful and unsuccessful experiences of countries in handling this great crisis. Relying on their knowledge and expertise, scientific elites can play a unique role in the face of this adversity.

Science and Technology Exchange Program,  organized by Mustafa (PBUH) Science and Technology Foundation, with an emphasis on the importance of sharing worthy knowledge, experiences, and achievements in this critical time, is working to provide the best possible platform through a virtual thematic summit on the Coronavirus, to synergize the capacities and capabilities of scientists and experts in the Islamic world to help solve this global crisis.

The 7th STEP summit entitled “Scientific and Technological Collaboration Facing Coronavirus Challenges” aims to exchange and share the experiences of medical staff, the achievements and discoveries of scientists, technological innovations as well as strategies in helping to solve the global challenge of the Coronavirus on the one hand and to create a platform for cooperation in synergy and acceleration of the crisis resolution on the other hand.


AI-MED Artificial Intelligence for Better Health

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A team led by Prof. Rabiee at AI-Med has designed and implemented the AI-based COVID-19 Detection system which recognizes anomalies that are visually hard to detect in chest CT Scan images immediately after a patient is infected with COVID-19.

The model utilizes an innovative preprocessing module to remove possible batch effects and deploys data from multiple sources for end-to-end training of Deep Neural Networks (DNN). In addition, the model calculates the size and volume of the infected areas for a more effective treatment of COVID-19 patients. The accuracy score of the model is above 95%.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve at a fast pace worldwide. The AI-Med team at Sharif University of Technology has developed the AI-Med COVID-19 Detection System to enable physicians and other medical experts with prompt and accurate diagnosis measures. This software system utilizes an innovative preprocessing module for batch effect removal along with Interpretable Deep Neural Network (DNN) for rapid and accurate diagnosis of COVID-19. AI-Med uses chest CT Scan images which have been saved as Ground Glass Opacity Axial DICOM standard in a single zip file.

The AI-Med COVID-19 Detection System is free for public medical and research centers. To receive a free desktop copy or API for PACS systems please submit an official request via email or regular mail. We also provide limited access to our online services. Please send us an email with an explanation of the intended use of the online system. Upon approval, we send you the login information.

Address: AI-Med Research Group, Artificial Intelligence Innovation Center, Advanced ICT Research Institute Sharif University of Technology SUT Technology Tower 2 Azadi St., Habibollahi St., Habibzadegan Alley, Fatemi Alley No. 1 East, Unit 11, 4th Floor Tehran, Iran


The Late Prof. Mohammad Hamdan FIAS (JORDAN)

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It is with a sense of sadness and sorrow that the President and the Director General of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) in Amman, Jordan, announce the passing away of the eminent Jordanian scientist: Prof. Mohammad Hamdan, former Council Member, IAS.

Prof. Hamdan received his BSc in Mathematics (with honours) from Cairo University in 1957, and his PhD in Mathematical Statistics from Sydney University in 1963.

He was appointed Senator at the Upper House of Parliament in Jordan in December 2007 by Royal Decreee. He served as Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Jordan for three terms, and as Secretary General of The Higher Council for Science and Technology from September 1998 – July 1999.

He joined the Arab Open Univeristy as Rector and Founding Member from 1999 – 2001 and as Senior Advisor from October 2001 – August 2002. He had to leave the University to serve as Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research from September 2002 – November 2003, but immediately after his term ended, he was re-appointed Senior Advisor of the Arab Open University. He was also a Senator at the Upper House of Parliament in Jordan, Vice President of Jordan Academy of Arabic Language, and Vice President of The World Academy of Sciences/ Arab Region (TWAS), and President of the Union of Arab Statisticians. He was also President of two public universities in Jordan: the Yarmouk University and the Hashemite University.

Earlier in his career, he held several posts at the University of Jordan including Professor of Mathematics, Dean of Faculty of Science, Dean of Scientific Research and Dean of Student Affairs.

At the academic level outside Jordan, Professor Hamdan served as Faculty Member (Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor) at the American University of Beirut/Beirut (1965 – 1976), and as Visiting Professor of Mathematics at the American University of Cairo/Egypt, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University/USA, and Riyadh University/Saudi Arabia.

In terms of academic research, Professor Hamdan was a Member of the Editorial Board of several research journals. He supervised several PhD dissertations and MSc theses throughout his career, and was keynote speaker in numerous scientific conferences; and national and international consultations in the areas of Mathematics, Mathematical Statistics, Education and Higher Education. He was also member of several academic and cultural institutions, including the Arab Thought Forum. He published numerous papers in the area of Mathematical Statistics.
Prof. Hamdan was an elected Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (1990), and a former Council Member (1994-1999).

Prof. Hamdan will be greatly missed by his colleagues and fellow scientists in Jordan and the Islamic World. “Ina Lillah Wa Ina Ilaihi Raj’oon.” IAS President, Fellows and staff offer their heartfelt condolences to his family and friends throughout the World.

IAS 11th Conference Proceedings published Online

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As part of its strategy to become an ‘open source’ of information on the Islamic World, the IAS has recently published online the proceedings volume of its 11th conference on ‘Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering for Development in the Islamic World,’ held in Rabat, Morocco, during 22-26 October 2001. The proceedings volume was edited by Dr Abdel Salam Majali, Dr Mehmet Ergin and Dr Moneef R. Zou’bi.


The proceedings can be found on the IAS website under the section Recent Publications or directly through

This was an event in which over 100 participants including IAS Fellows and invited speakers from outside Morocco, academics, decision-makers, scientists, researchers as well as presidents/representatives of academies of sciences from all over the world, took part.

The conference addressed a number of key issues in the domain of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, including Medical Biotechnology, Biotechnology and Food Security, Biotechnology Education and Ethics and Social Values of Biotechnology.

This is for the benefit of speakers and participants in the said event as well as the public all over the world.

The Late Prof. M Ajmal Khan FIAS (Pakistan)

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It is with a sense of sadness and sorrow that the President and the Director General of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) in Amman, Jordan, announce the passing away of the eminent Pakistani scientist: Prof. M. Ajmal Khan, Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences. He was 66.

Professor Muhammad Ajmal Khan, Professor & Director, Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization, University of Karachi spent over 30 years in teaching and research. He was awarded the degree of MSc (1974) by the University of Karachi, PhD (1985) by Ohio University, USA and DSc (2010) by the University of Karachi. He was the recipient of Ohio University teaching assistantship (1980-1984); National Science Foundation, USA postdoctoral fellowship at Brigham Young University, USA (1984-1985); Fulbright visiting scholar, Ohio University, USA (1995-1996) and Adjunct Professorship at Brigham Young University, USA (1996-1997).

During the year 2000, Dr Khan was awarded Pakistan Academy of Science and INFAQ Foundation joint gold medal (1999) in the field of Botany. The President of Pakistan awarded Dr Khan with the Pride of Performance on 14th August 2001 and Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2007 in recognition of his scientific contribution. He was elected a Fellow of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences in 2001 and TWAS in 2004.

Based on the Journal Citation Report (JCR), the Pakistan Council of Science and Technology ranked him among the leading biologists for the year 1999. In 2004, he was ranked as the best biologist and second in 2005 and 2007 and 13th among the scientists of all disciplines. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan awarded him the title of Distinguished National Professor during 2005, and the Pakistan Academy of Sciences awarded him the title of Distinguished Professor of the year 2008.

Professor Khan joined the University of Karachi as a Lecturer in 1977. He was appointed as Assistant Professor of Botany in 1985, Associate Professor of Botany in 1989, Professor of Botany in 1996 and Director, Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization in 2007. He has been instrumental in establishing a Halophyte Biology Laboratory in the Department of Botany for research on cash crop halophytes where more than 35 post-graduate students have completed their degrees.

Prof. Khan has completed 27 research projects on various aspects of salt tolerance in plants and has done pioneering work on mechanisms involving endogenous growth inhibitors under salt stress. He has published more than 180 research papers in well-known international journals, edited 8 books, arranged numerous symposia, participated in scientific moots and delivered invited lectures in several institutions of China, Hong Kong, Egypt, India, Bahrain, UAE., Morocco, Tunisia, Nepal, Turkey, Germany, and USA.

Dr. Khan’s research primarily focused on the utilization of areas destroyed by water logging and salinity by using non-conventional agricultural crops. During the last twelve years he has been working with scientists from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA and Pakistan to develop new technologies to grow non conventional agricultural crops using seawater irrigation. He had also collaborated with a group of Chinese scientists under Pakistan – China collaboration protocol to further develop saline agriculture. He had achieved considerable success in running a sustainable system of fodder production and cattle farming with non-conventional crops irrigated with brackish water. He had demonstrated the feasibility of using a diet for cattle composed entirely of halophytes besides finding a number of halophyte seeds with high quality edible oil.

Dr. Khan’s research could revolutionize the agricultural scenario by using wastelands and low quality water to produce cash crop halophytes for the benefit of mankind particularly those located in the arid and sub-arid regions.

Prof. Khan was elected as a Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in 2011.

Prof. Khan will be greatly missed by his colleagues and fellow scientists in the Islamic World. “Ina Lillah Wa Ina Ilaihi Raj’oon.”

IAS President, Fellows and staff offer their heartfelt condolences to his family and friends throughout the world.

Prince Hassan reflects on fire at Notre Dame Cathedral

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AMMAN — HRH Prince Hassan on Tuesday released a statement expressing sadness and condolences over the massive fire that ripped through the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

Prince Hassan said: “It was with deep sadness that we watched the great cathedral of Notre Dame in flames last night; that historic monument which has been witness to the best and worst of human history down the centuries.”

“Our ancient sacred spaces bear testimony to the growth of civilisation and human endeavour. They are monuments to the human ability to create, so too do they epitomise our ability to endure, rebuild and renew. As Victor Hugo wrote in his masterpiece about the great cathedral, ‘Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of the ages,’” the prince added.

“I salute the brave fire officers and the people of France at this tragic moment. I wish the people of Paris well as they strive together to return the ancient heart of their city to her former glory and, in the not too distant future, inshallah, the famous bells of ‘Our Lady’ will ring out once more.”

By JT – Apr 16,2019 – Last updated at Apr 16,2019


Prof. Salim Yusuf FIAS (Canada) close to 300,000 Google Citations

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Prof. Salim Yusuf, IAS Fellow from Canada, is a distinguished University Professor of Medicine, and Executive Director of the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University and Chief Scientist, Hamilton Health Sciences. Immediate Past President of the World Heart Federation

Salim Yusuf is an internationally renowned cardiologist and epidemiologist, whose work over 35 years has substantially improved the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, thereby benefiting millions of people. Medically qualified in Bangalore in 1976, he received a Rhodes Scholarship and obtained a DPhil from Oxford, during which he (along with Richard Peto and Peter Sleight) initiated the concepts of large, simple trials, and meta-analysis. He coordinated the ISIS trial (which set the structure for future international collaborative work in cardiovascular disease) that demonstrated the value of beta-blockers in myocardial infarction, and served on the steering committees for all subsequent ISIS trials including the landmark ISIS 2 trial that showed that both thrombolytics and aspirin reduced mortality in AMI.

In 1984, he moved to the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA, where he developed and led the SOLVD trial and DIG trial. Both of these are the first large trials in heart failure and served as the model for subsequent major trials in heart failure resulting in substantial improvements in mortality.

   In 1992 he moved to McMaster University as the head of the Division of Cardiology, subsequently becoming the Vice-President of Research, and the Founding Director of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) at Hamilton Health Sciences, where he has established an international program of research in cardiovascular diseases and prevention.

His epidemiologic work in over 80 countries in all the inhabited continents of the world shows the majority of risks of both heart attacks (INTERHEART) and strokes (INTERSTROKE) are attributable to the same few risk factors thereby simplifying prevention of CVD globally.

He currently leads one of the largest studies exploring the role of multiple levels of influences (societal, policy, health behaviour, risk factors, health systems) on the development and outcomes after CVD and other non-communicable diseases among 200,000 people from 800 communities in 25 high, middle and low income countries in 5 continents.

Over the last 3 decades he has built capacity for clinical and population research across the world by establishing networks involving over 100 sites in 85 countries, spanning all inhabited continents of the world. He has trained over 100 researchers, many of whom are internationally renowned leaders in medical research. He has helped develop major research institutes or programs in Canada, India, Argentina, Brazil, S. Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and China.

He holds a Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Research Chair, was a Senior Scientist of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (1999-2004), and has received the Lifetime Research Achievement award of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the Paul Wood Silver Medal of the British Cardiac Society, the European Society of Cardiology Gold medal, the American Heart Association Clinical Research Award, the Eugene Braunwald Lecturer of the American College of Cardiology in 2014, and over 50 other international and national awards for research. He has been inducted into the Royal Society of Canada, appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada, in 2014 he received the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, and from the University of Goteborg, in 2015.

He has published over 1000 articles in refereed journals, was the second most cited researcher in the world for 2011 and has several times been in the top 20 cited scientists. His h-index is 179 (157,305 citations Thomson Reuters), h-index 237 (299,577 citations Google Scholar). He is the Immediate Past President of the World Heart Federation, where he has initiated an Emerging Leaders program in 35 countries to build capacity for implementation of evidence into practice, and the Roadmaps program to reduce the CVD burden globally within a generation. He was elected a Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) in 2017, an academy of sciences which he has recently financially supported.

Prof. Ameenah Gurib FIAS is the 2019 IAS-COMSTECH Ibrahim Memorial Award Laureate

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The IAS Council has recently elected Professor Ameenah Gurib-Fakim FIAS (Mauritius), Managing Director of the Centre International de Développement Pharmaceutique (CIDP) Research and Innovation, as the Laureate of the IAS-COMSTECH Ibrahim Memorial Award, 2019. Prof. Ameenah is a former President of Mauritius.

Prof. Gurib-Fakim earned a BSc in chemistry from the University of Surrey (1983) and a PhD from the University of Exeter, UK (1987). During her academic journey, she participated in several consultation meetings on environmental issues organized by international organizations. Between 2011-2013, she was elected and served as chairperson of the International Council for Scientific Union – Regional Office for Africa, and served as an independent director on the Board of Barclays Bank of Mauritius Ltd between (2012-2015).

A Founding Member of the Pan African Association of African Medicinal Plants, she co-authored the first ever African Herbal Pharmacopoeia. She has authored and co-edited 28 books, several book chapters and scientific articles in the field of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development and has lectured extensively across the world; is a member of the editorial boards of major journals, has served on technical and national committees in various capacities. Elevated to the Order of the Commander of the Star and Key by the Government of Mauritius in 2008, she has been admitted to the Order of the Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the Government of France in 2010 and is the recipient of 4 DSc(s).

Elected Fellow of several academies and societies, Ms Gurib-Fakim received several international prizes including the 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science, the African Union Commission Award for Women in Science, 2009.

On 05 June 2015, she was sworn in as the 6th President and the First Female President of the Republic of Mauritius and served in that capacity until March 2018.

She was elevated to the Order of GCSK by the Government of Mauritius, and received the Legion d’Honneur from the Government of France in 2016. In 2017, she received both the lifelong achievement award of the United States Pharmacopoeia-CePat Award and the American Botanical Council Norman Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award. In 2018, she received the Order of St George at the Semperopernball, Dresden, Germany, and the Global Energy Parliament Award, State of Kerala, India.

In June 2016, she was included in the Forbes List for the 100 ‘Most Powerful women in the world’ and the 1st among the Top 100 Women in Africa Forbes List 2017. She was also picked as one of Foreign Policy’s 2015 Global Thinkers.

Prof. Ameenah has been an active Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences since 2009.

Pain and anguish at the heinous attacks in New Zealand

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A Statement by HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

following the terrorist attacks in New Zealand, March 15th 2019

Words cannot express adequately the pain and anguish I feel at the heinous attacks in New Zealand. I share the anguish of my fellow Muslims at those who have orchestrated such diabolical carnage in a place of prayer. As a husband, a father and a grandfather, I can only imagine the pain and suffering felt by the families affected by this tragedy. In the weeks and months ahead, we must all stand together and raise aloft those values which must form the core of Islamic belief– compassion, respect and dignity. If we fail in this, then terror is victorious.

Those ideologues and demagogues who set themselves above the rights of man and the laws of God have no place in our world, no matter who their victims or what their ideologies. Their targets reflect the increasing polarisation of our population, where hatred and fear can be spread and exacerbated at the click of a mouse, and where atrocities are streamed live for the voyeuristic thrills of a silent audience. If it is true that ‘evil only wins when good men do nothing’, then let us now raise our collective voices, both Christian and Muslim alike, in our disgust and condemnation of these attacks.

Let us move away from the insidious culture that allows everyday hatred to creep into how we think about each other, instead focussing our thoughts on the shared humanity which ties us to each other more deeply than any superficial differences might divide. I echo the words of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who spoke about the ostracisation of immigrants and the Muslim community. “They are us” she said and I add, “and we are you.”

This is a time not only for good government, but more importantly, for good governance. We must face up to the divisions blighting our world. We must all work together to defeat hatred and give hope. This is not a mission of optimism, but one of necessity.

We may never properly come to terms with the senseless hatred that fuelled this outrage. However, we must offer our support to the victims of these attacks as they struggle to recover from the physical and mental trauma. Let us draw strength from our faith and our shared values. Most importantly, these terrible attacks must not be allowed to feed the hateful inhumanity of the few. Rather, these images of death and destruction must strengthen our compassion and elevate our common humanity. Instead of retribution and prolonged vitriol, let us call now for peace and decency, standing together as one. When all things have been forgotten, we can only ask ourselves, “What part did I play? Did I help or was I part of the problem?” Now is the time to cling onto our shared ideals, our hopes and the ties that bind us all, no matter where we come from or who we are. Now we work to overcome this darkness and remember that, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.’

Atta-ur-Rahman FIAS to head a Science and Technology Task Force in Pakistan

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The government has now approved the proposed task force on science and technology. The notification lists the names of all the people who will be on the task force.

Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Former Minister of Science & Technology, Former Chairman of Higher Education Commission will the chairman of the new task force. He is also part of the 17 man task force on IT and telecom. The secretary to Minister of science and technology will reprise the same role in the task force.

Here are all the people who are on the task force:

Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman

Secretary, Minister of Science and Technology

Syed Yawar Ali

Chairman, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council

Prof. M. Iqbal Choudhary

Dr. Shahid Mansoor

Prof. Dr. Raheel Qamar

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Wasay

Prof. Dr. Sohaib Khan

Engineer Khalid Asghar

Prof. Waqar Mahmood

Prof. Dr. Naveed A. Malik

Prof. Dr. Ehsan Ullah Khan Kakar

The objective of the task force is to start an economic renaissance through Education, Science, Technology, Research, Innovation and Commercialization. The task force will try to enhance collaboration between industries and academia. Promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is also one of the objectives. To summarize the notification, the government plans to empower entrepreneurs working in STEM fields for better products and services.


Towards an Optimal Governance System for STI

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Tan Sri Prof. Omar Abdul Rahman FIAS

There is a lively renewed discussion among the scientific community in Malaysia for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select or Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The idea is not new, of course. We have been discussing this at Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and other fora for a good many years now. Lengthy discussions took place during recent ASM’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee (STIPAC) meetings. I have myself been arguing for such a Committee as part of the wider public debate on STI issues and their impact on the socio-economic fabric of Malaysia. The existence of such a parliamentary committee will add to our capacity to provide STI advice. But ‘capacity to provide advice’ is only one component of an effective or optimal governance system for STI  that is badly needed in Malaysia. This capacity must be matched with a ‘capacity to receive and act on good advice’. This is the second  component of the optimal STI governance system. 

There is a lively renewed discussion among the scientific community in Malaysia for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select or Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The idea is not new, of course. We have been discussing this at Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and other fora for a good many years now. Lengthy discussions took place during recent ASM’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee (STIPAC) meetings. I have myself been arguing for such a Committee as part of the wider public debate on STI issues and their impact on the socio-economic fabric of Malaysia. The existence of such a parliamentary committee will add to our capacity to provide STI advice. But ‘capacity to provide advice’ is only one component of an effective or optimal governance system for STI  that is badly needed in Malaysia. This capacity must be matched with a ‘capacity to receive and act on good advice’. This is the second  component of the optimal STI governance system. 

The third component comes in two parts:  ‘capacity to determine a national STI agenda and priorities’ necessary to achieve the national SET objectives (STI for Policy), and ‘authority and means to strengthen STI capacity in the areas of priorities’ (Policy for STI). 

So while we have some elements of the first, ‘capacity to provide advice’, which can be strengthened by a parliamentary committee and a robust public debate, the other two capacities are sadly lacking. This is the reason why we have not made much progress. 

Now that the government is considering the revival of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) we must  vigorously push for the establishment of a National STI Action Council (NSAC) which will have the mandate to determine the National STI Agenda and the National STI Priorities to achieve the goals of the SET programmes. The NASC must have the mandate to assign the implementation of the priorities to the various ministries and agencies and collaborating private sectors, to secure and allocate resources and have implementation and evaluation oversight. 

To do all the the above the NSAC must be supported by a competent dedicated full time secretariat as a central agency directly under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Our previous STI councils were advisory, and with a rudimentary token secretariat, were ineffective in receiving and acting on good advice. The much touted Science To Action, for example, became an embarrassing science to inaction. 

The  NSAC will then be the apex of our STI governance system. 

The national STI agenda and STI Priorities will be developed the meet short term and long term objectives 

The short term priorities will be in response to urgent emergent needs. The Mid-Term Review, which was presented to the nation many months ago, is an example. In an efficient governance system, a portfolio of STI priorities will have been identified as being necessary to effect the desired results of the Review; strategies and action plans would by now be in place. Sadly we are not aware of any such. 

The long term priorities would be in support of the long term SET objectives which can be for a Harmonious, Prosperous, Progressive and Sustainable Malaysia, in the absence of a new declaration. 

Sustained harmony requires that citizens’ basic needs are met, their quality of life improving, they are gainfully employed(function of a robust economy ) and there is good governance and a responsible government, over and above national integration, cohesion and unity. The four groups of Critical Technologies are required for sustained harmony, namely technologies for Basic Needs, for Quality of Life, for Economic Growth and for Good Governance and Responsible Government.

Prosperity comes from ‘innovation driven, private sector led economy’. Without STI this  will be a pipe dream.

Being Progressive is to be future aware and future ready; to be able to spot signals in new and emerging economic,   technology, business management and lifestyle trends. 

Being sustainable is about sustainability awareness, sustainable practices and migration to green economy. 

There is a wide ranging STI requirements in all of the above; prioritisation therefore becomes necessary, hence the urgency for the establishment of the NSAC. 

The priorities become the context that all the STI advice apparatus in the public sector (eg ASM, MIGHT), the private sector, in Parliament (when such exists) and from civil society organisations and special interest groups can focus on. The NSAC will be the focal point to receive, evaluate and act on good advice. The equation is then complete.  

I suggest ASM presents our case to the PM to emphasise the urgent requirement for an efficient STI governance system, to establish the NSAC alongside the new NEAC, to provide the crucial STI  inputs to making a Harmonious, Prosperous, Progressive and Sustainable Malaysia. 

What  would be the role of ASM if a new STI landscape emerges? This is subject for vigorous discussions and deep soul searching. Under its present mandate, I believe ASM should be a major source of STI information and advice, a catalyst for a robust public debate on STI and related matters and the creation of a society at ease with science and technology. It must also work to encourage the private sector’s commitment to STI and increased investment in R&D. To effect all the above, ASM must strengthen its capacity in ACCA : creating Awareness and Comprehension on STI issues impacting national SET agenda, and nudging government and relevant organisations for Commitment and Action. There must be an addition to ACCA, an E – ‘evaluation’ to ensure effective implementation. 

Omar Abdul Rahman

Science Institutionalization in Early Islam: Bayt Al-Hikma of Baghdad as a Model of an Academy of Sciences

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Science Institutionalization in Early Islam:

“Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad as a Model of an Academy of Sciences”

Moneef Rafe’ Zou’bi and Mohd Hazim Shah

Science institutions have evolved historically, eventually emerging in many forms. Nowadays, they include schools and universities, research centres, learned societies and academies of sciences.

However, even with the existence today of over 120 formally recognised academies of sciences around the world (IAP, 2015), the understanding of the term ‘academy of sciences’ is, at present, lacking. Many people are ignorant of the fact that an academy of sciences’ primary role is to act as the science advisory or sovereign (supreme authority) which actively promotes science in the catchment area where it operates, and a forum where scientific issues are debated, studied and communicated.

This study aims to introduce academy-type institutions of the pre-Islamic era. To illustrate the ascendance of the Islamic tradition of science institutionalisation, founding and patronage of academies, the example of Baghdad’s Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) which flourished in the ninth century AD is examined closely in the light of primary Arabic sources on the subject as well as recent contemporary international literature. The study will then go beyond the existing narrative on Bayt al-Hikma to argue that it was an ‘academy of sciences’ that preceded by centuries the Academia dei Lincei of Rome, considered by many scholars as the world’s first academy of sciences established in 1603.

For the full article:

Prof. Jackie Ying FIAS receives 2018 Turkish Academy of Sciences Prize

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Singapore, December 27, 2018 – Professor Jackie Y. Ying who heads A*STAR’s NanoBio Lab in Singapore has won the 2018 Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) Academy Prize in Science and Engineering Sciences. This award recognizes her pioneering work in the synthesis of advanced nanostructured materials for biomedical, catalytic, energy and advanced materials applications.

“It is a great honor to receive this Prize from the Turkish Academy of Sciences. I am grateful to be able to do exciting research with the talented scientists and dedicated staff at NanoBio Lab in Singapore. Technological breakthroughs can help to improve the quality of lives and benefit society in many ways. It is my hope that we can make a distinct impact through many successful clinical translation and commercialization of our research,” said Professor Ying.

She has mentored numerous PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff. She featured on Clarivate Analytics’ list of Highly Cited Researchers 2018 for Cross-Field publications, and has over 350 publications in leading journals. She is widely recognized for her inventions, which have led to over 180 patents and patent applications. 32 of her inventions have been licensed to multinational companies and start-ups for diverse applications including nanomedicine, drug delivery, medical implants, cell and tissue engineering, biosensors and medical devices.

Professor Ying is the only female recipient of the TÜBA Academy Prizes in 2018. The other 2018 TÜBA Academy Prize winners are Professor Fatih Mehmet Uҫkun of the University of Minnesota (winner in Health and Life Sciences category), and Professor Bold Luvsandorj of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and Professor Viorel Panaite of the University of Bucharest (joint winners of the Social and Human Sciences category). Previous laureates come from Austria, Canada, Hungary, Pakistan, Turkey and USA.

The 2018 winners received their prizes from the President of Turkey in a special ceremony in Ankara, Turkey. Each laureate received an Academy Medal and USD 30,000.


Prof. Mohamed H A Hassan FIAS elected TWAS President

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As the founding executive director of TWAS, Mohamed Hassan helped to build the Academy into a global voice for science in the developing world. Now he will return as its president, seeking to guide it to new achievements.

Mohamed H A Hassan, a distinguished and highly influential Sudanese advocate for science in the South, has been elected to serve as the sixth president of The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries.

Hassan was TWAS’s founding executive director and served 26 years in that role, establishing a reputation as a scholar and diplomat who moved effectively at every level of the global research, education and policy communities.

“I am greatly honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to serve TWAS in a new and more challenging capacity,” Hassan said after his election. “I am grateful to the TWAS Council and membership for the faith and confidence they have placed in me and I hope to live up to their expectations – and maybe exceed them a little bit.”

Beginning 1 January 2019, he has succeeded current TWAS President Bai Chunli of China, who took office in 2013 and served two three-year terms.  Under changes newly approved by the TWAS Council, the Academy president and Council members will now serve single four-year terms.


Pakistan and Egypt had highest rise in research output in 2018

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Global production of scientific papers hit an all-time high this year, estimates show, with emerging economies rising fastest.

Emerging economies showed some of the largest increases in research output in 2018, according to estimates from the publishing-services company Clarivate Analytics. Pakistan and Egypt topped the list in percentage terms, with rises of 21% and 15.9%, respectively.

China’s publications rose by about 15%, and India, Brazil, Mexico and Iran all saw their output grow by more than 8% compared with 2017 (See ‘Countries with biggest rises in research output’).

Globally, research output rose by around 5% in 2018, to an estimated 1,620,731 papers listed in a vast science-citation database Web of Science, the highest ever (see ‘Research output rose again in 2018’).

This diversification of players in science is a phenomenal success, says Caroline Wagner, a science and technology policy analyst at Ohio State University, and a former adviser to the US government.

“In 1980, only 5 countries did 90% of all science — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan,” she says. “Now there are 20 countries within the top producing group.”

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Missing Nobel Women Scientists: A Journey of Bias in Time

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Since 1901 to date, there are 935 Nobel Prize recipients, but only 52 are women. The proportion of Nobels awarded to women in the sciences (20/607 in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine; PCM) is more unequal than in other categories (32/328 in Economics, Peace, and Literature; EPL). 

This October, like any other, the world celebrated the addition of 8 science Nobel laureates (including 2 women), the highly acclaimed distinction accorded to individuals for making breakthroughs in their fields. This year, there was a welcome change when a Nobel was awarded to Donna Strickland, the first woman to receive the Nobel in physics for the first time since 1963, and Frances Arnold, the first woman to receive the Nobel in chemistry since 2009.

By Vijendra Agarwal



IAS Founding Patron visits IAS HQ

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On Monday 8 October 2018, HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal, Founding Patron of the IAS, visited the IAS headquarters. HRH was received by Prof. Adnan Badran Treasurer FIAS, Prof. Mohammad Hamdan FIAS, Prof. Shaher Momani FIAS and Dr Moneef Zou’bi, Director General, IAS.

 HRH was briefed by IAS Treasurer on the activities and programmes of the IAS and its plans to implement a number of programmes over the next two years.

 HRH, after recalling many of the eminent scientific personalities he had interacted with over the years, proposed a number of ideas for how the IAS can move forward effectively in terms addressing a wide range of issues emanating from the Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity (WEHAB) paradigm, and draw on the experience of a number of international agencies active in the broad domain of development.

 HRH was accompanied by a sizeable delegation representing many local and regional institutions.