Sunday, November 11, 2012


The Dawn  11 November 2012

In memoriam: The Curie effect

By Rabia Ahmed  | 

Maria Slodowska
(Marie Curie)
On November 7, more than 600 years ago, the large Ensisheim Meteorite struck a field in France, but it was Maria Slodowska, born on the same day in 1867, who had a much greater impact, even to this day. She was one of three people who discovered radium which is used in the treatment of cancer, and to alleviate its symptoms. The process is known as radiotherapy.
Although Maria was Polish, Poland as a country no longer existed; it had merged into the Russian Empire. The Russians neither allowed women to enrol in the University of Warsaw, nor did they permit Poles to teach science. So Maria Slodowska became the French ‘Marie’ when she moved to Paris at age 24, as a science student at the University of Sorbonne.
Marie and Pierre Curie were married in 1895. Pierre earned a PhD in science, while Marie became the first woman to receive a PhD anywhere in the world, in any subject, much less at the Sorbonne. Her subject was also science, and her research (in which she was later joined by Pierre) was based on an initial observation of uranium by Henri Becquerel in which he discovered that materials containing uranium gave off unexplained rays. This was radium, officially discovered by the Curies in 1898. The discovery and beneficial use of this element was to become the focus of their lifetime work. In July 1898 they had announced the discovery of ‘polonium’. For these discoveries Marie and her husband Pierre Curie shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, with Henri Becquerel.
After Pierre’s death in 1906, Marie received another Nobel Prize in 1911, this time for Chemistry, related to their discoveries of polonium and radium.
The Curies spent their lives working under trying conditions, including gender discrimination for Marie, . Leaving Poland because women were not allowed to enrol in university was only the beginning. Later, Marie’s name was not added to the list of candidates for the Nobel Prize on the same grounds, although that was eventually rectified. Earlier that year, although the Curies were invited to London following the publication of their joint paper, it was only Pierre who was allowed to speak at the Royal Institution, once again for the same reason. France, Marie’s adoptive country, never formally acknowledged her achievements, in spite of her huge contributions.
It was only after she was honoured everywhere else that France rather shamefacedly offered her the Legion of Honour, which Marie refused.
Marie Curie died almost 80 years ago, on July 4, 1934, but she still serves as an inspiration for women scientists everywhere. Even in Pakistan, though we are not famed for treating our scientists with respect, there are several women who take heart from Curie’s experiences.
Dr Mariam Sultana, the first female PhD in Extragalactic Astrophysics from the University of Karachi, is not involved in research, but the fact of obtaining a doctorate in such a subject in Pakistan merits mention.
Sadia Manzoor works with condensed matter physics in Islamabad. Her research interests include applications of magnetic nanostructures in cancer treatment.
Then there are three Pakistani women who work at CERN in Geneva. Dr Shamim is involved in the search for quantum black holes. Dr Malik, after studying physics at Oxford is now at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, working at research which aims to provide further understanding of the universe. And Dr Jabeen, also a physicist, also with CERN, Geneva, is a research associate at Fermilab, in Chicago.
’That nation will remain the first,’ said Louis Pasteur, ‘which carries furthest the works of thought and intelligence.’
Obviously, we’re not out of the race yet, though we have a long way to go.

Monday, November 5, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed

Tired hooves
Barring exceptions like The Brooke, the Gandhian test of judging a nation by the way it treats its animals won't give Pakistan a glowing report card
Rabia Ahmed

When Zabreen Hasan came in to work recently at the WWF, she spotted a horse limping and clearly in distress near her office gate. A co-worker offered the horse a bucket of water and an apple.
That evening the equine was still there, but further, at the edge of the road. Suddenly it limped right onto Ferozepur Road, these days busier and more chaotic than usual, and was immediately hit by a car.  As the horrified people from WWF watched, it fell to the road in a welter of blood, hooves and metal, from which the car emerged to resume its journey.
Because the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) works towards conservation, it is not equipped to deal with situations such as this. Zabreen, therefore, picked up the phone and left a message for the staff at the Brooke, a charity whose motto is ‘healthy working animals for the world’s poorest communities.’
It was not very long before the Regional Manager of the Brooke himself arrived on the scene, with a team that included a vet. The horse was examined, but it was clear that its injuries were irreversible and it was in great pain. A van was summoned from the Brooke hospital, and the horse, carefully placed on board, was taken away.
Impressed by the skill and dedication of the team from the Brooke which had arrived at the scene at a late hour, Zabreen followed up on the case.  She found that the horse had been taken to the euthanasia unit at the Brooke hospital, and anaesthetised.  Once it was sufficiently sedated, an intravenous injection was administered that took away the animal’s pain.
In the period between the two World Wars, Dorothy Brooke arrived in Egypt, the newly wed wife of Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke who was stationed in Cairo by the British Army.
Dorothy was a notable horsewoman growing up as she did in Scotland and England, in a family that rode for recreation. She loved and cared for horses, and in Egypt this passion was exercised in an entirely different way.
The Armistice in November 1918 ended the First World War, but only after the death of more than thirty million people, around ten million of which were soldiers. More might have died had it not been for the million or more equines (horses, mules and donkeys) that carried them, their supplies and weapons into battle, and later, helped rescue them. These animals had fought the war as much as anyone else.
Almost half these equines died; those that were injured were purchased, often for flesh, and the rest were taken by various persons for whom horses served as work equipment, not a recreation.  It was these hundreds of equines, now old and sick, that Dorothy Brooke saw when she arrived in Cairo.
These old war horses were not always well treated by owners themselves struggling to make ends meet. This spurred Dorothy on to establish a charity that would alleviate the pitiful condition of working equines in poverty stricken communities around the world. She wrote to the British newspaper, the Morning Post in 1931, a letter in which she made a plea for financial support for her cause. Funds poured in and the first Brooke hospital was set up in Cairo in 1934.
Dorothy Brooke worked with great dedication for this charity until she died in 1955.  The Brooke flourishes, now in several countries. It restricts its services strictly to working equines, according to Dorothy Brooke’s vision. Owners of polo horses and such must contact private vets.
Pakistan was the first country chosen (in 1991) after Brooke found its feet in Egypt. To qualify, it had to meet certain criteria, of possessing:
•     great numbers of working equines (horses, donkeys and mules).
•     high levels of poverty.
•     organisations which can potentially partner with Brooke to further its goals.
•     adequate security, for the organization to be effective.
Pakistan certainly meets the first three criteria.  With more than four and a half working equines at the last census, (2.8 million in the Punjab alone), Pakistan is surpassed only by Ethiopia in possessing great numbers of working equines. In addition, almost a quarter of Pakistan’s human population lives under the poverty line, as determined by the United Nations’ Human Development Index.  The Brooke has also been able to partner with several organisations in Pakistan, such as the Livestock and Fisheries Department, and the Rural Support Organisation in Sindh, the Rural Support Programme and the Faisalabad University of Agriculture in the Punjab.
The fact that Pakistan fails to adequately meet the fourth criteria is probably why the Brooke keeps a low profile in this country.  In a poor country where human welfare falls so short of the mark, this is probably wise, when you happen to be a charity that provides free medical treatment to animals.
When we visited Brooke Lahore for the first time, we rang for further directions while unwittingly parked right outside its head office.  The building lies within four unremarkable, whitewashed walls with no identifiable signs or boards.
The Brooke began operations in 1991, in Peshawar, with a single Community Mobile Veterinary Clinic (CMVC) which is a large van equipped with a team of personnel including a vet, and first aid gear.  Today the Brooke runs thirty one CMVCs in twenty one cities across three provinces of Pakistan.
The Brooke also provides other services such as the invaluable ‘rescue trains’ it organised following the 2005 floods in Pakistan: chains of mules and donkeys that trekked across otherwise impassable terrain, carrying crucial supplies to flood victims, bringing them to dryer ground where required.
Working equines hauling massive loads in blazing heat are a familiar sight in Pakistan. Under such conditions any living creature would sweat copiously, and equines do. The fluid must be replaced very frequently, but whether because their owners lack water or time, are ignorant or plain callous, this rarely happens, and these equines are perennially dehydrated. The CMVCs therefore always include a tank of drinking water for thirsty animals. The Brooke also builds eight to ten water troughs and shelters around the country every year, which are maintained by the community thereafter.
There are six Brooke static clinics around the country, in areas with a high ratio of ‘Transport of Goods by Cart’ (TGC) to other forms of transport. In Lahore, Shahdara with its iron, brick, timber, sand and fodder wholesale markets (mandis) is the site for the Brooke Hospital, in the midst of these bustling market streets.
There is a ‘wayside facility’ at the hospital entrance, as small outpatient clinics are called, where equines are provided care ‘on the hoof’, please excuse the pun. Several such clinics are located across the country, as well as other smaller, rather sad pens where animals are euthanised. Strict conditions apply to the euthanasia process to prevent abuse such as the use of these dead animals for animal feed or leather, and owners are reasonably compensated to encourage them to bring their terminally ill and suffering animals in, rather than discarding them to roam the streets.
Animal owners in dense communities of working equines such as at Tahlianwala near Jhelum are identified, and educated in the attitudes and processes involved in caring for their animals. They are taught to load carts and tackle humanely. Grooming kits and other equipment is provided at rates much lower than the market; they are given access to vets trained in equine care, and treatment is free.
These communities are then monitored to ensure that the Brooke’s efforts translate into the wellbeing of working equines. In fact the entire organisation is regularly monitored by neutral auditors both from home and abroad to ensure that funds donated to the charity are used as intended.
Ahmed Umer Chaudhry works for the Brooke, Lahore, and provided us with transport and information. With a Masters in Sociology and Computer Science he is well placed to manage Communications and Information for an organisation that works within a community. He pointed out that the Brooke is the only animal charity that works in Pakistan, and spoke with pride of his organisation.
It is easy to share this pride with him. In adverse conditions, it is a pleasure to see the dedication with which the people at Brooke work towards the wellbeing of working equines.
It is a challenging job.
Lt. Col. (Retd.) Muhammad Arshad Ansari, the Central Regional Manager and a qualified vet is based at the hospital in Shahdara. He runs a tight ship.
Upon entering the hospital, each equine is weighed to establish a baseline and then treated. The hospital building is utilitarian and clean, offices along one side of a large yard, with a green space in the centre where the animals graze at certain times. The other three sides consist of spotless pens equipped with fans and water troughs, each labelled with its occupant’s details. The occupants, horses, mules, and donkeys, sport horrific injuries that are treated by the staff at the Brooke…a bandage here, a splint there, and even a horse with facial injuries blinking through a face mask.
The Brooke provides free fodder, housing, bedding, treatment and medication to these animals at the hospital. It is the Promised Land for equines, the greener pastures where they can rest and recover.
Is it possible for people in Pakistan to treat animals humanely without the guidance of organisations such as the Brooke? If the religious teachings of most people preach kindness to animals, and if that attitude is somewhat thin on the ground in this country, it can only be the crushing poverty of its people that is responsible. they may do what they can to minimise its fallout.  
 Grooming kits
A grooming kit is a small box containing a curry comb, a brush, and a hoof pick. The curry comb is used to clean the brush with which an equine’s coat must be regularly brushed to remove dirt, although it is often itself mistakenly used in Pakistan for grooming, which results in the coat becoming rough and abrasive.
The Brooke distributes these kits in the wider community at a fraction of the market price.
 Horse Bits
A piece of metal called a ‘bit’ is placed in a horse’s mouth, resting at either end on a space between the horses teeth. It leads to reins that the rider/cart driver handles, and with which he controls the horse. In rough hands, these bits can be harsh on the horse’s mouth, causing blisters, sores and abscesses.
‘The bits used in Pakistan are generally hinged in the centre of the metal piece that goes across the equine’s mouth,’ Col. Ansari told me. ‘This works like a nutcracker, crushing the animal’s tongue or gum, causing terrible pain.’
It is almost impossible to imagine someone touching, even lightly, a mouth sore, much less crushing it with a nutcracker, yet this is what equines endure. The Brooke workers has designed a more humane bit without the pinching hinge, although even this causes great pain if pressed against a wound. But these are the problems the Brooke works so hard to eradicate, by educating the owners of these animals.
The Brooke hospitals possess exemplary farrier shops, since, like humans equines require shoes that fit each particular animal. The little farrier shop at Shahdara has horseshoes neatly tacked to a wall. Some have a cross bar to prevent the centre of the hoof from damage, others have lifts to prevent pressure behind the equine’s foot, if that joint is sore, or has been broken. And since shoes are fitted either cold, or hot, there is provision for a fire, and a little anvil where the farrier works, the air ringing with clanging sounds as his hammer shapes each horseshoe to its required shape.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore