Saturday, August 9, 2003

Pesticides in fruits, vegetables

August 9, 2003
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 8: It's not just soft drinks which are loaded with high levels of poisonous chemicals. Fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, ice creams, sweets, and chicken too have residues of harmful chemicals in them, scientists said.
A WHO study several years back had revealed that pesticide levels even in human milk in India were alarmingly high, Prof S A Abbasi, senior professor and director, Centre for Pollution Control and Energy Technology at the Pondicherry University, said.
Laboratory studies have shown that more than 60 per cent of vegetable and fruit samples collected from different parts of Andhra Pradesh are contaminated with harmful pesticides. Experts are particularly alarmed over the presence of DDT in samples of fruits and vegetables grown in the State.
According to a report of the Food Protectants and Infestation Control Department of the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, high levels of DDT residues had been reported from Andhra Pradesh, "probably due to intensive application of DDT for vector control under the malaria irradiation programme".
Agro-products grown in the State are so contaminated with pesticides that several European nations have imposed restrictions on their import. The situation is so alarming that the Central government has reportedly instructed a major public laboratory in the city not to publish its test findings in the annual report.
"We used to carry the details in our publications till two years ago. Now we have been asked to report the data only to Delhi," a senior official admitted.
As against the maximum residual value of 5 ppm fixed for DDT by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, samples from the State contained DDT up to 3 ppm. Though the residual level is below the MRL, the very presence of DDT points to the extent of pesticide contamination in food products.
Studies by the city-based NIN on 68 fruit and vegetable samples and the Pesticide Residue Laboratory of Angrau on scores of samples revealed that most of the fruits and vegetables tested were contaminated with pesticides and insecticides. Agro products like guava, banana and leafy vegetables were relatively free of contaminants.
While NIN conducted tests on 10 varieties of grapes, apples, mangoes, potatoes, beans, carrots and tomatoes, the university laboratory studied lady fingers, tomatoes, mangoes, grapes, brinjals and cauliflower.
The agro products were obtained both directly from fields and from city markets. Vegetables are grown on just three per cent of the total cultivable area in the State and yet the pesticide consumption is as high as 14 per cent. Taking body weight into account, children consume three to 21 times more of these agro products than adults do, exposing them to higher risk.
"The pesticide residues are well within the MRL values. Even these quantities can be eliminated by thoroughly washing the vegetables or fruits. About 90 per cent of the residues can be eliminated from wheat and rice by washing the grains several times. The toxicity or otherwise of these pesticides depend on the acceptable daily intake ratio", NIN deputy director S Babu told Deccan Chronicle.
The studies revealed the presence of harmful chemicals like carbaril, monocrotofos, phosalone, dimethioate, cypermethrin, feneolerate, Melathion, phanpimethane, mithamil, prophenophos, permethrin, metalaxil, diethane M45, ridonil MZ, carbandizam, diophinatemythyl and deltamethrin.
According to Central Integrated Pest Management Centre sources, Guntur, Prakasam, Krishna, Khammam and Warangal districts are notorious for their high intake of pesticides.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Forest Atlas of Andhra Pradesh Is Ready

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 5: For the first time the State will have its own "forest atlas" which guides people on the topography of the State's reserve forests and its fast declining wildlife.
The State Forests Department is using the state-of-the-art satellite imagery technology to prepare the forest atlas with both colour and black and white satellite photographs. The forest atlas is likely to be in place by the end of this year.
"It will give spatial distribution of forest type along with density. It involves overlay analysis of forest types with forest density coverage. The forest type map will be generated using multi-spectral LISS-III (colour cameras) and hyper-spectral data. The density mapping will be done using PAN (black and white images) data," a senior forest official in the GIS told this correspondent.
The department will also map the bamboo areas in reserve forests using the satellite remote sensing data and the existing forest working plans. Based on this the probable out-turn will be estimated. Officials are now busy taking inventory of bamboo vegetation. Vegetation type mapping will be taken up employing satellite data and forest working plans.
The forests department boasts of 63,814 sq km of forest area while actual dense forest area is just 23,048 sq km. As much as 19,859 sq km is under "open forest" which means thin or degraded forest area. The proposed forest atlas will give an idea on the nature of various forest types, the flora and fauna they contain, and the density or otherwise of reserve forests.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Last minute bidding for diagnostic facilities

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 23: After ailines, it's the turn of the medical sector in the State to offer online and last minute bidding for diagnostic tests and surgery. Come July 1 and as many as 50 common surgeries will be sold for just Re 1.
Doctor Munnabhai Technologies, which recently launched bidding for diagnostic tests, has now opened common surgeries for as low as Re 1 at corporate hospitals. "Surgery at Re 1" offer includes surgeon's fee, anaesthetist's fee, nursing charges, operation theatre charges and general ward accommodation for specified number of days.
All that the patient has to do is to pay the cost of medicines and disposables. Patients are free to purchase these items from the hospital or bring them from outside on their own. The scheme is valid up to August 30. And from September 1, surgeries will be sold through bidding on internet, mobile phone sms or in person.
Doctors, however, are sceptical of the scheme and doubt the quality of the service provided to patients. "Bidding for airlines is OK. It is unethical to bid on one's health. Unless surgeons and hospitals offer heavy discounts or take up charity, it's not possible to offer surgery at Re 1", argues eminent plastic surgeon Dr N Hemant Kumar.
General surgeon Dr B Ramesh Rao welcomes the idea of highly subsidised charges for common surgeries but doubts the viability of the project since the fee hospitals pay to surgeons and anaesthetists is fairly good. He also does not agree with the concept of opening the health sector for open auction. Dr Ramesh feels that there may be some hidden charges as otherwise it may not be possible for hospitals to conduct surgeries at such an unbelievable price.
"This is a special offer where almost 50 kinds of surgeries are sold everyday without any frills, one of each kind, on a first come first served basis to non-emergency patients", says Dr Shantan Reddy, director of Doctor Munnabhai 24x7. Patients can rest assured as the surgeon being nominated will be an experienced one. The charges for the surgeon are included in the Re 1 package as the surgeon is employed by the hospital.
Noted surgeon Dr Viswas Naik does not agree with Dr Shantan Reddy. Says he, "Bidding for diagnostic tests is welcome since machines are involved. You can put hundreds of patients under machines for tests. But in case of surgeries, human life is involved. It is unethical to introduce bidding for surgeries".
"We provide services during off-peak hours/period and utilise the perishable services to generate additional revenues. Like airlines, hospitals too have perishable services like equipment time, hospital rooms, doctors' time and operation theatre time. If not used by the end of the day, they are wasted", clarifies Dr Shantan Reddy.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Munna Bhai system for hospitals

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 16: Gone are the days when you enter a corporate hospital or a diagnostic centre and silently pay whatever bill is thrust into your hands. Now you can quote your own price through a telephone bidding for any of the diagnostic tests on offer.
Enter the world of open auction in health. Like in airlines, you can participate in the health bidding, quoting as little as Rs 1500 for an MRI scan costing Rs 6,500 or Rs 500 for a plan CT scan which otherwise is available for Rs 2,500. Ordinary lab tests can be had for a mere Rs 25 per test.
But the only hitch is that you have to wait for three days to a week to get the tests done or you may have to visit the hospital at an untimely hour. In some cases, you may simply get the report sans the film, which is quite costly. Those requiring urgent medical tests have no option but to pay the price fixed by the hospital or the diagnostic centre. You may also not get the hospital of your choice.
A group of corporate hospitals and diagnostic centres in Hyderabad has now come out with a novel concept of utilising non-peak hours by offering medical tests at highly discounted prices through open auction. The savings range between 25 and 75 per cent depending on one's requirement, choice of healthcare provider and urgency.
Introduced for the first time in the country by Hyderabad-based Doctor Munnabhai Technologies P Limited, the concept of medical bidding is fast catching up with patients. Inspired by Sanjay Dutt-starrer Munnabhai MBBS, the company has enrolled a group of hospitals and diagnostic centres for the novel offer, "Doctor Munnabhai 24x7".
"There's no compromise on the quality. The reports are accurate since the tests are conducted on the same machines. We are able to offer tests at discounted prices by utilising non-peak hospital hours, say 6 am to 9 am and 8 pm to 12 midnight. Even at the discounted rate of Rs 1500, some hospitals make a profit of Rs 300, if the number of films is restricted. We at Image have been offering MRI scan for Rs 2,950 for the past one year. We give utmost priority to quality and accuracy as our reports are open to disputes in consumer fora", says eminent gastroenterologist Dr CL Venkat Rao who is also a director of Image Hospitals.
And how do hospitals make the profit by offering huge discounts? According to Dr Venkat Rao, the prices vary from patient to patient. "Many hospitals do not charge anything for white ration cardholders. For others they charge at normal rates", he clarifies.
It is not that every patient who participates in the bidding gets the tests done at discounted prices. The bids every day. Sometimes a patient may be lucky to get MRI scan done for just Rs 1500 or he may have to pay even Rs 5000 for the same test.
"Our concept works on the lines of airlines operators. Like airlines have introduced bidding for their vacant seats, we are offering discounts for tests at non-peak hours. We have been receiving about 100 calls a day since the concept was introduced on May 7 and 50 per cent of the callers have availed of discount benefits. Patients need not worry about the quality as the hospitals and diagnostic centres covered in our promotional campaign are of top standard", points out Mohan Kaushik, vice-president (marketing) of the company.
The company has opened a website offering a plethora of medical and health services both for patients and doctors. All they have to do is to participate in the bidding at the stipulated hour and quote their own price tag.
There are five offers on the website for patients to choose form. In the "Instabuy" offer, a patient can save up to 25 per cent on diagnostic tests if he or she required it immediately. One can save up to 50 per cent in the "Bidbuy" offer but will have to wait for a maximum of three days.
Patients may join Munnabhai Club and participate in auction for various tests. The auction starts at Re.1. Munnabhai will choose the healthcare provider but appointment may take a week.
Dr Venkat Rao, however, feels that hospitals may not sustain the heavy discounts for a long time. It is just a promotional offer. The prices may change at a latter date.
Senior radiologist Dr B Murali says it is possible to conduct tests at discounted prices if the number of films in MRI scan is brought down. "We take a series of films for MRI scan. Each film costs about Rs 300. If we take 10 films, the cost goes up to Rs 3000. The report is given to the patient without or with a limited number of films", he clarifies.
Though Apollo Hospitals is included in the Munnabhai list, it has backed out of the discounts offer.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

MTAR Technologies develops grid plate for prototype fast breeder reactor

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 13: India on Sunday crossed another milestone in its nuclear programme with city-based MTAR Technologies developing indigenous technology for "Grid Plate", a crucial component of Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor.
"We have realised this technology for the first time in the world. Our nuclear programme is self-reliant. We are making a transition into domains which others have not made. With the development of the Grid Plate technology India has demonstrated that it can chart on territories which others have not yet ventured into", Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar said after formally handing over the technology to Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research.
Dr Kakodkar felt that India would eventually usher into inexpensive nuclear electricity regime with a unit of power costing just Rs 2. Dr Baldev Raj, director of IGCAR, said India would soon become a "nuclear guru".
Stating that fast breeder reactors are the only option to meet the increasing demand for power in near future. India is one of the seven countries in the world to build up necessary research and development base for commercialisation of FBR technology.
Prototype fast breeder reactor is a 500 MWe sodium cooled fast breeder reactor. Grid Plate forms an important component of PFB reactor. Grid Plate is a box type structure with bolted construction. The shell assembly is bolted at its periphery to top and bottom plates, which are interconnected by 1758 sleeves. The material of construction is special grade SS 316LN with stringent control on chemical composition and supplementary requirements on mechanical properties and non-destructive examinations. It weighs about 80 tonnes.
"Grid Plate is accorded highest safety classification with stringent manufacturing and inspection requirements. MTAR has specially constructed a large workshop and established the requisite facilities like SPM, large size heat treatment furnace and nuclear clean hall", MTAR chief executive Brig V Sreeramulu said.
It may be recalled that for the fast breeder thermal reactor project, the Grid Plate was the only component that was made in France, in 1976, due to the critical technology involved in its manufacture.
Baldev Raj said the country had been constructing eight nuclear reactors at a cost of Rs 22,000 crore.
The AEC is still working on the proposal to set up a nuclear research and development unit at Visakhapatnam, Anil Kakodkar told reporters later.