Addressing Emerging Viral Threats A Comprehensive Workshop in Skardu

As climate change accelerates and glaciers continue to recede, the northern regions of Pakistan face increasing threats from emerging viral infections.

Emerging viral infections pose a growing threat to Pakistan’s northern regions as climate change picks up speed and glaciers continue to retreat. These infections pose significant risks to human, animal, and plant populations, particularly in an area that serves as a nexus connecting the Karakoram, Hindukush, and Himalayan mountain ranges, bridging China, Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Central Asia.

Recognizing the urgency of this issue, a two-day workshop titled “Emerging Viral Infections: Insight from Molecular Studies” was held in Skardu, organized by the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO) in collaboration with the Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS).

Hosted at the University of Baltistan, the workshop gathered 110 participants, offering a platform to explore the molecular dimensions of emerging viral threats. Dr. Zabta Khan Shinwari, Professor Emeritus at Quaid-i-Azam University, inaugurated the event by highlighting ANSO’s mission to enhance scientific collaboration and preparedness in tackling viral infections.

Dr. Ashraf Hussain, Director of Health Services Baltistan, underscored the immediate challenges in managing viral outbreaks. He provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of healthcare services in Baltistan, emphasizing ongoing efforts to ensure equitable access to medical facilities across the region. Dr. Saeed Khan, President of the Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA), discussed the complexities surrounding HIV treatment, stressing the importance of public health safety measures.

One of the workshop’s highlights was a presentation by Dr. Muhammad Ali, Principal Investigator of the ANSO collaborative research project on bat-borne viruses in Pakistan. His talk, “Emerging Viruses: Their Early Detection and Interventions – Scenario-Based Learning,” emphasized the necessity of early detection and swift intervention. Dr. Ali called for seamless collaboration among scientific communities to effectively manage future pandemics and enhance global health security.

Practical sessions formed a core component of the workshop, offering hands-on training in molecular techniques to detect and manage viral infections. Esteemed speakers and trainers included Prof. Zhengli Shi from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Dr. Ishtiaq Hussain from the University of Skardu, Dr. Ikram Ullah from Hazara University, Dr. Ali Talha Khalil from Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, Dr. Qandeel Zahra Zameer from the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (GBEPA), Dr. Javed Muhammad from The University of Haripur, Dr. Sidra Rehman from Quaid-i-Azam University, and Mr. Amjad Khan, also from Quaid-i-Azam University.

Throughout the workshop, participants engaged in scenario-based learning exercises, focusing on the early detection of viruses and the implementation of effective intervention strategies. This hands-on approach aimed to equip attendees with the practical skills needed to address viral threats proactively.

The workshop concluded with a powerful message from Dr. Ali: “In the face of emerging viral infections, molecular insights are invaluable tools for proactive detection, swift intervention, and effective management. Let us remain vigilant, collaborate tirelessly, and harness the power of molecular techniques to safeguard global health.”

By fostering collaboration and providing critical training, the ANSO-PAS workshop aimed to enhance the region’s preparedness for emerging viral threats. The event underscored the importance of a unified, scientifically-informed approach to managing and mitigating the impact of viral infections, ensuring the health and safety of vulnerable communities in Pakistan’s northern regions and beyond.