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Advocates urge more support for Yazidi refugees suffering seizures from PTSD

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The blackout spells always come with the same feeling — Faeza Mejo feels as though she’s trying to scream for help, but someone or something is holding her back.

She then loses all awareness of her surroundings, sometimes for hours. To outside observers, she appears to be having a seizure. She thrashes, clutches at her throat, kicks and punches herself and anything else around her. This happens several times a week.

Mejo’s experience mirrors that of many other Yazidi women who were held captive and sold as sex slaves by ISIS militants.

“They think that it’s like a dream, that somebody is attacking them. They’re fresh in their mind, going back [to] what happened to them while they were captive by ISIS,” said Hadji Hesso, director of the Yazidi Association of Manitoba.

Hadji Hesso, director of the Yazidi Association of Manitoba, says 15 out of 500 Yazidis in Winnipeg suffer from pseudoseizures. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The episodes are called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, or pseudoseizures. They mimic the symptoms of a grand mal seizure, but instead of being caused a malfunction in the brain, they are brought on by severe psychological trauma.

Doctors have scanned Mejo’s brain and found no signs of epilepsy. She has been prescribed medication and is going to therapy, but nothing has helped.

Condition caused by trauma

The condition is rare, affecting between two and 33 people per 100,000, according to Dr. José F. Téllez Zenteno, a neurologist and professor at the University of Saskatchewan. Hesso said that, out of the roughly 500 Yazidi people living in Winnipeg, 15 suffer from pseudoseizures.

Canada has taken in roughly 1,400 victims of ISIS, including Yazidis, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 

Yazidi refugee women stand behind a banner as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey, June 20, 2015. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Support groups and doctors working with the Yazidi population here say they need mental health treatment in their first language and the ability to reunite with their families, who may be left behind in refugee camps.

“What we do know about these psychogenic non-epileptic seizures is, usually they are triggered by a strong emotional response,” said Dr. Annalee Coakley ​during an interview with CBC’s As It Happens. Coakley is a medical director with Calgary’s Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic who has worked with Yazidi refugees in that city.

“I believe this government has a compassionate heart, and I hope they use that compassion to reunite these families.”

Calls for change

The federal government has a one-year window policy during which refugees can sponsor family members who were believed to be dead, but later found alive. Opposition politicians and refugee advocates have pushed the government to extend that window and speed up the processing of claims for Yazidi refugees.

They have also called on the government to expand the definition of immediate family members beyond parents, children and siblings, to reflect the broader meaning that family has for Yazidis.

“When we’re talking about Yazidi families, we need to think beyond the extended notion of mom, dad and children,” said Fadi Ennab, manager of the community wellness program at Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg. “We need to think of their bigger network of support who could be just like their families if they were missing in a war situation. So uncles, aunties, siblings all those could be part of your family.”

Ennab also wants the government to make it easier for family members to privately sponsor their relatives to come to Canada.

It’s impossible to sponsor a family member until you’re very independent and have a reliable income for a series of years, he said. That would take a while for a newcomer refugee who can’t even speak English.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate Aug. 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said there are fewer than five Yazidis waiting under the one-year window application system.  

“In light of the unique challenges faced by this population, and to further support family reunification for this cohort, the Department will develop eligibility criteria and implement a temporary extension of the one-year window provision for immediate family members of survivors of Daesh [ISIS] resettled under the government’s original commitment,” the statement said.

Refugees need supports

Mejo, 21, now lives in Winnipeg with her family. In August 2014, she was captured when ISIS attacked her home community in the Sinjar Mountains in northern Iraq. In what has since been declared a genocide, the militants separated men from women, executing the men and enslaving the women and children.

Mejo was sold 15 times before U.S.-led forces rescued her in 2017. While she was in captivity, she gave birth to a son.

She was eventually reunited with her parents and the family came to Canada as government-sponsored refugees.

Lori Wilkinson, a sociologist at the University of Manitoba, conducted a study on Yazidi refugees in urban centres across Canada. She said they are particularly vulnerable in Canada because they were already severely marginalized in their home country.

“They haven’t been allowed to go to school, and if they have gone to school, they’ve only finished, say, equivalent of Grade 5, Grade 6 in Canada,” she said.

Many of those who have gone to school didn’t receive education in their native language of Kurmanji, but rather in Arabic.

“And so you’re certainly not functionally illiterate in your own language and now you’re coming to place in Canada and you’re asked to learn English, that’s going to be a challenge…. Their first task is to get better mentally before they can learn a new language.”

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel brought forward a vote to adopt a report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration which recommends the government expand access to mental health services in Kurmanji.

Rempel said this is important because language differences can make it difficult for Yazidi refugees to accurately describe their trauma.

“For example, one family in Calgary that I know well, one of the women was describing one of her children as crazy, like that was the word she was using,” but in Kurmanji, the word she used would more accurately translate as chronically depressed, Rempel said.

Hesso hopes that with the right support, Mejo and other former ISIS captives can start to forget the trauma of what happened to them. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Hesso hopes the government will step up to help the women like Mejo who continue to suffer even after escaping from ISIS.

“They all should be receiving same quality trauma therapy and whatever that we can do to make them better and to be part of this society and to forget what happened to them,” he said.

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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