Tag Archives: WHO

COVID-19: WHO team arrives Wuhan

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Beijing is anxious to stamp out local clusters ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year festival when hundreds of millions of people will be on the move across the country.

A team of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in Wuhan Thursday to probe the origins of the coronavirus more than a year after it emerged, although two members were barred from boarding a flight in Singapore after testing positive for virus antibodies.

The international team of 13 scientists landed for their much-delayed mission, met by Chinese officials in hazmat suits and given throat swabs on arrival, and were whisked to a hotel where they must complete a two-week quarantine before starting their work.

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The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has since billowed out across the world killing nearly two million people so far, infecting tens of millions and eviscerating the global economy.

The WHO says establishing the pathway of the virus from animals to humans is essential to preventing future outbreaks.

But despite painstaking months of negotiations over their remit, the team was blocked from arriving last week — a sign of the political sensitivity of a virus origin story muddied by recrimination between nations, conjecture and denials.

And the UN health body said Thursday that while most the team had arrived, two members were not allowed to board the flight from Singapore to Wuhan after testing positive for coronavirus antibodies — the latest twist in a long journey to China for the experts.

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The WHO said in a tweet that all members of the team had “multiple negative PCR and antibody tests for COVID-19 in their home countries prior to traveling.”

The trip comes as China moves to snuff out fresh clusters of the virus.

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More than 20 million people are under lockdown in the north of China and one province has declared an emergency, as the country reported its first death from Covid-19 in eight months.

China had largely brought the pandemic under control through strict lockdowns and mass testing, hailing its economic rebound as an indication of strong leadership by the Communist authorities.

But another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday — the highest single-day tally since March last year.

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Clusters are still small compared with many countries contending with rampant infections and record numbers of deaths.

But the first Chinese virus fatality in several months — a woman with underlying conditions in northern Hebei province — seeded alarm across China.

The hashtag “New virus death in Hebei” quickly ratcheted up 270 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Thursday.

“I haven’t seen the words ‘virus death’ in so long, it’s a bit shocking! I hope the epidemic can pass soon,” one user wrote.

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The last death reported in mainland China was in May last year, with the official death toll now standing at 4,635.

As infections have spread, northeastern Heilongjiang declared an “emergency state” on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million residents not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary.

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WHO arrival
China is braced for the scrutiny the expert team of WHO scientists will bring to its virus narrative.

Beijing has drip-fed the idea that the pandemic started outside of its borders, preferring to focus on its relatively swift control of the public health crisis.

The WHO has been at pains to cut the political baggage attached to their mission.

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Peter Ben Embarek, team lead, said the group would start with a mandatory hotel quarantine.

“And then after the two weeks, we would be able to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we will want to visit,” he said.

He warned it “could be a very long journey before we get a full understanding of what happened”.

Beijing has argued that although Wuhan is where the first cluster of cases was detected, it is not necessarily where the virus originated.

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“I don’t think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on the way,” Embarek added.

“The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided upon some months ago to get us a better understanding of what happened,” he said.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: South Africa takes new step as WHO warns of worse pandemics

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And in Spain, where the death toll has topped 50,000, the health minister said the government would set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated and share it with other European Union member states.

South Africa banned alcohol sales and made masks mandatory in public from Tuesday after a surge in coronavirus cases, as the World Health Organization warned that pandemics far more deadly than Covid-19 may lie ahead.

Nations around the world are struggling with winter spikes in infections that have pushed the global caseload close to 81 million, even as the rollout of vaccines gathers pace in North America and Europe.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced a ban on selling alcohol and said face masks will be compulsory in public after his nation became the first in Africa to record one million cases.

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“We have let down our guard, and unfortunately we are now paying the price,” said Ramaphosa, blaming “super-spreader” social events and an “extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period” for the spike.

Ramaphosa said data showed “excessive alcohol consumption” leads to an increase in trauma cases reported at hospitals, causing an “unnecessary” strain on public health facilities.

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Surging cases also forced authorities in Rio de Janeiro — one of Brazil’s worst-hit cities — to announce Monday that they will block access to beaches on December 31 to prevent crowds celebrating New Year’s Eve.

Vaccinations in Spain and other EU countries started over the weekend, and authorities fear vaccine hesitancy and rejection could hamper those efforts — especially because of misinformation campaigns on social media.

That was not a concern with 75-year-old Jacques Collineau, resident of an old people’s home in Joue-les-Tours, France.

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“Fear? Fear of what? I’ve been vaccinated for the flu before, now it’s the same thing,” Collineau said as he got the shot on Monday.

“We don’t make vaccines to kill people, we make vaccines to try to save them.”

‘This is not the big one’
The coronavirus has devastated lives and economies across the globe, but the WHO warned Monday that worse pandemics could like ahead, urging the world to get serious about preparedness.

“This is a wakeup call,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told reporters at a briefing marking a year since the UN agency first learned of the new virus spreading in China.

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“This pandemic… has spread around the world extremely quickly and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one,” Ryan added.

“We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future.”

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While huge scientific progress was made to study the virus and develop vaccines at record speed, WHO senior advisor Bruce Aylward cautioned that the world was far from ready for the next pandemic.

“We are into the second and third waves of this virus and we are still not prepared to deal with and manage those,” he said.

“While we are better prepared… we are not fully prepared for this one, let alone the next one.”

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‘Good riddance, 2020!’
The warnings were backed up by the worrying figures and trends reported worldwide.

South Korea, one of the nations hailed for its success during the first months of the pandemic, on Tuesday logged its highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic as it battled a third wave of infections.

India, with the second-biggest caseload in the world, reported the detection of the new coronavirus strain, but officials said the nation’s pandemic guidelines have not changed because of it.

Highlighting the frustration and suffering caused by the crisis, submissions from around the world came in for a Good Riddance Day celebration in New York City.

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The submissions were printed and then shredded, while the host of the event pulverised a 2020 pinata.

When Westbury, New York, resident Raul was asked what he wanted to say good riddance to, he responded: “Like anybody else, I want to get rid of the coronavirus. That’s it!”

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#Newsworthy

Ethiopia accuses WHO Chief of backing dissident region

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A senior Tigrayan official, Wondimu Asamnew, said in an email that Tigrayan forces “have adopted a defensive posture on all fronts”.

Ethiopia’s army chief on Thursday accused WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — the country’s highest-profile Tigrayan abroad — of lobbying for and seeking to arm leaders in the conflict-torn dissident region.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unleashed a military campaign against the northern region on November 4 with the declared aim of unseating its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accuses of defying his government and seeking to destabilise it.

Army chief Berhanu Jula told a press conference that Tedros, who served as minister of health under TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, was “a part of that team”, referring to the party.

“He has worked in neighbouring countries to condemn the war. He has worked for them to get weapons,” said Berhanu.

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He said Tedros had “left no stone unturned” to help the TPLF, the party Abiy says he is targeting in a military offensive in the region.

“What do you expect from him? We don’t expect he will side with the Ethiopian people and condemn them,” he said.

Tedros has yet to respond to the accusation.

The 55-year-old was appointed as the first African head of the WHO in 2017 and has become a household name as he grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic. He has been ranked as one of Time magazine’s most influential people.

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Abiy’s government insists its target is the “reactionary and rogue” members of the TPLF and not average civilians in Tigray.

But observers have voiced concern about Tigrayans losing their jobs or being arrested for their ethnicity.

‘Outside forces’
The TPLF led the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam, head of Ethiopia’s military Derg regime, in 1991 and dominated politics for three decades until the arrival of Abiy who was appointed in 2018.

The party has complained about being sidelined under Abiy, and scapegoated for the country’s woes, and a bitter feud with the central government this year led them to hold their own elections in defiance of a postponement due to the coronavirus.

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On November 4, Abiy said the TPLF had attacked two federal military camps in the region, crossing a “red line”.

His controversial campaign has seen warplanes bombing Tigray and heavy fighting, while Amnesty International has documented a gruesome massacre.

A communications blackout in Tigray has made claims difficult to verify, but the overall toll is believed to be in the hundreds.

Meanwhile, the UN says a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding, with 36,000 people having streamed into neighbouring Sudan, according to that country’s refugee commission.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday that the Ethiopia Red Cross Society had “transported hundreds of people injured in areas affected by clashes.”

Abiy this week insisted the military operation was in its final phase, and his government has said it is marching towards the regional capital Mekele after a string of victories.

A statement from Tigray president Debretsion Gebremichael said Thursday that the army had “called upon assistance from an outside force, with drones starting to be used in the battle.”

‘Alienating Tigrayans’
Since the start of the fighting, hundreds of people have been arrested for allegedly conspiring with the TPLF, while 34 businesses had their bank accounts suspended for alleged links to the TPLF.

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The federal police late Wednesday announced arrest warrants for 76 army officers, some retired, accused of conspiring with the TPLF and “committing treason”.

The government has also said it has “credible and specific evidence” of TPLF operatives working for local and international organisations.

“We continue to receive credible reports of job suspensions of Tigrayan residents elsewhere in the country as fighting escalates in Tigray,” Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch told AFP last week.

“Given the incredibly tense and volatile context in the country, Ethiopian authorities should push back against language and measures that fuel intolerance and risk alienating Tigrayans from all walks of life.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccines not enough – WHO Chief, Tedros

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The pandemic is raging months after it broke out, with infections soaring past 54 million and claiming more than 1.3 million lives.

The head of the World Health Organization said Monday that a vaccine would not by itself stop the coronavirus pandemic.

“A vaccine will complement the other tools we have, not replace them,” director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “A vaccine on its own will not end the pandemic.”

The WHO’s figures for Saturday showed that 660,905 coronavirus cases were reported to the UN health agency, setting a new high watermark.

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That number, and the 645,410 registered on Friday, surpassed the previous daily record high of 614,013 recorded on November 7.

Tedros said that supplies of the vaccine would initially be restricted, with “health workers, older people and other at-risk populations (to) be prioritised. That will hopefully reduce the number of deaths and enable the health systems to cope.”

But he warned: “That will still leave the virus with a lot of room to move. Surveillance will need to continue, people will still need to be tested, isolated and cared for, contacts will still need to be traced… and individuals will still need to be cared for.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: 220M vaccine set for test in Africa – WHO

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Africa the Initial Testing Ground for Coronavirus Vaccine Doses
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that 220 million covid-19 vaccine doses will be tested on the African population. The distribution will be based on nation inhabitant numbers and — front-line health workers and the most vulnerable being given first-batch priority, as confirmed by WHO Africa programme manager Richard Mihigo.

Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO Africa immunisation and vaccines coordinator, outlined the process, “This will not necessarily cover all the needs of the continent but at least will cover 20 percent of the African population, initially prioritising those that are on the frontline, healthcare workers, then expanding to cover vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with a pre-existing condition.”

COVAX is the global vaccine initiative that consists of nine vaccine candidates being tested around the world — two of which are already being tested in Africa, according to the head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Richard Hatchett. The initiative seeks to contribute to the purchase and equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021.

Mixed Reactions from Africans
Mr. Mihigo volunteered that all 54 African countries have expressed their interest in participating in this initiative and some African leaders are publicly welcoming the vaccine trials.

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Mitoha Ondo’o Ayekaba, Vice-minister for Health of Equatorial Guinea is in support, “From the Equatorial Guinean perspective, I think the government position has consistently been that all efforts to contain the pandemic in the country has to be free for all citizens.”

However, not all Africans share this sentiment as an incident back on April 2 that saw two French professors — during a broadcast on the local channel LCI, overtly suggest that coronavirus vaccine trials be conducted on Africans because ‘in Africa there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care’ ignited a fire of indignation amongst many Africans worldwide.

Their remarks set social media networks ablaze in protest as many within the African population declared that they will not be used as”lab rats” or “guinea pigs” in the initial vaccine trials that will eventually benefit the entire human population.

The controversy found its way to Geneva, where the director of the World Health Organisation, Ethiopian doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, interviewed by a Nigerian journalist, castigated the banter of the French professors — labelling their mentality “colonial” and their remarks “racist.” His stance was as follows, “Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine.”

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This incident only added to the already existent distrust that many people worldwide have of organisations that seek to conduct medical tests to reduce diseases.

Covid-19 Numbers in Africa
Africa has a population of over 1.3 billion people and hit the 1.2 million mark of confirmed Covid-19 cases. Around half of these cases are attributed to South Africa, the hardest-hit country on the continent with the seventh-highest number of cases globally — whose population started coronavirus vaccine trials back in June amidst public demonstrations from some locals.

In proportion to the case numbers, the continent has confirmed under 30,000 deaths with a recovery rate of around 72%

According to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University, over 26.19 million Covid-19 cases have been reported worldwide with recoveries over 17.4 million. The US, Brazil, India and Russia are currently worst-hit countries.


#Newsworthy…

United States will not pay remnants to WHO after Trump’s withdrawal

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The US plans to use more than $60m in money owed to the World Health Organisation to pay other debts to the UN.


The administration of United States President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it will not pay more than $60m in dues it owes to the World Health Organization (WHO) and will use the money instead to pay down other contributions to the United Nations (UN).

The announcement came just a day after the White House announced the US would not participate in a WHO-run project to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision to withhold roughly $62m in outstanding 2020 dues to the WHO is part of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the organisation over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his allegations that the agency has been improperly influenced by China.

Despite proceeding with the withdrawal, administration officials said the US will continue to participate in select WHO meetings and make one-time contributions to specific programmes during a one-year wind-down period.

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Those programmes include polio eradication projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, humanitarian relief in Libya and Syria and efforts to combat influenza.

The funding decisions follow Trump’s announcement in July that he was withdrawing the US from the WHO effective July 2021 and instructing his administration to wind down funding and cooperation with the agency.

At the time of the announcement, the US had already paid about $52m of its assessed 2020 dues of $120m.

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During the one-year wind-down, the officials said the US would continue to participate in select WHO technical and policy meetings that have a direct bearing on US health, commercial and national security interests. “We will consider those on a case-by-case basis,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Nerissa Cook told the Associated Press.

The funding decisions follow the announcement in July by United States President Donald Trump that he was withdrawing the US from the WHO effective July 2021 [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

The officials – from the US Agency for International Development, the US Department of State, and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – did not say which other UN agencies would get the $62m being withheld from WHO or whether it would be used to pay down US arrears to the world body’s general fund.

Nor was it clear whether or how the US would handle tens of millions of dollars in back dues it owes to the WHO. Under US law, arrears must be paid before the US can withdraw from most international organisations.

Notable exemptions
The one-time exemptions for specific programmes will apply to up to $40m in funding for flu vaccination programmes, according to Garrett Grigsby, the director of the HHS global affairs office, and up to $68m for polio and Libya and Syria operations, according to USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Global Health Dr Alma Golden.

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On Tuesday, the administration announced it would not work with the coronavirus vaccine project because it does not want to be constrained by multilateral groups like the WHO.

Some nations have worked directly to secure vaccine supplies, but others are pooling efforts to ensure success against a disease that has no geographical boundaries. More than 150 countries are setting up the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX.

A general view during a press conference of the World Health Organization (WHO) organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak [File: Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via Reuters]

That cooperative effort, linked with the WHO, would allow nations to take advantage of a portfolio of potential vaccines to ensure their citizens are quickly covered by whichever ones are deemed effective.

The WHO says even governments making deals with individual vaccine makers would benefit from joining COVAX because it would provide backup vaccines in case the ones being made through bilateral deals with manufacturers are not successful.


#Newsworthy…

DR Congo free from deadly ‘measles’

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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday declared the end of a 25-month outbreak of measles that claimed the lives of more than 7,000 children aged under five.

The outbreak was countered by vaccination on a massive scale, in which millions of children and infants were immunised.

“For the past month, we are able to say that this epidemic has been eliminated from across our territory,” Health Minister Eteni Longondo told a press conference.

“We can say that measles (in the DRC) no longer exists.”

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

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Once common, the disease has been rolled back around the world thanks to a cheap and effective vaccine, but low rates of immunisation among a community can cause infection to spread quickly.

“The measles epidemic was unfolding at low level but was the deadliest. It carried off more than 7,000 of our children,” Longondo said.

Routine vaccinations will continue in order to prevent the virus from bouncing back, he added.

The first cases of measles in the latest outbreak were recorded in June 2018. As of January this year, the WHO had recorded more than 335,000 suspected cases of the disease, of which 6,362 were fatal.

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By way of comparison, the DRC — a vast country the size of continental western Europe — has recorded 9,891 cases of coronavirus, of which 251 were fatal.

An outbreak of Ebola in the east of the country, which was declared over on June 25 after nearly two years, killed 2,287 people.

The announcement in Kinshasa came ahead of an expected declaration Tuesday by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) that wild poliovirus has been eradicated from Africa.

Health teams have been fighting to wipe out polio’s last vestiges on the continent, in northeastern Nigeria, where jihadists said vaccination was a conspiracy to sterilise young Muslims.


#Newsworthy…

Just in: Africa, polio free – WHO says.

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The Africa Regional Certification Commission has declared Nigeria and the rest of Africa polio-free.

According to the World Health Organisation (W.H.O), this marks the eradication of a second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago.

In a statement on Tuesday, the organisation commended donors and health workers for saving the lives of children who have been suffering from the disease.

“Thanks to the relentless efforts by governments, donors, frontline health workers and communities, up to 1.8 million children have been saved from the crippling life-long paralysis,” the WHO said in a statement.

The official announcement is due at 1500 GMT in a videoconference with WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and key figures including philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

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“Happiness is an understatement. We’ve been on this marathon for over 30 years,” said Tunji Funsho, a Nigerian doctor and local anti-polio coordinator for Rotary International.

He said it marked a crucial step in the total eradication of the illness at the global level.

“It’s a real achievement, I feel joy and relief at the same time,” he added.

Poliomyelitis, or “wild polio” is an acutely infectious and contagious disease that attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children.

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It was endemic around the world until a vaccine was found in the 1950s, though this remained out of reach for many poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

As late as 1988, the WHO counted 350,000 cases globally, and in 1996 said there were more than 70,000 cases in Africa alone.

Thanks to a rare instance of collective global effort and financial backing — some $19 billion over 30 years — only Afghanistan and Pakistan have recorded cases this year: 87 in total.

– Trust –
Nigeria, a country with 200 million inhabitants, was still among the trouble-spots in the early 2000s.

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In its northern Muslim-majority areas, authorities were forced to stop vaccination campaigns in 2003 and 2004 by Islamic extremists who claimed it was a vast conspiracy to sterilise young Muslims.

It took a huge effort in tandem with traditional chiefs and religious leaders to convince populations that the vaccine was safe.

“People trust their local traditional leaders who live with them more than the political leaders,” said Grema Mundube, a community leader in the town of Monguno, in the far north of Nigeria.

“Once we spoke to them and they saw us immunising our children they gradually accepted the vaccine,” he told AFP.

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However, the emergence of violent Islamist group Boko Haram in 2009 caused another rupture in the programme. In 2016, four new cases were discovered in Borno state in the northeast in the heart of the conflict.

“At the time, we couldn’t reach two-thirds of the children of Borno state — 400,000 children couldn’t access the vaccine,” said Dr. Funsho.

The security situation remains highly volatile in the region, with the members of Boko Haram and a local Islamic State affiliate controlling vast areas around Lake Chad and the border with Niger.

– Inaccessible children –
The security situation remains highly volatile in the region, with the members of Boko Haram and a local Islamic State affiliate controlling vast areas around Lake Chad and the border with Niger.

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“International agencies, local governments, donors — all partners took the bull by the horns to find new strategies to manage to reach these children,” said Dr Musa Idowu Audu, coordinator for the WHO in Borno.

In these “partially accessible” areas, vaccination teams worked under the protection of the Nigerian army and local self-defence militias.

For areas fully controlled by the jihadists, the WHO and its partners sought to intercept people coming in and out along the market and transport routes in a bid to spread medical information and recruit “health informants” who could tell them about any polio cases.

“We built a pact of trust with these populations, for instance by giving them free medical supplies,” said Dr Audu.

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Today, it is estimated that only 30,000 children are still “inaccessible”: a number considered too low by scientists to allow for an epidemic to break out.

Despite the “extreme happiness and pride” felt by Dr Audu, he never fails to remember the 20 or more medical staff and volunteers killed for the cause in northeast Nigeria in recent years.

The challenge now is to ensure that no new polio cases arrive from Afghanistan or Pakistan and that vaccinations continue to ensure that children across the continent are protected from this vicious disease.

“Before we couldn’t sleep at all. Now we will sleep with one eye open,” said Dr. Funsho.


#Newsworthy…

Insurgency: Military alone cannot resolve crisis – United Nations

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Amid the insurgency in the northeast and security challenges in other parts of the country, the United Nations has sued for peace.

United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said military interventions and humanitarian efforts alone will not solve the conflict.

Kallon disclosed this on Monday when leading a UN delegation on a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

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The UN Coordinator also called for dialogue and a more robust framework to tackle the problem.

While commending President Buhari for his administration’s efforts in fighting corruption, he called for the strengthening of institutions as a final solution to the issue of corruption.

According to the UN delegation, the Nigerian government should take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to improve the health sector

The delegation says the virus has impacted negatively on the routine immunization exercise across the country.

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The meeting is being held on the heels that Nigeria will be polio free by Tuesday.

The delegation is five of the 19 UN agencies which make up the UN country team in Nigeria.

Earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Nigeria announced the progress made by the nation via its verified Twitter handle on June 19.

It described the development as historic for Nigeria, the African continent, and the Global Polio Programme in general.

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This comes as the Federal Government through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) confirmed the success recorded.

The Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, said in a tweet that it was a proud moment for the people of Nigeria when they defended the complete documentation at a virtual meeting of African Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (ARCC).

Shuaib explained that at the meeting, the Nigeria team which comprised the NPHCDA and partners demonstrated evidence of the country’s polio-free status.

According to him, the presentation was accepted by the commission and the official announcement will be made at a meeting of Ministers of Health scheduled for July.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: 12-year-old children and above should wear face mask – WHO.

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The World Health Organization has recommended that children aged 12 and over now use masks in the same situations as adults, as the use of face coverings helps stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The health agency made the recommendation in a COVID-19 guidance document it published via its website on Friday.

It said children aged five years and under should not be required to wear masks, while children aged 6-11 should only wear masks under certain conditions, including the presence of widespread transmission in the area where the child resides and the child’s ability to safely and appropriately use a mask.

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However, children aged 12 and over are required to wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, “in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”

The WHO has said the world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, even as the world’s death toll hit 800,000 and the number of confirmed cases continues to rise.

“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Friday.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO hopes pandemic ends under two years.

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The world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as millions of Lebanese wearily entered a new lockdown following a spike in coronavirus infections.

Western Europe was also enduring the kind of infection levels not seen in many months, particularly in Germany, France, Spain and Italy — sparking fears of a full-fledged second wave.

In the Spanish capital Madrid, officials recommended people in the most affected areas stay at home to help curb the spread as the country registered more than 8,000 new cases in 24 hours.

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But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sought to draw favourable comparisons with the notorious flu pandemic of 1918.

“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” he told reporters.

By “utilising the available tools to the maximum and hoping that we can have additional tools like vaccines, I think we can finish it in a shorter time than the 1918 flu”, he said.

With no usable vaccine yet available, the most prominent tool governments have at their disposal is to confine their populations.

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Lebanon is the latest country to reintroduce severe restrictions, beginning two weeks of measures on Friday including nighttime curfews to tamp down a rise in infections, which comes as the country is still dealing with the shock from a huge explosion in the capital Beirut that killed dozens earlier this month.

“What now? On top of this disaster, a coronavirus catastrophe?” said 55-year-old Roxane Moukarzel in Beirut.

The capital’s streets largely emptied of cars at the start of the curfew, but some locals were unenthusiastic.

“There’s no point in this lockdown,” said Samer Harmoush, running along the Beirut seafront. “Some shops are complying completely, while others aren’t at all.”

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Officials fear Lebanon’s fragile health system would struggle to cope with a further spike in COVID-19 cases, especially after some hospitals near the port were damaged in the explosion.

‘We lead the world in deaths’
The Americas has borne the brunt of the virus in health terms, accounting for more than half of the world’s fatalities.

“We lead the world in deaths,” said Joe Biden while accepting the Democratic nomination for the US presidential election late on Thursday.

He said he would implement a national plan to fight the pandemic on his first day in office if elected in November.

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“We’ll take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve — honest, unvarnished truth,” he said.

Further south, Latin American countries were counting the wider costs of the pandemic — the region not only suffering the most deaths, but also an expansion of criminal activity and rising poverty.

Without an effective political reaction, “at a regional level we can talk about a regression of up to 10 years in the levels of multidimensional poverty”, Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva of the UN Development Programme told AFP.

His warning came after World Bank President David Malpass said on Thursday that the virus may have driven as many as 100 million people back into extreme poverty.

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‘No apres-ski’
Economies around the globe have been ravaged by the pandemic, which has infected more than 22 million and killed nearly 800,000 since it emerged in China late last year.

New financial figures laid bear the huge cost of the pandemic in Britain, where government debt soared past £2 trillion ($2.6 trillion) for the first time in the UK after a massive programme of state borrowing for furlough schemes and other measures designed to prop up the economy.

“Without that support things would have been far worse,” said finance minister Rishi Sunak.

Even Germany, famed for its financial prudence, was waking up to a new reality with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz conceding his country would need to continue borrowing at a high level next year to deal with the virus fallout.

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Western European politicians are also beginning to ramp up restrictions to tackle infections that are rising to levels not seen for months.

While Spain has responded with confinement measures and Germany with updated travel guidelines, the UK is now watching clusters in northern England and suggesting some towns could soon face lockdown.

“To prevent a second peak and keep Covid-19 under control, we need robust, targeted intervention where we see a spike in cases,” said health secretary Matt Hancock in a statement.

Irish politicians, meanwhile, fell foul of their own updated rules this week.

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Two politicians resigned after attending a restrictions-busting anniversary dinner of parliament’s own golf society that involved more than 80 guests, including lawmakers and a supreme court judge.

The virus thrives in confined areas where people are in close contact, meaning many sports have suffered mass cancellations.

One of Austria’s most virulent outbreaks was in a ski resort in the west — although the finger of blame was pointed at the socialising rather than the skiing in Ischgl, known as the “Ibiza of the Alps”.

With the ski season rapidly approaching, the region’s tourism association had a clear message: “There won’t be any apres-ski partying as we know it next season.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO warns under 50s that may not know are positive in Asia.

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Coronavirus cases in Asia-Pacific countries are now being driven by people under the age of 50 who may not know they are infected, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, warning of a “new phase” in the pandemic.

Many have mild or no COVID-19 symptoms and risk infecting the elderly and other vulnerable populations, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director Takeshi Kasai told a virtual briefing.

“The epidemic is changing. People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the threat,” Kasai said.

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“Many are unaware they’re infected with very mild symptoms or none at all.

“What we are observing is not simply a resurgence. I believe it’s a signal that we’ve entered a new phase of the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific (region).”

WHO data on the current phase of the contagion showed around two-thirds of Japan’s infections were among those aged under 40.

More than half of the caseloads in the Philippines and Australia were also in that age group.

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“We must redouble efforts to stop the virus from moving into vulnerable communities,” Kasai said.

Some countries that had brought their outbreaks under control — such as New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea — have detected new clusters, forcing governments to reimpose painful lockdowns on cities and tighten social distancing rules.

But Kasai said the use of targeted interventions in the region was encouraging because it reduced the economic and social impact of containment measures and was more sustainable.

He warned, however, that the challenge will remain “as long as the virus is circulating and we don’t have immunity to it”.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Food exempted, not dangerous – WHO says.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged people not to fear catching the novel coronavirus from food, after Chinese testers found traces on food and food packaging.

The virus was found Tuesday in the Chinese city of Shenzhen during a routine check on samples of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil, city authorities said.

The authorities said they immediately screened people who had been in contact with the contaminated products, plus their relatives, and all the tests came back negative.

In China’s eastern Anhui province, the mayor of Wuhu announced Thursday that the virus had been discovered on the packaging of shrimp imported from Ecuador, which had been kept in a restaurant freezer.

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The WHO said there was no need to panic — and there were no examples of the respiratory disease being transmitted through food.

“People are already scared enough and fearful enough in the COVID pandemic,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual press conference in Geneva.

“People should not fear food or food packaging or the processing or delivery of food.

“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in the transmission of this virus.

“Our food, from a COVID perspective, is safe.”

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Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the United Nations health agency was aware of the reports and understood that China was looking for the virus on food packaging.

“They’ve tested a few hundred thousand samples of looking at packaging and have found very, very few, less than 10 positive in doing that,” she said.

“We know that the virus can remain on surfaces for some time.

“If the virus is actually in food — and we have no examples of where this virus has been transmitted as a food-borne, whereas someone has consumed a food product — the viruses can be killed, like other viruses as well, if the meat is cooked.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO urges countries to make research on vaccine.

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The WHO on Thursday urged countries to invest billions of dollars in searching for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments — calling it a snip compared to the vast economic cost of the coronavirus crisis.

The World Health Organization insisted it was a smarter bet than the trillions of dollars being thrown at handling the consequences of the global pandemic.

The UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pleaded for investment into the WHO-led ACT-Accelerator programme, which aims to share global research and development, manufacturing and procurement in a bid to beat COVID-19.

Citing the International Monetary Fund’s predictions of the pandemic wiping out $12 trillion over two years, he urged countries to spend on shared solutions.

“It’s the best economic stimulus the world can invest in,” Tedros told a virtual press conference.

Funding the ACT-Accelerator, with $31.3 billion needed immediately, “will cost a tiny fraction in comparison to the alternative, where economies retract further and require continued fiscal stimulus packages”.

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He said spreading the risk and sharing the reward is a better bet than the option some countries have taken, of going it alone in backing one of the dozens of vaccines in development.

UN agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Noble Reporters Media/)

“Picking individual winners is an expensive, risky gamble,” he said,

“The development of vaccines is long, complex, risky and expensive The vast majority of vaccines in early development fail.”

Tedros said multiple vaccine candidates, of different types, were needed in order to identify the best one.

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– Access to the winner –

Russia on Tuesday declared itself the first country to approve a vaccine, even though final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was only due to start on Wednesday.

Bruce Aylward, who heads up the ACT-Accelerator, said the WHO was still awaiting more details from Moscow.

“We’re currently in conversation with Russia to get additional information, understand the status of that product, the trials that have been undertaken, and then what the next steps might be,” he said.

The WHO says 168 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, of which 28 have progressed to being tested on humans.

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Nine of those 28 — not including the Russian vaccine — are in the ACT-Accelerator programme.

WHO access to medicines chief Mariangela Simao said that with so many vaccine candidates being worked on, backing just one or two could not be the best bet.

“We don’t know which one will be the front-runner, which one will actually prove to be safe and effective,” she said.

“We are encouraging countries to join a global facility, because you will have access to more candidates, and you have a better chance to have concrete access… to procure one of the successful candidates.”

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The European Union said earlier Thursday that it has reserved up to 400 million doses of a potential new coronavirus vaccine being developed by US giant Johnson & Johnson.

On July 31, the European Commission said it had reserved 300 million doses of another potential vaccine being developed by French firm Sanofi.

– Eye of the storm? –

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 750,000 people and infected more than 20.6 million worldwide since it first emerged in China in December, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that only a small proportion of the global population had actually been exposed to the virus.

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“This virus has a long way to burn, if we allow it,” he said.

“The vast majority of people remain susceptible to this infection.

“We may be in the eye of the storm and we don’t know it.”

Meanwhile, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said there were examples from some countries suggesting that an individual may have been reinfected the virus, but “its still not confirmed”.

She said experts would need to look for false positive or negative cases, immune response after infection, and sequencing.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: WHO moves to review Russian vaccine

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The World Health Organization said any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review, after Russia announced Tuesday it had approved a vaccine.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the new coronavirus.

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” the United Nations health agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva at an online press briefing.

“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”

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Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the country’s defence ministry.

A total of 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, according to the latest WHO overview produced on July 31.

Of those, 139 are still in pre-clinical evaluation, while the other 26 are in the various phases of being tested on humans, of which six are the furthest ahead, having reached Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

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The Gamaleya candidate being produced in Russia, which is among the 26 being tested on humans, is listed as being in Phase 1.

Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which finances the vaccine project, said Phase 3 trials would start on Wednesday, industrial production was expected from September and that 20 countries had pre-ordered more than a billion doses.

File photo: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP

‘Stamp of quality’
“Every country has national regulatory agencies that approve the use of vaccines or medicines on its territory,” Jasarevic explained.

“WHO has in place a process of pre-qualification for vaccines but also for medicines. Manufacturers ask to have the WHO pre-qualification because it is a sort of stamp of quality.

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“To get this, there is a review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data that are gathered through the clinical trials. WHO will do this for any candidate vaccine.”

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

“We are encouraged by the speed by which several candidate vaccines have been developing and as we have been always saying, we hope some of these vaccines will prove to be safe and efficient,” said Jasarevic.

“Accelerating progress does not mean compromising on safety,” he said.


#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Russia, first to develop vaccine – Vladimir Putin

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President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus and that one of his daughters has been inoculated.

The announcement came after scientists in the West raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners after coming under pressure from authorities to deliver.

“This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered” in Russia, he said during a televised video conference call with government ministers.

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“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” he said.

He said one of his daughters had been inoculated with the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the Russian defence ministry.

“In this sense, she took part in the experiment,” Putin said, adding that she had a slight temperature after a second injection and “that’s all”.

“What counts most is for us to be able to ensure the unconditional safety of the use of this vaccine and its efficiency in the future. I hope that this will be accomplished,” Putin said.

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Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that clinical trials involving several thousand participants would continue.

Tatyana Golikova, a deputy prime minister in charge of health issues, said officials hoped that vaccinations of medical staff could begin soon.

“We really hope that the vaccine can be produced in September, or even at the end of August or beginning of September, and the first category to be vaccinated will be medical personnel,” she said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the working group for amending the constitution in Moscow on February 26, 2020. Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP

– Viral vector vaccine –

Russia has been pushing hard to quickly develop a coronavirus vaccine and said earlier this month it hoped to launch mass production within weeks and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year.

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The World Health Organization last week urged Russia to follow established guidelines and go “through all the stages” necessary to develop a safe vaccine.

Spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters at the time that the WHO had not been officially notified of any Russian vaccine on the verge of being deployed.

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

The vaccine developed by Russia is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the needed immune response into cells.

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Gamaleya’s vaccine is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China’s CanSino.

The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticising the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.

Moscow has dismissed allegations from Britain, the United States and Canada that a hacking group linked to Russian intelligence services tried to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from labs in the West.

With more than 897,000 confirmed infections, Russia’s coronavirus caseload is currently fourth in the world after the United States, Brazil and India.


#Newsworthy…