#WHO; #Omicron; #pandemictreaty; #EquityPlea; #GlobalPandemicTreaty
New York/Canadian-Media: The emergence of the threatening new Omicron variant shows how important it is for the world to end the current “cycle of panic and neglect” over the COVID-19 pandemic, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday.
Image credit: IMF Photo/James Oatway
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was addressing the start of a special three-day meeting of the organization’s governing body in Geneva on Monday, amidst a global alert over the new strain, arguing that greater international cooperation is essential to preserve “hard won gains” against the virus.
The World Health Assembly meeting was convened to decide on the issue of a so-called “pandemic treaty”.
Tedros said the world has not responded accordingly to COVID-19, and vaccine inequity, among other challenges, has facilitated the appearance of new highly mutated variants such as Omicron.
“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores”, said the WHO Director General.
Praise for South Africa alert
Tedros underscored that South Africa – where Omicron was first identified just days ago - should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting the new variant, and not penalized, referring to the current travel bans many countries are imposing on the African nation and its neighbors.
The UN Secretary-General also expressed his deep concern on Monday for the isolation now being felt by southern African countries due to the new restrictions imposed on travel from the region, by dozens of nations across the world.
“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world”, said António Guterres, in a strongly-worded statement.
I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures”, he added.
The UN health agency has asked governments to take science-based decisions regarding the travel bans. Mr. Guterres said it was important to take all appropriate measures to allow for travel and “economic engagement”.
Prevent history from repeating itself
The likelihood of the potential further spread of Omicron at the global level has been defined as “very high” by WHO.
Dr. Tedros reminded that although scientists still don’t know for certain if the variant is associated with more risk of transmission and severe disease, or if it has any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines, the world shouldn’t need another ‘wake up call’.
“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us. We are living through a cycle of panic and neglect. Hard-won gains could vanish in an instant. Our most immediate task, therefore, is to end this pandemic”, he highlighted.
The WHO chief added that our ability to end the current pandemic is a ‘test for our collective ability to prevent and respond effectively to future pandemics’.
“The same principles apply: Courageous and compassionate leadership; Fidelity to science; Generosity in sharing the fruits of research; And an unshakeable commitment to equity and solidarity.
“If we cannot apply those principles now to tame COVID-19, how can we hope to prevent history repeating?”, he asked delegates from more than 190 countries.
The vaccine crisisMore than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries while low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines, Dr. Tedros emphasized.
He reiterated the message he has been sending the world for over a year: vaccine equity is not charity, but it is in every country’s best interests.
“No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent. We are all in this together”, he explained.
Equity plea: rights experts
Human rights experts joined Tedros on his call on Monday, urging States to act decisively to ensure that all people have equal and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly those in low-income countries who have largely been left out of the global response.
More than 27 UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts sent a joint statement as a response to the announcement of the indefinite postponement of the World Trade Organization 12th Ministerial Conference, in which a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to facilitate vaccine patents was set to be discussed.
“The postponement… should not be a reason to delay progress already made: on the contrary, it confirms the urgent need to take collective action to address vaccine inequality…”, they said, adding that the priority should be to ensure that all people everywhere can enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.
On 14 October, the experts sent 44 letters to the WTO, G7 and G20 States, the European Union and pharmaceutical companies urging equal and universal vaccine access. So far, only six responses have been received.
Now is the moment to act
Comprehensive. Coordinated. Effective. Three words that history will not use to describe the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic”, Dr. Tedros highlighted, advocating for a new common and binding global approach to pandemics.
He said that the task was urgent but also required patience as a convention, agreement or another international instrument, will not solve every problem.
“But, it will provide the overarching framework to foster greater international cooperation and provide a platform for strengthening global health security”, he added.
The special World Health Assembly session runs until Wednesday, and by the end of the three-day virtual meeting, countries will decide if there is political will to design a new international framework to respond to future pandemics.
#Covid19, #Coronavirus, #CoronavirusVaccine, #Omicron, #SouthAfrica
Johannesburg/IBNS: South Africa complained Saturday that it is being "punished" for detecting a new Covid-19 variant Omicron, media reports said.
Image Credit: Pixabay
The World Health Organization has termed a "variant of concern" and is more transmissible than the dominant Delta strain.
The decision by many countries to ban flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the variant "is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker," the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement, reported AFP.
"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," it said.
The ministry pointed out that other countries, too, have discovered new variants in the past.
"Each of those cases have had no recent links with Southern Africa, but the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa," it said.
Israel and Belgium announced after South Africa that they also had detected cases of Omicron.
Government insisted that South Africa's "capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination program, backed up by a world-class scientific community should give our global partners the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic".
Still ‘not clear’ whether Omicron COVID variant is more transmissible or more severe than Delta: WHO
#WHO; #OmicronVariant; #DeltaVariant; #SouthAfrica
New York/Canadian-Media: The World Health Organization published on Sunday an update on the science regarding the new coronavirus variant Omicron which is causing global concern and sparking increasing flight bans on Southern African countries.
Image credit: WHO/D. Elombat
The experts of the UN health agency said researchers in South Africa and around the world are currently conducting studies to better understand the aspects of Omicron, but as of right now, it is not clear whether it is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta.
“The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors”, WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) explained in a statement.
The Group also highlighted that it is not clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.
“While preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with Omicron”, the experts said.
They added that currently there is no information to suggest that Omicron causes different COVID-19 symptoms.
Higher risk of reinfection
However, the TAG-VE reaffirmed that preliminary evidence indicates that people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron when compared to other variants of concern.
So far, the initially reported infections have been among younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease, “but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks”, the experts said.
The group emphasised that is working with partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on vaccines, the effectiveness of current PCR tests, and existing treatments, but more information is still needed.
A volunteer carer called Trinity is working in a COVID-19 field hospital in Nasrec, Johannesburg.Keep the borders open and follow science
As a growing number of countries have imposed flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the Omicron variant, the UN health agency urged them to follow evidence and International Health Regulations calling for ‘borders to remain open’.
While travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, ‘they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods’, the agency said in a statement published on Sunday.
“If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations”, WHO highlighted.
While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, the UN agency recommends countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures that can limit its possible spread.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Flight bans have been imposed on southern African countries, but so far only two have detected the new variant. Meanwhile, countries in other regions such as Europe have reported cases of Omicron.
#WHO; #Covid19NewStrain; #Omicron; #SouthAfrica
New York/Canadian-Media: The latest COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa has been given the Greek name 'Omicron', and labeled as a variant of concern by UN health agency experts due to its large number of mutations and possible faster rate of infection.
Image credit: IMF Photo/James Oatway
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), preliminary evidence also suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant of concern, as compared to other strains, such as Delta.
Currently the number of cases appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. WHO explains that the variant has been detected at faster rates than in previous surges in infection, suggesting it "may have a growth advantage".
The experts have asked countries to enhance surveillance and genome sequencing efforts to better understand the variant.
There are also a number of studies underway and the agency's technical advisory group, known by the acronym TAG-VE, will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings to Member States and to the public as needed.
Information is still limited
On Wednesday, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, said the information about the now 'Omicron' variant is still limited.
“There are fewer than 100 whole genome sequences that are available, we don’t know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves”, she said during a Q&A on Twitter.
Dr. Van Kerkhove explained that researchers are currently trying to determine where the mutations are and what they potentially mean for diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has, there’s a lot of work that is underway”, she added.
Air travel between has declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.‘Do not discriminate’Earlier today, the UN health agency urged all countries to adopt a risk-based and scientific approach to travel bans linked to the new variant identified in South Africa and Botswana.
Mr. Van Kerkhove thanked researchers from these countries for openly sharing information to the UN health agency.
“Everyone out there: do not discriminate against countries that share their findings openly”, she urged, as countries such as Britain, France and Israel have moved to cancel direct flights from South Africa and surrounding nations.
According to South African health authorities so far, fewer than 100 cases of the new variant have been confirmed, largely among young people who have the lowest vaccination rate in the country.
“Countries can do a lot already in terms of surveillance and sequencing and work together with the affected countries or globally and scientifically to fight this variant and understand more about it so that we know how to go about…so at this point implementing travel measures is being cautioned against”, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told journalists in Geneva.
Protect yourself and others
The WHO officials reminded previous advice: people can do a lot to protect themselves from COVID, including by continuing to wear masks and avoiding crowds.
“Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see”, said Dr. Van Kerkhove.
“Get vaccinated when you can, make sure you receive the full course of your doses and make sure you take steps to reduce your exposure and prevent yourself from passing that virus to someone else”, she added.
#USMilitary; #MichiganHospitals; #SurgeInCovid19; #USHealthOfficials; #DireSituation
Michigan/Canadian-Media: Michigan hospitals beleaguered COVID-19 patients amid a worst fourth surge in the country would receive 44 military medical staffers from the U.S. government, state health officials said Wednesday.
Image credit: Wikipedia.org
The assistance was sought by the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the request of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.
Beds at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Detroit for transfers would also be opened.
The state health department also said that the two teams of 22 physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists will arrive next week and patients at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids would be looked after for 30 days .
With confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, more than 4,100 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday.
"Right now, our doctors and nurses are reporting the vast majority of their patients are unvaccinated or have not yet received a booster dose," the governor said in a statement. "We can all do our part to help reduce the strain on our hospital systems by getting vaccinated, making an appointment to get a booster dose and continuing to take precautions to keep ourselves and loved ones safe."
Brian Peters, CEO of the statewide hospital group, said the situation is "dire" and the Department of Defence's support is "desperately needed," CBC News reports said.
#Insulin; #WHO; #diabetes; GlobalHealth
New York/Canadian-Media: A century after it was discovered, insulin still remains out of reach for many people living with diabetes, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report published on Friday to commemorate the milestone anniversary.
A 54-year-old Nigerian man with Type 2 diabetes had to have his right foot amputated (file photo). Image credit: WHO / Andrew Esiebo / Panos Pictures
Keeping the 100-year-old promise – making insulin access universal details the main barriers to accessing the lifesaving medicine, namely high prices, low availability of human insulin, a market dominated by just a few producers, and weak health systems.
Profit over solidarity Insulin is the “bedrock” of diabetes treatment, and WHO is working with countries and manufacturers to expand access to everyone who needs it.
“The scientists who discovered insulin 100 years ago refused to profit from their discovery and sold the patent for just one dollar,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN agency.
“Unfortunately, that gesture of solidarity has been overtaken by a multi-billion-dollar business that has created vast access gaps.”
Diabetes is characterized by elevated levels of blood sugar which over time, can cause serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.
Millions missing out
There are two forms of the disease. Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. For nine million people worldwide living with type 1 diabetes, having access to insulin turns the disease into a manageable condition.
The most common form of diabetes, type 2, is usually found in adults. It occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn't make enough of it.
WHO said for more than 60 million people living with type 2 diabetes, insulin is essential to reduce the risk of kidney failure, blindness and amputation. However, one in two people who need the medicine do not get it.
While diabetes is increasing in low and middle-income countries, their consumption of insulin has not kept up with the growing disease burden.
Even though three in four people who have type 2 diabetes live outside of North America and Europe, they account for less than 40 per cent of revenue from insulin sales.
Closing the insulin gap
The report outlines measures to improve access to insulin and related products.
Actions include boosting human insulin production and supply, and diversifying manufacturing of biosimilar products to create competition and reduce prices.
WHO explained that global markets have shifted from human insulin, which can be produced at relatively low cost, to pricier synthetic insulins, which can be up to three times more expensive.
The UN agency called for improved affordability by regulating prices and mark-ups through pooled procurement and greater price transparency, and promoting local manufacturing capacity in under-served regions.
Dialogue delivers results
At the same time, research and development (R&D) should be centred on the needs of low and middle-income countries, while increased access to insulin should be accompanied by prompt diagnosis along with access to affordable devices for injecting the medicine and monitoring blood sugar.
WHO has worked with the industry to address some of the barriers to the availability of insulin, related medicines and technologies, through holding dialogues with business associations and manufacturers.
This has resulted in several commitments by the industry, which range from developing a policy blueprint for improving access to biosimilars of insulin, to participating in WHO’s prequalification program for insulin, glucose meters, test strips and diagnostic tools.
#Covid19, #Coronavirus, #CoronavirusVaccine, #Covaxin, #BharatBiotech, #WHO,
New Delhi (India)/Canadian-Media: Bharat Biotech's Covaxin's approval for emergency use after a lengthy and rigorous review period by the World Health Organization (WHO) has cleared the way for the 'made-in-India' vaccine to get recognized by other nations, sources said Wednesday.
Bharat Biotech, Covaxin. Image credit: Wikipedia.org
After applying for WHO's approval in April Bharat Biotech supplied the required data in July, assuring about the vaccine's safety, efficacy and stability as well as checks of production facilities.
Bharat Biotech was asked again last week to provide "additional clarifications" to conduct a "final risk-benefit assessment" by the Technical Advisory Group (an independent panel that provides the WHO with recommendations).
The WHO had also said it understood "many people are waiting for Covaxin to be included in the COVID-19 Emergency Use Listing" but also stressed "we cannot cut corners before recommending a product for emergency use... we must evaluate thoroughly to make it is safe and effective".
The panel emphasized that the EUL approval normally depended on how fast the vaccine manufacturer is able to provide the required data and added,
"When the information provided addresses all questions raised, the WHO and the Technical Advisory Group will complete the assessment and come to a final recommendation."
Covaxin is manufactured by Hyderavad-based Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research - National Institute of Virology.
As of this evening over 12.14 crore people have been vaccinated with Covaxin, according to Union Ministry of Health.
Covaxin has shown 77.8 percent effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 and 65.2 percent protection against the new Delta variant.
#Covid19, #Coronavirus, #Molnupiravir, #Merck, #UnitedKingdom
London/Canadian-Media: Britain became the first country on Thursday to approve COVID-19 antiviral pill jointly developed by U.S.-based Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, media reports said.
Image: Molnupiravir. Image credit: Unsplash
The drug, molnupiravir, considered a potential game-changer in the fight against the pandemic was recommended by Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Even before U.S. regulatory clearance, the UK drug regulator's approved the first oral pill, the antiviral treatment for COVID-19.
US panel will meet this month to vote on whether molnupiravir should be authorized, Reuters reported and added that the drug, branded Lagevrio in Britain, is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is taken twice a day for five days.
"We are working at pace across the government and with the NHS to set out plans to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible," health secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.
Last month, Britain agreed a deal with Merck to secure 480,000 courses of molnupiravir.
So far, viral sequencing done has shown molnupiravir is effective against all variants of the coronavirus, said Merck, including the more-infectious Delta, which is responsible for the worldwide surge in hospitalizations and deaths recently, Reuters reports said.
Merck's ongoing talks with generic drugmakers are about expanding manufacturing licences to build supply of the treatment.