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UN/Canadian-Media: The end of the pandemic is in sight but we must not let our guard down, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as he welcomed the news that the global vaccine partnership COVAX has lined up almost two billion doses of existing and candidate vaccines for use worldwide.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the first vaccine to be made readily available in some parts of the world. Image credit: BioNTech
The huge vaccine reservoir means that COVAX, a 190-country international initiative that seeks to ensure all countries have equal access to coronavirus vaccines, can plan to start delivering the shots in the first quarter of 2021.
By mid-year it will have delivered enough doses to protect health and social care workers in all participating countries that have asked to get doses in that timeframe. All other participants should get sufficient doses to cover up to 20 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021, and further doses in 2022.
“This is fantastic news and a milestone in global health”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters attending an online press conference.
“This is a time for taking comfort that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but taking care that we do not let down our guard. We are all responsible for taking the measures to keep ourselves and each other safe, including during this holiday season.
“With today's news the light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter, but we are not there yet. And we will only get there together”, Tedros said.
Ready to fly
The UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, said it was ready to transport up to 850 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines per month in 2021, more than twice its usual payload of vaccines. Most could be sent using existing commercial flights, but alternative options and charter flights would also be considered where necessary, it said.
“This is a mammoth and historic undertaking,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “The scale of the task is daunting, and the stakes have never been higher, but we are ready to take this on.”
The light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter – WHO chief Tedros
With support of from the global vaccine alliance Gavi, UNICEF is procuring and supporting installation of 70,000 cold-chain fridges in lower income countries by the end of 2021, which will help in the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines that need to be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Almost half of the fridges will be solar powered, UNICEF said.
It was important to understand that vaccines would complement, and not replace, the existing tools for slowing transmission of the virus and saving lives, he said. But vaccines were the key to stopping the disease, and as soon as the pandemic began, there was a risk that low-income countries would miss out on vaccines, which is why COVAX was formed, Tedros said.
‘The best deal’
COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT Accelerator), a comprehensive plan to defeat the virus using diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
On Tuesday, Dr. Tedros’ senior advisor Bruce Aylward called ACT Accelerator as the best deal in town, saying that its $28 billion price tag would be repaid in full almost overnight because of the immediate economic uplift expected if the disease is tamed.
Tedros, who took over leadership of the WHO in 2017 on a promise to promote universal health coverage, said the vaccine must not be reserved only for a lucky few.
‘Hope for all’
“Images of people receiving vaccines are giving us hope, but it must be hope for all not hope for some. For most of the past year, we have been talking to world leaders and vaccine developers to ensure that when his vaccines were available, they were available equitably to all countries.”
Before Friday’s announcement, COVAX had already lined up more than 1 billion doses of vaccines under development for 2021. The new announcement included an advance purchase agreement for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate and a memorandum of understanding for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), Gavi, and the World Health Organization (WHO) – working in partnership with vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society organisations and others.
#UN; #VaccinesWork; #VaccinesSaveLives; #VaccinesAreCostEffective
UN/Canadian-Media: Throughout its history, the United Nations has proven over and over again that #VaccinesWork. Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need. Vaccines – and the heroic people who develop, deliver and receive them – protect the health of everyone, everywhere.
#WHO; #UN; #Covid19Pandemic; #ACTAccelerator; #Covid19Vaccine
An international coalition aiming to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic needs $28 billion, a bargain price for stopping the damage done by a virus that has run rampant for the past year, a senior UN World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday.
Trials have demonstrated that the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is safe and effective at stopping people developing COVID-19. Image credit: University of Oxford/John Cairns
“This is the best deal in town. No question. This will pay itself off within 36 hours, once we get international travel and trade mobility moving again”, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to the WHO Director General and lead for the coalition, known as ACT Accelerator.
ACT Accelerator, or the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator” in full, is the UN-launched group of countries and organizations overseeing the development, production and equitable distribution of affordable COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Doses, diagnostics, testing
The group has three big targets, Dr. Aylward said: two billion doses of vaccines at least by the end of 2021, 500 million new rapid diagnostics for low and middle income countries, and 250 million therapeutic tests.
“The accelerator is all about an integrated end-to-end solution to the pandemic”, Dr. Aylward told a regular UN briefing of journalists in Geneva.
Monday saw a meeting of the ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council, a body tasked with mulling the political and financial difficulties that will need to be overcome, Dr. Aylward said.
The meeting received welcome news of a $255 million contribution from Canada, but it plans to meet again in early February, to work out how to fill the funding gap.
Raising $28 billion was a real challenge in the current fiscal environment, but it made sense to tackle the problem head on, Dr. Aylward said.
All about the money
“Frankly, if we don't do this in a coordinated way, it is going to cost more, be slower and this (pandemic) is just going to drag out longer”, he said. “Right now, financing is what stands between us and getting out of this pandemic as rapidly as possible. It’s as simple as that.”
The cost was larger than the total annual amount of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for health worldwide, which comes to around $26 billion. But it would be a mistake to raid ODA to finance ACT Accelerator, he said, because it would deprive vital funds from other areas, such as malaria, HIV and antenatal care.
Countries and donor organizations were completely behind the rationale for ACT Accelerator, he said, and although they would like to see a lower price tag, they recognised that it would cost a sizeable amount to not just develop and produce but also deliver the products needed to defeat the pandemic.
The ACT Accelerator team was working 20-hour days and looking at all possible financing instruments, including special purpose vehicles, concessional loans, the catastrophic bonds, and social bonds.
“There's also a very hard look at stimulus financing. G20 countries have put about $12 trillion into their economies, about half of that almost in cash, to try and address the consequences of COVID-19, so part of the argument that we're making as well is we need to find a way to unlock a chunk of the stimulus financing to actually deal with the root cause,” said the top advisor.
Because if we can get these vaccines out, if we get these therapeutics out, get the diagnostics out at this kind of scale, we can get the global economy moving again.”
It's not all about vaccines
Dr. Aylward sounded a note of warning about the level of attention given to development of vaccines for COVID-19, saying it was absolutely essential to continue to focus on diagnostics and therapeutics as well, since they were the key to saving lives, preventing severe mortality and freeing up intensive care units, as well as ending the extraordinary economic disruption wrought by the pandemic.
Access to therapeutics was the area where there was the greatest risk of inequity between rich and poor countries, Dr. Aylward said, adding that Canada deserved praise for funding across the whole pipeline and not just concentrating on vaccines.
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UN/Canadian-Media: An innovative initiative to provide child-friendly information about COVID-19 has been launched by a UN volunteer (UNV) in Thailand who recognized that children needed to know more about the dangers of the virus but also have fun learning at home during the lockdown. On International Volunteer Day marked annually on 5 December, UNICEF’s Rasa Pattikasemkul talks about motivation, family loss and keeping children safe.
UNICEF volunteer Rasa Pattikasemkul at work in Khon Kean, in northeastern Thailand. Image credit: UNICEF/Nipattra Wilkes
I am in charge of the Volunteer Leader programme for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which is part of the I Am UNICEF initiative. We have some 22 volunteer leaders in communities across Thailand, who told me that while there is sufficient information and support for parents about COVID-19, there is nothing specifically for children. So, I had the idea of designing and distributing a children’s activity book to teach children about best practices in avoiding COVID-19 while keeping them entertained at home.
The initiative consists of three engagement opportunities; a story for children showing what they need to do to stay safe during the pandemic, a painting or illustration activity with winning designs chosen to illustrate a UNICEF booklet and a challenge to get volunteers to distribute UNICEF COVID-19 information.
Loving the story and tears of joy
At first, we planned to produce only 4,000 copies of the story booklet, but the requests have far exceeded the production quota. The kids love it, which fills my heart with joy. I went to the community to help the emergency response distributing toolkits and supplies to those families in the slum areas. I saw quite a big smile on their faces. Some of them shouted to their neighbour "I got something!" After that, all the kids in the area were standing at their doorstep waiting for us to walk over. There was one little girl who ran to me after I gave her the booklet who said "Can I have one more, please? I have a little brother; he is still very tiny but when he is bigger, I will give it to him”
A few weeks after that we received more feedback from the community. They said that the booklet was effective. Children are learning while coloring the booklet and the content helps parents and caregivers to initiate conversations with them. I have read all the social media posts about the booklet, and my eyes are filled with tears of joy.
Role of volunteers “absolutely changed” during pandemic
COVID-19, which is now our main focus, absolutely changed the role of our volunteers. Before the pandemic, we were able to go outside, organize a walk, talk to people, and advocate for children. Now, we have to be more cautious with no unnecessary physical contact between volunteers and children. That’s for the safety of both sides.
Most of our activities now are online. For example, we recruited professional psychologists to volunteer with us to provide counseling sessions for youth who need mental health support.
We also recruited a videographer and editor, to produce an interview with a doctor and psychologist who provided tips and advice on how to cope with the lockdown.
All the UNVs are now working from home. Personally, I don't think this change is a problem. We have to adapt to it, be flexible and have the right mentality of "nothing can stop you". We have worked with great team spirit and we were able to launch the three initiatives.
Vulnerable children facing a “wide range of risks”
Even prior to the pandemic, children were vulnerable in our society. Lockdown measures due to COVID-19 have exposed children to a wide range of risks. Many families lost their sources of income so there can be heightened tensions in the household; stressed parents or caregivers, social isolation and increased risk factors for violence at home.
The children I have spoken to are very resilient; Some say it's good that they get to be with their parents more, some say that they want to go to school and play with their friends.
Acting as “big sister”, following family loss
My little brother died on a rainy day in September 2018. I loved watching him grow up, how he took his first steps; sadly I had to see the place where he took his last steps, as well. Ever since I lost my brother, I have wanted to recapture that feeling of being the big sister again; that is my passion.
As a volunteer, I now have thousands of brothers and sisters who could benefit from my strength, my personal skills and my professional abilities. I think this is my calling, this is my passion. No matter what I do at UNICEF if I could make one child's life a little bit better. It's worth everything to me.
Some people take pleasure in making someone's life a little bit better. I am one of those people.”
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UN/Canadian-Media: Scientists developing COVID-19 vaccines are optimistic that by the end of next year, all people everywhere will have access to safe and effective treatments against a disease which has disrupted the entire planet.
A coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University is said to be up to 90% effective. Image credit: University of Oxford/John Cairns
Principals from BioNTech and Oxford University – both pioneers in the COVID vaccine rollout –participated in an online dialogue on Friday, held under the special session of the UN General Assembly devoted to the pandemic.
“There is no other option. We have to achieve it. And we can achieve it, and we will achieve it”, said Professor Uğur Şahin, Chief Executive Officer of BioNTech, whose vaccine developed with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was this week approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom.
A very exciting time Research and development of COVID-19 vaccines is taking place in record time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, more than 150 candidates are at various stages of development, at least 15 of which are in late-stage human clinical trials. Four are effective, according to interim results.
“We are in a very exciting stage now where we are seeing efficacy results coming and the first vaccine licenses, and what we need to do is continue with the collaboration because we need more vaccines than the ones we’ve heard about today,” said Professor Sarah Gilbert from Oxford University, partners on a vaccine with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
“And so, it is on us as scientists to continue to collaborate and make available the information that’s going to help the development of the other vaccines, because that’s the way we are going to get the most vaccines for the world.”
Vaccines for the public good UN Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly underlined the need to make COVID-19 vaccines “a global public good”, affordable and available to all, through the COVAX Facility: a global mechanism which aims to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021.
So far, some 189 countries are engaged in COVAX, which is led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO.
BioNTech wants its vaccine to be distributed as widely as possible, which is why it is working with countries and COVAX, said Dr. Özlem Türeci, Chief Medical Officer.
“What we see is that this can only work as a global effort, and as a relentless collaboration,” she said.
However, fears have been raised over equitable distribution of the vaccines. Speaking during a later dialogue, Seth Barkley, the Chief Executive Officer of GAVI, emphasized how global coordination is the only way to keep the planet safe.
“If everybody was doing bilateral deals, it would be very hard to make sure the supplies exist for everyone”, he stated.
A great global effort Meanwhile, funding for the vaccines remains an obstacle.
COVAX is the vaccine pillar of a global partnership to speed up development of coronavirus tests and medicines, known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is facing an overall shortfall of $28 billion.
Distributing the vaccines will be a further huge challenge, requiring intense planning and coordination at the global level.
Countries will have to get ready for what could be the world’s largest and fastest- ever procurement, which will include ensuring the low temperature-controlled environments to store and transport vaccines, known as a cold chain, is in place.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will coordinate procurement of the vaccines, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for lower income countries.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, recalled that earlier in the pandemic, many poorer nations faced hurdles in buying PPE for their health workers, either due to high costs or low supplies. This will not be the case with vaccines.
“What the COVAX Facility is doing is it is trying to bring that equitability, that fairness to the markets,” she said. “And fortunately, countries have signed up…countries that are in the lowest income areas, and the highest income, so that we can all help each other. Because this crisis will not be over for any of us unless we solve it everywhere.”
#WHO; #Malaria; #FundingShortfall; #Covid19
WHO/Canadian-Media: The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on countries and global health partners to step up the fight against malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives each year. A better targeting of interventions, new tools and increased funding are needed to change the global trajectory of the disease and reach internationally-agreed targets.
According to WHO‘s latest World malaria report, progress against malaria continues to plateau, particularly in high burden countries in Africa. Gaps in access to life-saving tools are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further.
“It is time for leaders across Africa – and the world – to rise once again to the challenge of malaria, just as they did when they laid the foundation for the progress made since the beginning of this century,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Through joint action, and a commitment to leaving no one behind, we can achieve our shared vision of a world free of malaria.”
In 2000, African leaders signed the landmark Abuja Declaration pledging to reduce malaria deaths on the continent by 50% over a 10-year period. Robust political commitment, together with innovations in new tools and a steep increase in funding, catalyzed an unprecedented period of success in global malaria control. According to the report, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted since 2000.
A plateau in progress
In 2019, the global tally of malaria cases was 229 million, an annual estimate that has remained virtually unchanged over the last 4 years. The disease claimed some 409 000 lives in 2019 compared to 411 000 in 2018.
As in past years, the African Region shouldered more than 90% of the overall disease burden. Since 2000, the region has reduced its malaria death toll by 44%, from an estimated 680 000 to 384 000 annually. However, progress has slowed in recent years, particularly in countries with a high burden of the disease.
A funding shortfall at both the international and domestic levels poses a significant threat to future gains. In 2019, total funding reached US $3 billion against a global target of $5.6 billion. Funding shortages have led to critical gaps in access to proven malaria control tools.
COVID-19 an added challenge
In 2020, COVID-19 emerged as an additional challenge to the provision of essential health services worldwide. According to the report, most malaria prevention campaigns were able to move forward this year without major delays. Ensuring access to malaria prevention – such as insecticide-treated nets and preventive medicines for children – has supported the COVID-19 response strategy by reducing the number of malaria infections and, in turn, easing the strain on health systems. WHO worked swiftly to provide countries with guidance to adapt their responses and ensure the safe delivery of malaria services during the pandemic.
However, WHO is concerned that even moderate disruptions in access to treatment could lead to a considerable loss of life. The report finds, for example, that a 10% disruption in access to effective antimalarial treatment in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to 19 000 additional deaths. Disruptions of 25% and 50% in the region could result in an additional 46 000 and 100 000 deaths, respectively.
“While Africa has shown the world what can be achieved if we stand together to end malaria as a public health threat, progress has stalled,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “COVID-19 threatens to further derail our efforts to overcome malaria, particularly treating people with the disease. Despite the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on African economies, international partners and countries need to do more to ensure that the resources are there to expand malaria programmes which are making such a difference in people’s lives.”
A key strategy to reignite progress is the “High burden to high impact” (HBHI) response, catalyzed in 2018 by WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. The response is led by 11 countries – including 10 in sub-Saharan Africa – that account for approximately 70% of the world’s malaria burden.
Over the last 2 years, HBHI countries have been moving away from a “one-size-fits all” approach to malaria control – opting, instead, for tailored responses based on local data and intelligence. A recent analysis from Nigeria, for example, found that through an optimized mix of interventions, the country could avert tens of millions of additional cases and thousands of additional deaths by the year 2023, compared to a business-as-usual approach.
While it is too early to measure the impact of the HBHI approach, the report finds that deaths in the 11 countries were reduced from 263 000 to 226 000 between 2018 and 2019. India continued to make impressive gains, with reductions in cases and deaths of 18% and 20%, respectively, over the last 2 years. There was, however, a slight increase in the total number of cases among HBHI countries, from an estimated 155 million in 2018 to 156 million in 2019.
Meeting global malaria targets
This year’s report highlights key milestones and events that helped shape the global response to the disease in recent decades. Beginning in the 1990s, leaders of malaria-affected countries, scientists and other partners laid the groundwork for a renewed malaria response that contributed to one of the biggest returns on investment in global health.
According to the report, 21 countries eliminated malaria over the last 2 decades; of these, 10 countries were officially certified as malaria-free by WHO. In the face of the ongoing threat of antimalarial drug resistance, the 6 countries of the Greater Mekong subregion continue to make major gains towards their goal of malaria elimination by 2030.
But many countries with a high burden of malaria have been losing ground. According to WHO global projections, the 2020 target for reductions in malaria case incidence will be missed by 37% and the mortality reduction target will be missed by 22%.