Zimbabwe lifts curfew, says COVID-19 under control

By XINHUA

People wear mask to protect themselves from Omicron variant of coronavirus in Harare, Zimbabwe on November 28, 2021. (Photo via Getty Images)

The Zimbabwean government on Tuesday lifted a midnight-to-dawn curfew imposed as part of COVID-19 containment measures.

The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to decrease over the past week while the recovery rate stood at 97 percent, acting Information Minister Jenfan Muswere told a post-cabinet media briefing.

“No patients were admitted to the intensive care unit (over the past week). This indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic remains under control, as it has been for some months now,” he said.

The Cabinet stressed that the implementation of all COVID-19 public health and social measures must continue to be strengthened.

Muswere said as of Monday, 55.7 percent of the population had received vaccinations. The Cabinet last week approved the introduction of COVID-19 self-test kits mainly at ports of entry in order to ramp up the country’s testing capacity.

WHO: Eight African countries among 39 nations to have reported monkeypox cases

By David Ochieng Mbewa

Eight African countries are among 39 nations globally that have reported a total of 1,900 confirmed cases of monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti on Saturday said that six out of the eight countries have previously reported cases of the viral disease.

FILE PHOTO: An electron microscopic (EM) image depicting a monkeypox virion, obtained from a clinical sample. /CFP

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, accounts for most of the cases with 36, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo with 10 and eight in Central African Republic. Benin and Cameroon have reported three cases each and the Republic of Congo has reported two confirmed cases.

The two countries which have no history of recorded cases are Ghana and Morocco and have reported five cases and one case, respectively.

Additionally, there are seven countries which have reported suspected cases of monkeypox despite having previously not having any incidences. They are: Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda.

“This is clearly an unusual situation that is affecting more and more countries,” Moeti said, adding that better preparations needed to be in place for the continent to avoid the inequalities experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“As WHO in Africa, we are already ramping up support to countries to urgently increase testing capacity for monkeypox and are in the process of procuring thousands of tests for the continent.”

Moeti said that a newer and safer smallpox vaccine had been approved for the prevention of monkeypox but the UN health agency was not recommending mass vaccination at the moment.

Moeti, however, cautioned that the continent must to be ready to act should the need arise.

“Global stocks are extremely limited at this stage but we are working closely with member states and partners on a coordination mechanism to ensure fair access to both vaccines and treatment.”

Moeti’s warning comes days before the WHO convenes an Emergency Committee to advise on whether the current spread of monkeypox in non-endemic countries constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)

Egypt lifts COVID-19-related entry restrictions for travelers

By XINHUA

Egypt on Thursday lifted all COVID-19-related entry restrictions for all travelers, whether Egyptians or foreigners.

The pyramids at Giza, one of Egypt’s most popular tourist destinations. /Xinhua

The decision was made by Egypt’s Supreme Committee for the Management of the Epidemiology and Health Pandemic Crisis according to the pandemic conditions in Egypt and abroad, said Nader Saad, a spokesperson of the Egyptian cabinet, in a statement.

Nearly 86.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as 4.5 million booster shots, have been provided for the people, the statement said, adding that there are nearly 57.5 million doses in reserve to continue the vaccination campaign.

The statement said that 800 DNA reagents were distributed by the Egyptian health ministry to detect the monkeypox cases, and strict measures are taken to have veterinary quarantine for the animals coming from abroad.

WHO to share vaccines to stop monkeypox amid inequity fears

By AP

This electron microscopic image depicts a monkeypox virion. /VCG

The World Health Organization said it’s creating a new vaccine-sharing mechanism to stop the outbreak of monkeypox in more than 30 countries beyond Africa. The move could result in the U.N. health agency distributing scarce vaccine doses to rich countries that can otherwise afford them.

To some health experts, the initiative potentially misses the opportunity to control the monkeypox virus in the African countries where it’s infected people for decades, serving as another example of the inequity in vaccine distribution seen during the coronavirus pandemic.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency is developing an initiative for “fair access” to vaccines and treatments that it hopes will be ready within weeks. The mechanism was proposed shortly after Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the U.S. and other countries reported hundreds of monkeypox cases last month.

WHO has described the outbreak as “unusual” and said the virus’ continuing spread was worrying enough to convene its expert committee next week to decide if monkeypox should be declared a global emergency.

Vaccines for smallpox, a related disease, are thought to be about 85 percent effective against monkeypox. WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, said Wednesday he was concerned by the scramble by some rich countries to buy more vaccines without talk of buying supplies for Africa.

Kluge urged governments “to approach monkeypox without repeating the mistakes of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Still, he did not discount the possibility that countries like Britain, which currently has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, might receive vaccines through the WHO.

He said the program was being created for all countries and that vaccines would largely be dispensed based on their epidemiological needs.

“Europe remains the epicenter of this escalating outbreak, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85 percent of the global total,” Kluge noted.

Some African experts questioned why the UN health agency has never proposed using vaccines in central and West Africa, where the disease is endemic.

“The place to start any vaccination should be Africa and not elsewhere,” Dr. Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

He said the lack of any vaccines to counter monkeypox on the continent, where more than 1,500 suspected cases and 72 deaths have been reported this year, was a more critical concern than the clusters of the mostly mild disease being reported in rich countries.

“This is an extension of the inequity that we saw during COVID-19,” said Ifeanyi Nsofor, a Nigerian infectious diseases physician and consultant at the communications agency Upswell. “We have had hundreds of monkeypox cases in Nigeria from 2017 until now and we’re just dealing with it on our own,” he said. “Nobody has discussed when there might be vaccines available for Africa.”

After the coronavirus pandemic exploded in 2020, global health agencies rushed to set up COVAX, a U.N.-backed effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. But rich countries bought up most of the world’s supply, and the COVAX program missed multiple targets to share doses with the world’s poor.

To date, only about 17 percent of people in poorer countries have received a single dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Some experts fear the same thing could happen with monkeypox.

“Just like with COVID, there is no clear path for how poorer countries will be able to get vaccines,” Brook Baker, a Northeastern University law professor who specializes in access to medicines, said.

He warned that as WHO attempts to determine how many vaccine doses are available, rich countries that previously promised doses might not cooperate.

“Rich countries will protect themselves while people in the global south die,” Baker predicted.

On Monday, the advocacy group Public Citizen sent a letter to the White House, asking if the Biden administration would release the 20 million smallpox vaccines the U.S. pledged in 2004 for WHO’s use in the event of an emergency, like a biological attack.

Asked about the commitment, a senior U.S. official said the government was “exploring all options” to further their efforts to stop monkeypox within the U.S. and globally.

The official said the U.S. had returned more than 200,000 doses of a smallpox vaccine to the manufacturer so they would be available to others. The official declined to say if the U.S. considers the current monkeypox outbreak an emergency that warrants the release of the 20 million pledged vaccines.

According to the health data and analytics firm Airfinity, the U.S. has at least 1.4 million doses of vaccine and has ordered another 13 million. To date, the U.S. has reported 72 monkeypox cases.

Francois Balloux, an infectious diseases expert at University College London, said vaccination efforts in rich countries should prompt an overhaul of future monkeypox response strategies in Africa.

“It really should be a priority to vaccinate people in Africa, where there is a nastier strain that has actually killed people,” he said, adding that more monkeypox spillovers were likely in the future.

“Whatever vaccination happens in Europe, that is not going to solve the problem,” Balloux said.

Africa officials urge readiness for monkeypox vaccinations, fair access

By Reuters

Mock-up vials labeled “Monkeypox vaccine” and medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken, May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The World Health Organization is procuring thousands of monkeypox tests for Africa and working to ensure the continent has fair access to vaccines should the need arise, WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said on Thursday.

Monkeypox, a viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions, is endemic in parts of Africa, but this year there has been an increase in cases both on the continent and in the rest of the world. 

Africa has documented 1,597 suspected cases of the virus since the start of 2022, of which 66 have been fatal, according tothe continent’s top public health agency, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Moeti said eight African countries now had confirmed cases, including Nigeria, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo where it is endemic, but also Benin and Ghana where the4 virus is not normally found.

“Although we’re certainly not recommending mass vaccination at this stage, we must ensure that we are ready should the need arise,” Moeti said at a weekly briefing.

Global stocks of smallpox jabs that offer protection against monkeypox are “extremely limited at this stage”, she added, noting that the WHO was working to ensure fair access to vaccines and treatment.

The acting director of the Africa CDC, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, warned against a repeat of the situation at the start of the global COVID-19 vaccination drive, when rich countries hoarded doses at the expense of poorer ones, especially in Africa.

“We should not have a situation like the COVID vaccines where we end up with Africa not having much,” he told a separate media briefing.

“It is our position that when the smallpox vaccines are released to address monkeypox, it should start here in Africa, where the burden is larger, the risk higher and the geographical spread is also broader.”

More than 1,000 monkeypox cases have been reported to the WHO in the current outbreak outside the countries in Africa where it more commonly spreads.

Total confirmed cases of the disease – which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys – were close to 1,900 on Wednesday. 

The WHO is due to convene an emergency committee next week to assess whether the monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

World Bank approves $474 million loan to South Africa for COVID vaccines

By Reuters

Vials labelled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” and sryinge are seen in front of displayed South Africa flag in this illustration taken, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The World Bank has approved a loan of 454.4 million euros ($474.4 million) to help South Africa fund COVID-19 vaccine purchases, the bank and South Africa’s National Treasury said in a statement.

South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus cases and deaths on the African continent, with over 3.9 million confirmed cases and more than 101,000 deaths. It initially struggled to secure vaccines due to limited supplies and protracted negotiations, but it is now well-supplied with doses.Advertisement · Scroll to continue

“This project will retroactively finance the procurement of 47 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the GoSA (Government of South Africa),” the statement said.

The loan is part of government efforts to cut debt-service costs by using cheaper funding sources in its response to the pandemic, Ismail Momoniat, acting director-general of the Treasury said.

As of Monday, just over 50% of South Africa’s adult population of around 40 million people had received at least one vaccine dose. In recent months the vaccination campaign has slowed, despite efforts to boost takeup.Advertisement · Scroll to continue

($1 = 0.9579 euros)

COVID-19 Deadlier During Pregnancy, African Study Says

FILE – A healthcare worker administers the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a pregnant woman, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 9, 2021.

Pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe medical complications or death from COVID-19, according to a new study of more than 1,300 women in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers argue that vaccinating pregnant women against the coronavirus should be made a priority across the region, where most countries do not yet recommend vaccination during pregnancy.

Multiple studies have already shown that COVID-19 is more dangerous to pregnant women than to those who are not pregnant. But most of the women in these studies lived in Europe, North America or Asia. Until now, little data was available from Africa.

“Africa is not Europe, is not the U.S.A.,” said Jean Nachega, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health and lead author of the new study. “We should not just rely on data coming from the U.S., Europe or China to try to understand COVID on the continent.”

Populations in Africa are typically younger than those in Europe, North America and East Asia. But certain infectious diseases like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (TB), as well as noninfectious diseases such as sickle cell anemia, are more common there. Those conditions can make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

In the study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, Nachega and his colleagues from the AFREhealth research network analyzed health records from 1,315 women treated at hospitals in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa between March 2020 and March 2021. Roughly a third were pregnant and had tested positive for the coronavirus. Another third were pregnant and had tested negative, and the other third were not pregnant and had tested positive. The researchers tested how pregnancy, infection with the coronavirus, and conditions such as HIV, TB, malaria and sickle cell anemia affected a woman’s likelihood of severe disease or death.

The findings were grim. Pregnant women who were hospitalized in sub-Saharan Africa were five times more likely to die in the hospital if they tested positive for the coronavirus. And being pregnant doubled the odds that a woman admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 would die.

“We had it in both ways: pregnancy impacted COVID, and COVID impacted pregnant women,” said Nachega.

Pregnant women with COVID-19 were also at higher risk of serious complications requiring intensive care. It wasn’t possible to tell whether pregnancy made the combination of COVID-19 and TB or HIV riskier, but women with HIV, TB, malaria or sickle cell who had the coronavirus were more likely to get seriously ill.

“It’s very good that the study was conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is very reassuring that the findings are consistent with the results of other studies,” said Ana Langer, a physician specializing in reproductive health and head of the Women and Health initiative at Harvard University.

Because the study considered only hospitalized women, it wasn’t possible to tell if pregnancy makes women more likely to get infected with the coronavirus or if they get sick from it in the first place. Using data collected in the past can also cause problems with the analysis, which the researchers used statistical tools to correct. But “this was the best study they could do with the availability of funding and the other circumstances,” Langer said.

Nachega hopes that his findings will convince policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa to recommend vaccination for pregnant women and women who could become pregnant.

“The bottom line is that pregnant women need to get vaccinated,” he said. “If not then, before even she gets pregnant. The most important implication of this study is to advocate for COVID vaccination in women of childbearing age.”

Multiple studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective during pregnancy, and 110 countriesrecommend COVID-19 vaccination for some or all pregnant women. However, only 13 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries currently do so. Lack of government support stymies efforts to make the vaccine more accessible to pregnant women and is complicated by high rates of vaccine hesitancy in sub-Saharan Africa, where only about 19% of women intend to get the vaccine.

“Women and their families are worried about their safety, they think that the vaccine could harm them, or their fetuses and babies, and it has been extensively demonstrated that that’s not the case,” said Langer. “The vaccine is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

By VAO News

Monkeypox cases rise to 31 in Nigeria

By XINHUA

An illustration of the monkeypox virus. /CFP

Confirmed cases of monkeypox in Nigeria have risen to 31 as more cases were reported across the most populous African country, a report by health authorities said.

In its latest monkeypox situation report, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said the country has recorded since January 110 suspected cases in total and 31 confirmed cases from 12 states.

A monkeypox national emergency operations center was activated in May in response to the risk assessment conducted, which put Nigeria at high risk for a monkeypox outbreak, said the report.

Symptoms of monkeypox include sudden fever, headache, body pain, weakness, sore throat, enlargement of glands in the neck and under the jaw, followed by the appearance of a rash (often solid or fluid-filled at the onset) on the face, palms, soles of the feet, genitals, and other parts of the body.

The World Health Organization said that the sudden appearance of monkeypox in several countries around the world shows that the virus has been spreading for a while outside of West and Central African countries, where it is usually found

Ethiopia launches new COVID-19 vaccination drive as infection rates spike

By XINHUA

Elders receive coronavirus vaccines at Kazanches Health Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on April 14, 2021. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Ethiopian government has launched a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign to boost the country’s vaccination rate and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

State media reported Saturday that the number of infected people entering intensive care units has been increasing over the past month in Ethiopia citing State Minister of Health Dereje Duguma.

Lax precautionary measures among citizens and the dynamic nature of the virus have both contributed to the spike in infections over recent weeks, Duguma said.

Ethiopia has already administered nearly 30 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in a country that about 120 million people call home.

BioNTech to soon start construction on mRNA vaccine factory in Rwanda

By Reuters

A photo taken in March 2021 shows the logo on the facade of the manufacturing site of German company BioNTech in Marburg, central Germany. /AFP

COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech said construction of an mRNA vaccine factory to enable African nations to jump-start their own manufacturing network would start on June 23 in Rwanda.

The German company’s modular factory elements, to be assembled in Africa to so-called BioNTainers, would be delivered to the Kigali construction site by the end of 2022.

The company, which developed the western world’s most widely used COVID-19 shot with U.S. partner Pfizer earlier this year mapped out a plan to enable African countries to produce its Comirnaty-branded shot under BioNTech’s supervision.

The company has said that the initial vaccine factory, made from an assembly kit and housed in shipping containers, would over the next few years become part of a wider supply network spanning several African nations including Senegal and South Africa.

The project push comes as Western-made coronavirus vaccine doses finally arrive in force on the continent, after a much criticised delay.