The unprecedented speed of development of the Covid-19 vaccines can be attributed to multiple factors including record levels of international collaboration and swift action on the part of many governments and regulatory bodies to provide a conducive framework.
As every nation across the globe faced impending economic doom, massive cross-sector funding materialised, allowing large-scale phased trials to be performed in parallel (multiple phases run simultaneously).
The accumulation of knowledge from decades of study on related viruses, including research which started after the SARS outbreaks of 2002 -2004, and the advent of mRNA-based vaccine technology further assisted in ensuring a swift response to halting the spread of the deadly virus.
The potential for factors that enabled the Covid-19 vaccines’ swift development to expedite other vaccine efforts on the continent as well as the safety, efficacy, and uptake of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines in Africa will be key themes at this year’s Africa Health Conference, where participants like Epidemiologist and Cochrane SA Director, Professor Charles Shey Wiysonge, and Vaccine Specialist, Dr Geofrey Makenga, will address these important topics.
Among the permanent changes expected to be ushered in by the current pandemic, is the widespread uptake of the mRNA-based vaccines which have revolutionised vaccinology in recent times.
Unlike biotechnically complex protein-based vaccines, mRNA-based products can be nimbly manufactured for multiple diseases within the same facility, significantly decreasing the capex requirements for each new project. Similarly, the adenoviral vector technologies used in the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines are revolutionising the vaccines industry.
While manufacturing capacity on the African continent is lagging, experts are quick to highlight the importance of achieving self-reliance by building local vaccine-manufacture capacity.
“Aspen’s Private-Public Partnership with the SA Department of Health to manufacture Johnson & Johnson vaccines from their flagship facility in Gqeberha, for example, is a hugely promising initiative”, says Prof Wiysonge.
It is however worth noting that, under the current agreement with J&J, the Aspen facility is doing ‘fill and finish’ (packaging and preparing the vaccines for release), on medicines largely produced outside of Africa.
Dr Makenga adds that as a continent we cannot relax until the vaccines are fully produced on African soil and urges Aspen and their collaborators to speed up the process for technology transfer and commence establishment of local facilities where active ingredients can be formulated and produced.
“A successful technology transfer will also secure capabilities for production of other vaccines post pandemic,” he says.
A future pandemic-proofed vaccine paradigm in Africa revolves around more than just financing. Budgetary backing is a must, and private-public partnerships will continue to be essential, but even greater potential lies in harnessing the synergy of government health departments, big pharmaceutical R&D, and medical research institutions.
Another promising example is BioVac in Cape Town. The result of a partnership between government and a pharmaceutical company, the institute is dedicated to bolstering local vaccine manufacturing capacity.
The African Union COVID-19 vaccination strategy aims to vaccinate a minimum of 60% of Africa’s population based on a whole-of-Africa approach. This is being facilitated by initiatives like the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), a centralised purchasing agent.
Makenga says that with such structures in place, international finance facilities, in conjunction with civil society bodies like Covax (a collaboration led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization) stand to make great strides in ensuring vaccine availability.
“With assistance from non-for-profit international organizations, funding for investment could be secured for the development of other vaccines too, but only with strong political will from African countries,” he says.
Figures released by the African CDC, reveal low vaccination rates in most countries, with some countries having not yet received any vaccines at all. Furthermore, in many places the vaccines that have been acquired have been underused due to difficulties in delivery to local dispensing facilities, as well as storage challenges, and low ratios of HCWs.
According to Professor Charles Shey Wiysonge, the overall uptake of the vaccines on the continent has varied greatly from country to country and during different times throughout the pandemic.
“Seychelles for example has now achieved a vaccination coverage of close to 70%,” he remarks.
He observes that vaccine hesitancy has also been a challenge in some African countries and believes that the solution is to empower people with knowledge and education around the science of what vaccines are, and how they actually work.
Both experts agree that the technological advances in vaccine manufacture for Covid-19 bode well for adaptation for other diseases vexing the continent.
“I am optimistic that the Covid-19 pandemic will usher in a new era for Africa in which innovations in therapeutics and diagnostics is the norm,” concludes Wiysonge.
Novo Nordisk has contracted Aspen Pharmacare to produce human insulin on its behalf in South Africa for export to African countries through a low-cost government tender system, the Danish drugmaker said on Tuesday, 20 September.
Announcing the deal on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Novo said the contract would lead to the production of 16 million vials of insulin next year, marking its “expanded commitment” to improving access to life-saving insulin to people living with diabetes in Africa.
Novo said the amount that Aspen will produce next year under the contract equated to the yearly consumption of 1.1 million people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, adding that it currently reaches 500,000 people with diabetes across sub-Saharan Africa.
By 2026, the amount of insulin produced will equate to the yearly consumption of 4.1 million people across the continent, it said.
Aspen said in a separate statement that it would manufacture the vials at its existing sterile facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, and that approximately 250 staff would be deployed for the production which will begin early next year.
The contract underscores Aspen’s commitment to manufacturing medicines in Africa to serve patients on the continent, Aspen’s chief operations officer Lorraine Hill said.
“Especially in lower and middle income countries, diabetes is fundamentally a tragedy,” Katrine DiBona, Novo’s corporate vice president for global public affairs and sustainability, said in an interview. She cited a company estimate that 60 million people globally need insulin but cannot access it.
Novo became Europe’s most valuable company earlier this month on booming sales of its obesity and type 2 diabetes drugs. It currently has a market capitalisation of about $420bn.
Novo said the Aspen-produced insulin would be distributed to health authorities and non-governmental organisations through a tender system with a guaranteed ceiling price of $3 per vial. It did not release further financial details about the contract.
The deal could help Aspen, Africa’s biggest drugmaker, utilise the manufacturing capacity it built during the Covid-19 pandemic. Aspen invested about $540m to expand facilities in South Africa and France, but orders for its vaccine failed to materialise.
That left the increased capacities loss-making, Aspen’s chief executive officer said last month after the company announced it had finally secured agreements with three global companies to produce their drugs at its French facility.
Novo chose Aspen as its partner due to its credibility as a drug manufacturer, DiBona said.
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Living on the edge of wetlands on the Italian island of Sardinia, Anna Rita Cocco is mourning the loss of her elderly father who died in a coma within weeks of a fatal mosquito bite.
“My father was full of life and used to walk for miles each day. I was expecting him to die at some point, but not suffering like that, taken from me by a mosquito,” she said her late father, Bernardino, who died aged 80.
Italy was only declared malaria-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1970, but now other lesser-known mosquito- or tick-borne diseases are on the rise.
A complex mix of global warming, changes in land use and more movement of people and goods are contributing to the spread of illnesses – such as dengue or Lyme disease – to new regions in a worsening trend, the U.N. panel of scientists says.
Migratory birds infected by mosquitoes and flying over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Senegal in west Africa have been identified as carriers of the West Nile virus that killed Cocco’s father in Sardinia, where summers are becoming hotter.
The Mediterranean island, and northern areas of Italy where the virus is also spreading, are both suffering more extreme events of floods and droughts.
Abundant water helps mosquitoes to breed, while more drought and fewer trees constrict the migratory birds’ ecosystems, forcing them into closer contact with each other, enabling some diseases to spread.
“People don’t seem to be aware of the threat,” said Cocco.
HABITAT CHANGES IN SENEGAL
Epidemiologists identify habitat change as one of the main factors behind the intercontinental leap of the West Nile virus.
First identified in 1937 in the West Nile region of Uganda, the disease has spread within Africa and to other continents. Almost 3,000 people have died in the United States alone since a first outbreak in New York in 1999.
In the red clay houses of Maka Diama village in northwest Senegal, women make soap from plants that grow in a nearby river, which they sell to tourists and local hotels, and cook rice grown in surrounding paddy fields.
Recent years have seen huge changes in this wetland region teeming with crocodiles and migratory birds, most notably a leap in rice production, driven by government efforts to reduce Senegal’s reliance on imported rice.
Barrages built near the coast to retain and safeguard freshwater supplies from salty sea water have slowed river flows, and fertilisers used for rice paddies have encouraged the growth of river plants.
This push for greater food self-sufficiency has tripled rice production to 1.3 million tonnes over a decade. But changes in land use have upset the delicate wetland habitats, helping mosquitoes which lay eggs in stagnant water.
“There are so many mosquitoes here these days,” said Arame Diop, one of the village soap-makers. “Far more than there used to be.” Diop’s family already sleep under mosquito nets to avoid malaria, which is endemic in Senegal.
Assane Gueye Fall, an entomologist at the National Livestock and Veterinary Research Laboratory in the capital, Dakar, said Senegal’s policies sought to improve food and water security.
“But to solve a problem, they created another,” he said of what he called the “explosion of mosquitoes” and of disease.
CARRIED ON A WING
The long-distance carriers of West Nile are birds that receive the virus from bites by infected mosquitoes and then fly on their migratory routes, to be bitten once more by mosquitoes that then spread illness to people and other animals, mainly horses.
Flamingos, herons, storks and birds of prey are among many migratory species found in the wetlands of the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Maka Diama.
Navigating his boat slowly, captain Ibrahima Ndao, the park conservationist, explained how abrupt changes in land use are impacting the wetlands. Pelicans are swooping all around, catching fish for their young.
“There has been a significant expansion of paddy fields around the reservoir. But we have to make sure that the birds’ environment is preserved,” he said.
“If the space of their environment is reduced it’s easier for illnesses to spread,” said Ndao, pointing out increased growth of plants along the banks, including those used by the women of Maka Diama to make soap.
Ndao stressed the importance of a “one-health approach” that looks at human and animal health as one issue.
In the capital Dakar, Babacar Ngor Youm, head of Senegal’s National Parks within the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, said “political choices” must be made to raise food production despite risks of harmful side-effects.
Food sovereignty is necessary “as the Ukraine war showed,” he said, referring to a rise in world food prices after Russia invaded its neighbour.
“With urbanisation comes deforestation … and if there’s less space for the birds, illnesses spread more quickly,” said Youm, who previously worked on an outbreak of avian flu in Djoudj park.
As in Europe, Senegal is also losing natural habitats through desertification exacerbated by climate change, forcing animals into closer contact with human communities.
BRIDGING THE KNOWLEDGE GAP
Vector-borne diseases – such as malaria, dengue, Zika, yellow fever and West Nile – are seen by WHO as an increased threat in Africa, potentially affecting over 800 million people, some 70% of the population.
West Nile virus has gained a foothold in an increasing number of countries, from Australia to Venezuela.
Because it is easy to confuse West Nile with a generic flu or other mosquito-borne illnesses, patients rarely get tested.
As a result, the impact of the virus in Africa is virtually unknown. Local populations also build resistance to the disease. With little information, it is also difficult to build models of how it might spread in Europe and elsewhere.
West Nile is often asymptomatic or mild, but one out of 150 people who contract the virus can develop severe neurological complication including meningitis, paralysis and even death.
In 2022, 12 European nations reported 1,335 locally acquired cases of West Nile virus – with a few others brought in by international travellers – and 104 deaths. It was the highest number of cases since a peak of more than 1,500 in 2018.
Italy suffered most in the European Union in 2022 with 51 deaths, ahead of 33 in Greece and five in Romania, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
A public health campaign is alerting people, and authorities are stepping up tests of birds and mosquitoes.
The main vector is the mosquito Culex, but what makes West Nile potentially endemic is that it can be transmitted by more than 50 species of mosquito and by ticks, said entomologist Fall in Dakar. By contrast, dengue, for example, relies on one or two species.
There is no West Nile vaccine available for humans, although one has been developed for horses.
“The expansion of West Nile cannot be stopped,” said Fall. “This is why we need collaborative research between Africa and Europe.”
“And prevention in animals and in humans must be considered as one.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) is ramping up efforts to save lives and prevent cholera transmission in Somalia.
In its weekly update on cholera, the WHO disclosed that starting from the first week of 2023, there were a total of 11,704 suspected cholera cases recorded in Somalia. 30 people died.
235 new suspected cases with no associated death were reported in late July from the 28 drought-affected districts.
To combat the outbreak, the WHO and its health partners escalated the implementation of cholera response measures. Much of the work is taking place in Jubaland State, the current epicenter of the outbreak.
The WHO declared in May that Covid is no longer a global health emergency
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
The number of new Covid-19 cases reported worldwide rose by 80 percent in the last month, the World Health Organization said on Friday, days after designating a new “variant of interest”.
The WHO declared in May that Covid is no longer a global health emergency, but has warned that the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, causing occasional spikes in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
In its weekly update, the UN agency said that nations reported nearly 1.5 million new cases from July 10 to August 6, an 80 percent increase compared to the previous 28 days.
However the number of deaths fell by 57 percent to 2,500.
The WHO warned that the reported number of cases and deaths do not reflect the true numbers, in part because countries carry out far less testing and monitoring than during earlier stages of the pandemic.
Many of the new cases came in the Western Pacific region, which saw infections jump by 137 percent, the WHO said.
Several countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and Japan have seen a summer uptick in cases in recent weeks.
Experts have suggested that summer gatherings and travel, declining immunity and a new subvariant may have all played a role in the increase.
On Wednesday, the WHO designated the Omicron subvariant EG.5 as a “variant of interest” following a steady rise in its prevalence.
More than 17 percent of all reported cases were EG.5 in mid-July, up from 7.6 percent a month before, according to the WHO.
– Subvariant poses ‘low’ risk –
EG.5, which has been unofficially nicknamed “Eris” online, is considered to be a descendant of the XBB lineage of the virus.
It seems to be more transmissible than other circulating variants, likely due to a mutation in its spike protein, and the WHO said it has shown an ability to evade immunity.
But there is no sign that EG.5 causes more severe Covid symptoms and it poses a “low” risk to global public health, the WHO said, comparing its threat to other recent Omicron subvariants.
Nonetheless, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that “the risk remains of a more dangerous variant emerging that could cause a sudden increase in cases and deaths”.
France’s Health Minister Aurelien Rousseau called for vigilance, while emphasising that Covid numbers remain at low levels.
“We will have to live with the resurgence of this virus for several seasons to come,” he said in a statement sent to AFP.
Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the true Covid situation remained unclear “just about everywhere in the world”.
“Health authorities urgently need to reinstate a reliable Covid health monitoring system,” he said, calling for wastewater to be analysed to detect virus trends.
While the impact of Covid has been greatly diminished due to high levels immunity from either vaccination or prior infection, the virus still poses a threat — including long Covid, for which symptoms can last for months or years.
The WHO has urged countries to ramp up vaccination efforts.
Pharmaceutical firms Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax are all working on updating their Covid vaccines to target XBB subvariants.
Xinhua , Wednesday 2 Aug 2023
The heads of UN food and agriculture agencies wrapped up a three-day visit to South Sudan Tuesday, calling for increased investments in the country to avoid a catastrophic food crisis.
The heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Program (WFP), warned that the cost of inaction in addressing South Sudan’s complex food, climate, and insecurity crises will be felt in the loss of lives, livelihoods and futures for millions of people across the young nation.
Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general, said South Sudan has the potential to be the breadbasket of East Africa, but the climate crisis, poor agriculture infrastructure, instability, and economic shocks continue to disrupt agricultural and livestock productivity and food availability. “Investments and enabling policies that will improve on longer-term food security, resilience and climate adaptation are urgently needed,” Qu said in a joint statement issued in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
The three heads of the UN agencies including president of IFAD Alvaro Lario, and the executive director of WFP Cindy McCain visited communities who are grappling with the effects of severe weather events, which, coupled with a lack of infrastructure, are worsening the country’s humanitarian crisis, threatening farms and agro-pastoral livelihoods, and displacing communities.
Lario said South Sudan is a young country, full of potential, but right now families are relying on subsistence agriculture. According to Lario, with only 4 percent of farmland being cultivated, and 80 percent of its young people living in rural areas, there is an enormous opportunity to grow and develop agriculture and the food sector more generally.
“To do this we need to mobilize massive investments and implement best practices to combat food insecurity and adapt to climate change. This will also greatly improve rural employment. But we need to act now,” he added.
McCain said conflict, climate change, and soaring costs in South Sudan are causing some of the highest levels of hunger in the world.
“But just handing out food isn’t the solution. We must break the cycle and empower communities to plant the seeds of hope, opportunity, and economic development. With peace and stability, the potential of South Sudan is incredible,” McCain said.
“However, WFP doesn’t even have the resources needed to feed those who are hungry today – we need the world to step up.”
The UN said the humanitarian emergency in South Sudan is caused by a combination of conflict, climate, and soaring food and fuel prices.
And the situation is compounded by fighting in Sudan which has led to more than 190,000 people fleeing across the border to South Sudan, further straining already scarce resources.
During the visit, a new five-year partnership agreement was also signed to renew inter-agency cooperation which will see the agencies deepen their collaboration and coordination at global, regional and country levels to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger.
Under the agreement, the three Rome-based agencies will work on agrifood systems transformation, nutrition, gender equality and women’s empowerment, resilience-building youth, and climate change.
By Rédaction Africanews with AP
The Rwandan government and the African Union Commission (AUC) on Saturday concluded agreements for the establishment of the headquarters of the first ever African Medicines Agency in Kigali.
On 10 June, Rwanda signed an agreement with the African Union to host the headquarters of the African Medicines Agency in Kigali.
The signing comes just a few days after the Rwandan authorities officially agreed to host the AMA’s headquarters on their territory.
In 2019, the African countries adopted the treaty establishing the Agency, which came into force in 2021.
Its creation is part of the African Union’s strategy to reduce the continent’s dependence on pharmaceutical products supplied by foreign countries.
Africa imports 97% of the pharmaceutical products it needs.
The agency should regulate and harmonize this market on the continent, encourage production in Africa and counter the traffic in counterfeit medicines.
For Minata Samaté Cessouma, AU Commissioner for Health, Africa must prepare for other pandemics after Covid-19, and the agency’s objective will be to propose “African solutions”.
More than four years after the adoption in 2019 of the treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency, this is a first step towards making this new African Union body operational, according to the Rwandan Minister of Health, Sabin Nsanzimana.
Staff recruitment will be discussed in ten days’ time, again in Kigali, during the second extraordinary session of the 23 States that have ratified the treaty establishing the agency.
June 8, 2023
NAIROBI, June 7 (Reuters) – Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has tested positive for COVID-19, is in good health and will continue his duties, while getting treatment, a senior health ministry official said late on Wednesday.
“Today …the President tested positive for COVID-19. This was after developing mild flu-like symptoms. However he is in robust heath and continues to perform his duties normally while adhering to SOPs,” Diane Atwine, permanent secretary at the health ministry, said on Twitter, referring to standard operating procedures for handling COVID cases.
Earlier on Wednesday after giving a State of the Nation address at the parliament’s grounds, Museveni, 78, gave a first hint that he may have contracted COVID, saying in the morning he had felt a slight cold, prompting him to request COVID tests.
He said two of three tests he had done were negative, and he was waiting for the outcome of another.
“So I am a suspect of corona and I am standing here. That is why you saw me coming in separate cars with Mama,” Museveni said, referring to the First Lady Janet Museveni, who accompanied him to parliament.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda had among Africa’s toughest containment measures that included curfews, businesses and school closures, the shutting of borders and other steps.
It fully reopened in February 2022.
During the pandemic, Museveni, who is vaccinated against COVID, was always been seen in public wearing a mask and has always conducted his official duties while social distancing and would often be seen seated alone in a tent on the lawn of his office when meeting visitors.
Reporting by George Obulutsa Editing by Marguerita Choy
Xinhua , Tuesday 23 May 2023
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Monday that children in the Horn of Africa face an unprecedented crisis that includes hunger, displacement, water shortages, and insecurity.
Over 7 million children under five continue to suffer from malnutrition, necessitating urgent nutrition aid. According to UNICEF, 1.9 million boys and girls are at risk of dying from severe malnutrition.
The region is slowly recovering from one of the worst droughts in 40 years. As a result of insufficient rainfall over the course of the last three years, vulnerable communities have lost cattle, crops, and their entire livelihoods.
“The crisis in the Horn has been devastating for children,” said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“Over the past three years, communities have been forced to take extreme measures to survive, with millions of children and families leaving their homes out of pure desperation in search of food and water. This crisis has deprived children of the essentials of childhood, having enough to eat, a home, safe water, and going to school.”
Across the region, 23 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
The number of severely malnourished children seeking treatment in the first quarter of this year remains much higher than last year and will likely remain high for quite a while.
On top of nutrition needs, extreme weather, insecurity, and scarcity have also had devastating consequences for women and children, worsening the risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.
Major outbreaks including cholera, measles, malaria, and other diseases are ongoing across the region, worsened by extreme weather conditions and fragile health systems.
Food prices remain high in local markets, burdening children and families. The climate crisis is compounding the severity of the situation, worsening mass displacement, malnutrition, and disease.
Fall underlined the need for greater funding. Thanks to donor support, UNICEF was able to provide services for the prevention of malnutrition to over 30 million children and mothers in 2022.
“This year, further flexible funding will not just help children recover from a crisis of this magnitude, but also go towards developing more resilient, sustainable systems for children in the region, that can withstand future climate impacts and other shocks,” he said.
AP , Wednesday 17 May 2023
Doctors in Nigerian public hospitals on Wednesday kicked off a five-day strike to demand better conditions, leading to health care being shut for many patients.
The strike by the resident doctors became necessary after the government’s refusal to increase their salaries and pay arrears owed some of their members as well as to invest more in hospitals, according to Dr. Innocent Orji, president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, or NARD.
Although the current work stoppage doesn’t affect specialist doctors or nurses, medical residents make up the bulk of health care workers in Nigerian government hospitals.
Such strikes are also common with the public health sector lacking sufficient funding for many years despite the country’s huge earnings as Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer.
Critics, meanwhile, point to the vast disparity between the government hospitals treating most Nigerians and the medical care abroad that is available to the country’s elite, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who often travels to the UK for medical care.
Amid Nigeria’s current economic crisis, the doctors in April threatened to go on strike but “we have not seen any positive sign from the government,” Orji told The Associated Press.
“The government has not called us to the negotiation table. Instead, what we have been getting is threats upon threats,” he said, adding that the warning strike could be extended if talks with the government fail to improve.