COVID-19 Sets Back Progress in Effort to Eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases

The World Health Organization reports the COVID-19 pandemic has set back years of gains made in efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases, a diverse group of 20 illnesses that disproportionately affect impoverished communities in tropical areas….

The World Health Organization reports the COVID-19 pandemic has set back years of gains made in efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases, a diverse group of 20 illnesses that disproportionately affect impoverished communities in tropical areas.

Neglected tropical diseases affect 1.7 billion people globally. Forty percent are in Africa, a continent that encompasses most of the 10 high burden countries in the world.

Over the past decade, the World Health Organization reports great progress has been made in the treatment of many of these life-threatening and debilitating diseases. It notes 42 countries around the world have eliminated at least one disease.

However, Mwelecele Malecela, director of WHO’s department of control of neglected tropical diseases says she fears a lot of this good work could be undone because of the negative impact of COVID-19.

She says the pandemic has caused disruptions and delays in NTD services. She says mass treatment campaigns, surveys of affected areas, and the transport and delivery of medicines have been interrupted.

“All the efforts that have been done to control neglected tropical diseases, to bring about elimination in most of the affected countries, will be reversed if the focus is not kept, a good focus on surveillance, a good focus on continued interventions in some of the countries which are nearing elimination,” said Malecela.

WHO reports Guinea Worm disease is on the cusp of eradication, with only 27 human cases reported in six African countries last year. In 1986, about 3.5 million human cases occurred annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.

WHO says Yaws, a chronic skin infection is a disease that can be eradicated in the Indian sub-continent. Malecela cites several other success stories.

“In terms of elimination of trachoma, we have Morocco, we have Ghana and more recently, we have Gambia,” said Malecela. “We have the elimination of lymphatic filariasis in Togo and in Malawi…In Yemen, which is outside Africa in the middle east, we have eliminated lymphatic filariasis under very difficult conditions. But they have managed to do it and that has been a very impressive feat.”

At the end of January, WHO formally launched a new road map aimed at driving progress towards a world free of NTDs by 2030. Health officials consider the road map a key piece in ensuring countries build back better after COVID-19 by focusing on resilience and strengthening health systems.

Source: Voice of America

Uganda Strives to Keep COVID-19 Out of Refugee Population

Uganda’s refugee population has reported no cases of COVID-19. In Bidibidi settlement, Yumbe district, the refugee leaders are working tirelessly to maintain the status quo.In Bangatuti village, Bidibidi settlement, four refugee welfare council members…

Uganda’s refugee population has reported no cases of COVID-19. In Bidibidi settlement, Yumbe district, the refugee leaders are working tirelessly to maintain the status quo.

In Bangatuti village, Bidibidi settlement, four refugee welfare council members meet to discuss their awareness message to the community.

When COVID-19 broke out in Uganda in March 2020, the Ugandan government quickly shut its door to new refugees, including those from South Sudan, to curb the spread of the disease caused by the coronavirus. According to the Johns Hopkins University, Uganda currently has more than 42,600 confirmed infections and 347 deaths.

Data Kenyi, a refugee welfare council member, says since then, the refugees have been closely monitored.

“We tell them, to observe the social distancing, hand washing. Let me say, just the SOPs [Standard operating procedures] put in place. There is no high rate infection in the settlement. Whoever came new, has to go for 14 days quarantine. From there, then they will join the community and be safe,” said Kenyi.

In the Ugandan refugee settlements, the markets, schools and health centers that are in zones closer to the local community are open to both refugees and locals. This can be a catalyst for the spread of COVID-19 if the refugees are not checked.

Uganda has prioritized front-line health workers for the vaccine that is being administered around the country. At Abirimajio market, which is open to refugees, Neva Rukia says she has heard on radio about people getting vaccinated and is wondering when they will be considered.

She says, “They say that if you have not attained the age of 50, you won’t get vaccinated.” She also says, “I’m 32 years and they say I don’t qualify for the vaccination. Am I not at risk of being infected?”

On Sunday, under a grass thatched mud and wattle church, more than 100 members of a Protestant church congregation sat attentively, listening to the priest. Many of them were women and children, some with masks and others without.

Esther Luma, the church lay reader, explains the challenges facing the community. The church leader is a refugee, and the congregation consists of all refugees.

“We don’t have money for buying sanitizer and masks. Of course, the church has no budget. Even the facility for washing hands is also difficult for us to get,” she said.

Uganda is home to 1.4 million refugees. U.N. partners such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they will continue to urge to Uganda to reopen its borders, but this may not happen until the east African country builds adequate capacity to test and quarantine new variants of the coronavirus.

Source: Voice of America

CDC Issues Mask, Distancing Guidance for Students

When schools in the United States open this fall, students from kindergarten through 12th grade should wear masks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday, as it refines its guidance against the coronavirus.Because not every s…

When schools in the United States open this fall, students from kindergarten through 12th grade should wear masks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday, as it refines its guidance against the coronavirus.

Because not every student will not be fully vaccinated, the CDC says masks should be worn while riding buses and while inside schools. It also urges students and teachers to remain 2 meters of social distancing.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved earlier this month for children, ages 12 and older.

Just days ago, on Thursday, the agency announced that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear a mask, for the most part.

Surge sweeps rural India

India reported its smallest daily gain in COVID-19 cases in nearly three weeks Saturday, continuing a trend that began last week as the government warns of an overwhelming surge sweeping across rural areas.

India’s health ministry reported 326,098 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period and 3,890 COVID deaths.

Federal health officials in India said at a briefing the overall rate of infections fell to 19.8% this week from 21.9% the week before.

But the virus continues to spread aggressively to rural areas, where two-thirds of the country’s 1.4 billion people live.

Amid news reports of sick people in rural areas being rushed to towns and cities for treatment, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered his government to mobilize all resources to distribute oxygen supplies and other medical aid to hard-hit rural areas.

Virus flares in Taiwan

In Taiwan, Taipei and New Taipei City are on a Level 3 alert, one level short of a full lockdown, following a surge of 180 COVID-19 cases. The new infections bring Taiwan’s total cases to just under 1,500. The Level 3 alert requires mandatory mask wearing outdoors and restricts the size of social gatherings.

Taiwan has been hailed as a pandemic success story because it had not had any new cases in months. So, when the number of new cases took a triple digit jump Saturday, mostly in the two cities, officials acted.

“The epidemic is gaining intensity,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters at a briefing Saturday.

Lockdown in Caribbean

A surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths is prompting a state of emergency and curfew beginning early Sunday in Trinidad and Tobago. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the twin island state has seen 2,659 new cases of COVID-19 and 69 new deaths in the past week. Both are records.

Health officials say the variant first found in Brazil, which is highly transmissible, is partly to blame. More than 61,000 shots have gone into arms in Trinidad and Tobago, but only 1,179 people are fully vaccinated.

Only the U.S. has recorded more total COVID-19 cases than India. According to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. has more than 32.9 million infections, while India has nearly 24.4 million. Public health officials, however, believe that India has undercounted its cases. Johns Hopkins reports the global count of COVID-19 cases is more than 162,000,000.

Source: Voice of America

Heart Study: Low- and Regular-Dose Aspirin Prove Safe, Effective

An unusual study that had thousands of heart disease patients enroll themselves and track their health online as they took low- or regular-strength aspirin concluded that both doses seem equally safe and effective for preventing additional heart proble…

An unusual study that had thousands of heart disease patients enroll themselves and track their health online as they took low- or regular-strength aspirin concluded that both doses seem equally safe and effective for preventing additional heart problems and strokes.

But there’s a big caveat: People had such a strong preference for the lower dose that it’s unclear if the results can establish that the treatments are truly equivalent, some independent experts said. Half who were told to take the higher dose took the lower one instead or quit using aspirin altogether.

“Patients basically decided for themselves” what they wanted to take because they bought the aspirin on their own, said Dr. Salim Virani, a cardiologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who had no role in the study.

Still, the results show there’s little reason to take the higher dose, 325 milligrams, which many doctors assumed would work better than 81-milligram “baby aspirin,” he said.

Results were published Saturday by The New England Journal of Medicine and discussed at an American College of Cardiology conference.

Who benefits from it

Aspirin helps prevent blood clots, but it’s not recommended for healthy people who have not yet developed heart disease because it carries a risk of bleeding. Its benefits are clear, though, for folks who have had a heart attack, bypass surgery or clogged arteries requiring a stent.

But the best dose isn’t known, and the study aimed to compare them in a real-world setting. The study was funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, created under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, to help patients make informed decisions about health care.

About 15,000 people received invitations to join through the mail, email or a phone call and enrolled on a website where they returned every three to six months for follow-up. A network of participating health centers supplied medical information on participants from their electronic records and insurance claims.

The participants were randomly assigned to take low- or regular-dose aspirin, which they bought over the counter. Nearly all were taking aspirin before the study began and 85% were already on a low dose, so “it was an uphill task right from the get-go” to persuade people to use the dose they were told, Virani said.

After roughly two years, about 7% of each group had died or been hospitalized for a heart attack or a stroke. Safety results also were similar — less than 1% had major bleeding requiring hospitalization and a transfusion.

Many switched

Nearly 41% of those assigned to take the higher dose switched at some point to the lower one, and that high rate “could have obscured a true difference” in safety or effectiveness, Colin Baigent, a medical scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, wrote in a commentary in the medical journal.

One study leader, Dr. Schuyler Jones of Duke University, said the study still provides valuable guidance. If patients are taking low-dose aspirin now, “staying on that dose instead of switching is the right choice,” he said. People doing well on 325 milligrams now may want to continue on that and should talk with their doctors if they have any concerns.

For new patients, “in general, we’re going to recommend starting the low dose,” Jones said.

Virani said people must remember that aspirin is a medicine and that even though it’s sold over the counter, patients shouldn’t make decisions on its use by themselves.

“Don’t change the dose or stop without talking to someone,” he warned. “This is important, especially for a therapy like aspirin.”

Source: Voice of America

India COVID Variant Spreads to Nearly 50 Countries

A day after declaring the COVID-19 variant first detected in India as one of global concern, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday that the variant has spread to 49 countries. The U.N. health agency’s new concern about the B.1.617 variant…

A day after declaring the COVID-19 variant first detected in India as one of global concern, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday that the variant has spread to 49 countries.

The U.N. health agency’s new concern about the B.1.617 variant comes as India recorded 4,205 COVID-19 deaths, a new one-day record that pushed the South Asian nation’s overall death toll from the pandemic past the 250,000 mark. India’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections is now above 23 million after the Health Ministry reported 348,421 new cases on Wednesday.

A surge of new infections in the world’s second most-populous country has created a humanitarian disaster there, with hospitals filled to capacity and an acute shortage of oxygen to treat the sick, with scores of makeshift crematories rushing to burn the dead. Experts believe the actual casualty figures are much higher than the official figures.

The situation took an unsettling turn this week after more than 100 bodies were found floating in the Ganges River.

Images of bodies floating in the river sparked anger and speculation they died from COVID-19. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of death of the bodies, but some medical experts have voiced concern that the coronavirus can be spread through contaminated water.

The situation in India is one reason the International Federation of the Red Cross says coronavirus cases have “exploded” across Asia in the past two weeks.

The global relief agency said Wednesday the region saw 5.9 million new infections during that period — more than in the Americas, Europe and Africa combined. Seven out of 10 countries that are doubling their infection numbers the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific.

Alexander Matheou, the IFRC’s Asia Pacific director, called for “greater global cooperation” in providing “lifesaving resources, medical equipment, vaccines and money” where they are needed to help people most at risk.

“We’re only safe when everyone is safe,” Matheou said.

Taiwan

Meanwhile, Taiwan health authorities are considering raising its coronavirus alert level after the discovery of 16 new locally transmitted cases.

Taiwan is currently under second of a four-level alert scale, which limits large-scale indoor events to just 100 people and outdoor events to 500 until June 8. A move to Level 3 would create a near-lockdown on the island, with all non-essential businesses forced to close and residents required to wear a face covering.

Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung told a legislative session Wednesday that the current outbreak was “not a joke.”

President Tsai Ing-wen urged Taiwanese not to panic during a televised address Wednesday, but warned that “the challenge at this moment is still severe.”

Taiwan has been one of the world’s biggest success stories in handling the pandemic, recording just 1,210 confirmed COVID-19 infections and just 12 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The island imposed strict restrictions on overseas visitors and strict quarantine measures at the start of the outbreak and created a robust contract tracing system. The majority of confirmed coronavirus infections have been limited to new arrivals held in hotel quarantine.

Source: Voice of America

Internal Emails Reveal WHO Knew of Sex Abuse Claims in Congo

When Shekinah was working as a nurse’s aide in northeastern Congo in January 2019, she said, she was offered a job from a World Health Organization doctor at double her salary — in exchange for sex. “Given the financial difficulties of my family … I ac…

When Shekinah was working as a nurse’s aide in northeastern Congo in January 2019, she said, she was offered a job from a World Health Organization doctor at double her salary — in exchange for sex.

“Given the financial difficulties of my family … I accepted,” said Shekinah, 25, who asked that only her first name be used for fear of repercussions. She said the Canadian doctor, Boubacar Diallo, who often bragged about his connections to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made the same proposition to several of her friends.

When a staffer and three Ebola experts working in Congo informed WHO management about sex abuse concerns regarding Diallo, they were told not to take the matter further, The Associated Press has found.

WHO has been facing widespread public allegations of systemic abuse of women by unnamed staffers, to which Tedros declared outrage and emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said, “We have no more information than you have.” However, an AP investigation has now found that despite its public denial of knowledge, senior WHO management wasn’t only informed of alleged sexual misconduct in 2019 but was asked how to handle it.

The AP has also for the first time tracked down the names of two doctors accused of sexual misconduct, Diallo and Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, both of whom were reported to WHO.

Ngandu was accused by a young woman of impregnating her. In a notarized contract obtained by the AP, two WHO staffers, including a manager, signed as witnesses to an agreement for Ngandu to pay the young woman, cover her health costs and buy her land. The deal was made “to protect the integrity and reputation” of WHO, Ngandu said.

When reached by the AP, both Diallo and Ngandu denied wrongdoing. The investigation was based on interviews with dozens of WHO staffers, Ebola officials in Congo, private emails, legal documents and recordings of internal meetings obtained by the AP.

Eight top officials privately acknowledged WHO failed to effectively tackle sex abuse during the Ebola outbreak, according to emails, recordings of internal meetings, legal documents and interviews with dozens of aid workers and WHO staffers. WHO declined to comment on any specific sex abuse allegations or how they were managed and said it had taken steps to address the problem.

“We are aware that more work is needed to achieve our vision of emergency operations that serve the vulnerable while protecting them from all forms of abuse,” WHO spokeswoman Marcia Poole said in an email.

WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan acknowledged in internal meetings that sexual abuse problems during the agency’s outbreak responses were unlikely to be exceptional.

“You can’t just pin this and say you have one field operation that went badly wrong,” he said. “This is in some sense the tip of an iceberg.”

As WHO struggled to control spiraling Ebola cases in Congo in early 2019, emergency operations manager Dr. Michel Yao received an email with the subject line: “Private. Chat.”

“We cannot afford to have people tarnishing the sweat and effort of individuals sacrificing themselves thru (sic) inappropriate sexual harassment and bullying,” the staffer wrote, saying he was concerned about Diallo.

Yao responded that the matter would be handled, but the staffer said his concerns were dismissed. An internal WHO investigation failed to corroborate the charges, but those who complained about Diallo were not interviewed.

Diallo was described as a charismatic manager with connections to WHO’s senior leaders, including director-general Tedros. On WHO’s website, Tedros, Yao and Diallo are pictured smiling and bumping elbows during one of Tedros’ 14 trips to Congo during the outbreak.

Diallo rejected claims of sexual misconduct.

“I have never offered a woman a job in exchange for sex and I have never sexually harassed a woman in my life,” he told the AP.

In April 2019, Yao received another email detailing more alleged sexual misconduct, this time about the other doctor the AP tracked down, Ngandu.

“I hereby inform you that we have a colleague who has impregnated a girl from Beni,” outbreak manager Mory Keita wrote to Yao. Keita told Yao a young woman and her aunt had come to Beni’s Hotel Okapi looking for WHO managers, with two armed police officers. The woman’s aunt said the young woman had been having an affair with Ngandu and was now pregnant.

They asked WHO to cover the cost of the woman’s medical costs and for money to buy land, “given that Dr. Jean-Paul will abandon the girl and she will be obliged to raise her child alone.”

Keita said he felt that Yao should be informed “so that you would give us your directions for how to better manage this problem.”

One week after the email was sent, Ngandu signed a notarized contract confirming he would pay the young woman $100 a month until her baby was born, cover her pregnancy costs and buy her a plot of land. Keita and Achile Mboko, a WHO human resources staffer, signed as witnesses.

Ngandu said he wasn’t the father of the baby and the deal was a “private matter.” He said he agreed to it after his WHO colleagues, including Keita, “advised me to settle out of court to avoid sullying the reputation of the organization and myself.” The young woman declined to talk to the AP.

It is unclear if Yao reported the abuse allegations to his superiors, as required by WHO protocol. He has since been promoted to be director of WHO Geneva’s Strategic Health Operations Department.

On October 15, Tedros appointed an independent panel to investigate sex abuse during the Ebola outbreak in Congo; no findings are expected until the end of August. At a town hall meeting in November, Ryan acknowledged sex abuse issues had been “neglected” for years.

Back in Congo, Shekinah said she “couldn’t count how many times” she had slept with WHO’s Diallo after accepting a job for which she was not qualified.

“I wanted to quit. But because of my financial problems, I endured it,” she said. Even after they separated, Shekinah said he continued to message her, asking her to send him nude pictures.

Diallo should be punished “for his sexual abuse of all those girls in Beni as a lesson to these international organizations that this should not happen again,” she said. “I would like justice to be done.”

Source: Voice of America