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Pandemic Must End In 2022- WHO chief

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The World Health Organization’s director-general has said that the countries across the globe must work towards ending the pandemic in 2022.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Monday in Geneve, “2022 must be the year we end the pandemic.”

As end-of-year festivities approach, the UN health agency chief said countries should rein in national events linked to the holidays because allowing crowds to gather would be a “perfect platform” for Omicron to spread.

It would be better to cancel events now and celebrate later “than to celebrate now and grieve later,” he added.

Omicron was first reported in South Africa in November and has since been identified in dozens of countries, dashing hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over.

‘Really fast’ spread

The WHO has said the heavily mutated variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

“There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant,” Tedros said, cautioning that the strain appears to have the ability to double its infections every 1.5 to three days.

“That is really fast.”

In addition to increased transmissibility, early data has shown signs of worrying resistance to vaccines.

There have also however been indications that it is sparking less severe symptoms than previous strains, but WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told Monday’s press conference it was “early days to conclude that this is a milder variant.”

She warned that South Africa and other places reporting lower hospitalization rates from Omicron had been hit hard in earlier waves, so many of the Omicron cases may have been reinfections.

“The variant may be behaving differently in people with prior immunity,” she said.

‘End inequity’

Tedros pointed out that regardless of the variant’s severity, “the sheer number of cases… may overwhelm the health system” and more people could die.

More than 5.3 million people have died since the start of the pandemic, though the true toll is believed to be several times higher.

Amid growing concern over Omicron, many governments are scrambling to roll out vaccine booster shots to populations, with early data suggesting that a third dose offers increased protection against the variant.

But the WHO has repeatedly voiced concern that such booster programs could deepen already glaring inequity in vaccine access between wealthy and poorer countries.

Many vulnerable people around the world are still waiting for a first vaccine dose, and the UN health agency has said it is better to prioritize them over providing fully vaccinated health adults with boosters.

“If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity,” Tedros said.

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Science

LEDs Combined With Copper May Help Develop New medicines, Electronics

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Hokkaido University researchers have found a way to use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in combination with a copper-based molecular catalyst to develop a more sustainable way to make key chemical sub-units that have potential uses in pharmaceutical and photo-electronic development.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the scientists explain that the technique they came up with allows them to perform what is known as a cross-coupling reaction, in which two molecules are joined via a carbon-carbon bond.

This is one of the most widely used types of reactions and is essential for creating most of the chemical products used today.

The researchers say that the use of copper—a cheaper and more commonly available metal—as a catalyst for a cross-coupling reaction is a breakthrough in sustainability since this reaction typically relies on the use of precious metals such as palladium.

The new method is also considered advantageous because the copper metal in the molecular catalyst itself absorbs the blue light, rather than needing a separate light-absorbing compound in addition to the catalyst.

This makes the synthesis not only cheaper and simpler to perform, but also easier to control since there are fewer moving parts.

The blue light plays a key role in activating the copper-based catalyst. Theoretical calculations showed that this light exposure causes electrons to move from the metal copper atom to a connected subunit of the molecular catalyst.

This excited state has separated electrical charges, making the catalyst much more reactive and, thus, the researchers were able to use it to carry out a cross-coupling reaction that creates an acyl group, which is useful for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and photo-electronic materials.

A key aspect of this method is that the formation of the acyl group occurs asymmetrically.

This means one of the two possible mirror-image versions of the product molecule is selectively produced, a feature highly desired for the development of new medicines.

The scientists tested their new method with multiple starting materials, notably including a material derived from probenecid, a medicine for gout.

They say the product they obtained from this starting material has potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry.

Implementation of this new method is expected to both provide cost savings and increase the sustainability of the production of a wide variety of chemical compounds with potential uses in medicine and electronics.

“This synthetic method is a breakthrough because it combines two easily obtainable items, blue LED light and copper, to achieve a coupling reaction that did not exist before,” Yusuke Masuda, lead author of the study, said in a media statement.

“Technology that produces useful compounds from resources which are abundantly available on earth is critical for the sustainable development of humanity. I expect this advance will become a milestone in the development of sustainable molecular synthetic methods.”

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Health

World AIDS Day Ends With Call to End Inequalities

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‘Dufatanye Turandure  SIDA’ is the text message sent to all Rwandans by Rwanda Biomedical Centre as the world celebrates the World AIDS Day.

Every year on December 1st, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.

Winnie Byanyima Executive Director UNAIDS in her message today said the world agreed on a bold plan that, if leaders fulfil it, will end AIDS by 2030.

“AIDS remains a pandemic, the red light is flashing and only by moving fast to end the inequalities that drive the pandemic can we overcome it,” she said.

She said that without the inequality-fighting approach we need to end AIDS, the world would also struggle to end the COVID-19 pandemic and would remain unprepared for the pandemics of the future. That would be profoundly dangerous for us all.

According to her, the progress in AIDS, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence prevention programmes and more.

“On our current trajectory, we aren’t bending the curve fast enough and risk an AIDS pandemic lasting decades. We have to move faster on a set of concrete actions agreed by United Nations Member States to address the inequalities that are driving HIV.”

“We urgently need sufficient community-led and community-based infrastructure as part of a strong public health system, underpinned by robust civil society accountability,” She added.

Byanyima  explained that the world needs policies to ensure fair and affordable access to science. Every new technology should reach each and everyone who needs it without delay, “We need to protect our health workers and expand their numbers to meet our urgent needs.”

“We must protect human rights and build trust in health systems. It is these that will ensure we close the inequality gaps and end AIDS. But they are too often applied unevenly, are underfunded and are underappreciated,” Byanyima said.

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Health

HPV Vaccine Cuts Cervical Cancer By 90%

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UK  research scientists have announced that the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine is cutting cases of cervical cancer by nearly 90%, according to the first real-world data.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by viruses, and the hope is vaccination could almost eliminate the disease.

The researchers said the success meant those who were vaccinated may need far fewer cervical smear tests too.

Girls are offered the vaccine between the ages of 11 and 13, depending on where they live in the UK. The vaccine has also been offered to boys since 2019.

The study, published in the Lancet, looked at what happened after the vaccine was introduced for girls in England in 2008.

Those pupils are now adults in their 20s. The study showed a reduction in both pre-cancerous growths and an 87% reduction in cervical cancer.

“The impact has been huge,” said Prof Peter Sasieni, one of the researchers at King’s College London.

The reductions were less dramatic when older teenagers were immunised as part of a catch-up campaign.

This is because fewer older teenagers decided to have the jab and ideally it needs to be given before they became sexually active.

Overall, the study estimates the HPV programme has prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers.

Prof Sasieni says that is “just the tip of the iceberg” because those vaccinated are still young to be getting cancer, so the numbers will only grow with time.

Screening

At the moment, women are invited for a smear test every three to five years to screen for cervical cancer.

But Prof Sasieni says there “definitely” needs to be a rethink after these results. He told me: “It should be a wake-up call to policy-makers, women will read this and think ‘why should I go for screening?’.

“I would hope we’d come back with a new screening programme, two to three times a lifetime and continue screening women who have not been vaccinated.”

This is not the final say on the HPV vaccination. There are still questions about how long protection lasts and whether there needs to be a mid-life booster.

There are also more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. The UK started using a vaccine that protected against two of them and is about to introduce one that protects against nine viruses, including the main causes of genital warts.

The cancer-causing versions lead to dangerous changes to the DNA of infected cells that transform them into cancer.

This can happen in any infected tissue. The viruses can be spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex, so are also linked to anus, penis and some head and neck cancers.

However, 99% of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomaviruses. It is why more than 100 countries have starting using the vaccine as part of World Health Organization plans to get close to eliminating cervical cancer.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, said the findings were “remarkable” and showed the vaccine “saves lives by dramatically reducing cervical cancer rates among women”.

Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s a historic moment to see the first study showing that the HPV vaccine has and will continue to protect thousands of women from developing cervical cancer.”

BBC

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