Tag: COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 pushes world into ‘deep recession’: IMF Annual Report 2020

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Photo- IMF

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 17 November 2020: The year 2020 has been tough for the world as it faced the deadly COVID-19 pandemic with 54,714,076 cases and 1,321,712 deaths (17 Nov 2020, John Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard) and it is still surging in many countries. Australia has curbed the virus but a hotspot in Western Australia is causing concern. The social and economic consequences of the global pandemic have been devastating and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Annual Report 2020 (A Year Like No Other) released today says the world is in ‘deep recession’.

“Uncertainty remains around the outlook, alongside long-term forces that shape and influence countries’ response to the virus and the recovery. People all over the world have seen profound changes in their lives: economic recession, unemployment, climate change, technology and the automation of jobs, the rise of digital currencies, lower returns on their savings, and rising inequality and debt.

These ongoing global forces and the current crisis can offer opportunities to build a better future for everyone. Working together in good faith and with shared goals can yield solutions to our most pressing problems, restore leadership and trust in institutions, and create a recovery that builds a global economy to serve everyone, ” it says.

An IMF media release says it has done an ‘Economic Surveillance’ of 129 countries and lent $165 billion to 83 countries, including $16.1 billion of concessional financing to 49 low-income countries and $305 million for hands-on technical advice, policy-oriented training, and peer learning.

The 2020 IMF Annual Report focuses on COVID-19 response, the impact of economics on people’s lives, debt, climate change, and fintech.

Read REPORT here.

Countries urged to act against COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

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Photo- World Bank

The UN and partners have urged countries to take urgent action to address what they have described as the “infodemic” that has surfaced in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the real world and online.

The pandemic is the first in history in which technology and social media are being used to both inform people and keep them connected, but also to undermine global response to the crisis and jeopardize measures to contain the disease, they explained.

“Misinformation costs lives. Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunization campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive”, the partners said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“We call on Member States to develop and implement action plans to manage the infodemic by promoting the timely dissemination of accurate information, based on science and evidence, to all communities, and in particular high-risk groups; and preventing the spread, and combating, mis- and disinformation while respecting freedom of expression.”

Authorities also were urged to empower communities to develop solutions and resilience against the infodemic.

Stakeholders such as the media and social media platforms were called on to collaborate with the UN system, and each other, “to further strengthen their actions to disseminate accurate information and prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation.”

Communications emergency

The statement signed by the United Nations, eight of its entities, and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), followed a virtual meeting organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

In a video message for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underlined how the COVID-19 pandemic is also a communications emergency.

“As soon as the virus spread across the globe, inaccurate and even dangerous messages proliferated wildly over social media, leaving people confused, misled, and ill-advised”, he recalled.

“The antidote lies in making sure that science-backed facts and health guidance circulate even faster, and reach people wherever they access information.”

Science, solutions, solidarity

Throughout the pandemic, the UN chief has highlighted the need to fight the tide of harmful health advice, hate speech, and wild conspiracy theories that have surfaced alongside COVID-19.

In May, the UN launched the Verified initiative, encouraging people everywhere to serve as “digital-first responders”, who share trusted, accurate information on their social media platforms.

“Working with media partners, individuals, influencers, and social media platforms, the content we spread promotes science, offers solutions, and inspires solidarity,” he said.

As Mr. Guterres told the meeting, fighting misinformation will be critical as the UN and partners work to build public confidence in the safety and efficacy of any COVID-19 vaccines being developed.

Catching up on routine vaccinations

That message was echoed later on Wednesday at another WHO virtual meeting to galvanize governments and humanitarians to safeguard immunization campaigns during the pandemic, and to ensure infrastructure is in place for the future equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Although the UN estimates some 80 million children worldwide have not received routine immunizations due to the pandemic, services are resuming with the goal of “catching up to build better”, according to Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.

She said partners are also working “closer than ever”, and with greater integration; principles that will be applicable for the future delivery of any COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our goal is to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 for all countries, harnessing the partnerships to work together to bring safe and effective and affordable vaccines…and do it because nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, said Ms. O’Brien.

A ‘global insurance policy’

WHO along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) spearhead a global initiative that has pledged to put COVID-19 vaccines in the hands of anyone, anywhere who needs them.

GAVI chief Dr. Seth Berkley described the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility as a “global insurance policy”, committed to ensuring no one is left behind. The goal is to produce two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

Dr. Berkley reported that more than 160 countries either have committed to the Facility or are eligible to receive vaccines, with others expected to join this week.

“Gavi right now helps vaccinate half the world’s children. But the global delivery of COVID vaccines will be the single largest and most rapid deployment the world has ever seen”, he said.

“Also, with the levels of rumors and false information, we will need to work with communities everywhere to provide accurate information.”

The COVAX Facility is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which aims to speed up the development and production of tests, medicines, and vaccines that will be available to all countries.

The ACT Accelerator was launched in April and has so far received around $2.7 billion. The UN Secretary-General recently appealed for a “quantum leap in funding” to meet the $35 billion still needed.  

Source- UN News.

OPINION: Neglected, sacrificed: older persons during the COVID19 pandemic

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Photo- UN

By Isabel Ortiz*

NEW YORK, Jul 28, 2020 (IPS) – Failing to help those in most need, COVID19 is devastating to older persons. The numbers are staggering, more than 80 percent of the fatalities due to coronavirus in the US and East Asia occurred among adults aged 65 and over. In Europe and Australia, the figures are even higher, 94 and 97 percent of the deaths were persons aged 60 and over.

However, when contagions spread, older persons were denied access to beds and ventilators, despite being the most vulnerable group. Human rights experts were alarmed by the decisions made around the use of scarce medical resources in hospitals and intensive care units, discriminating solely based on age. Despite being helpless and most at risk, older persons were not prioritized; they were de facto sacrificed, denied treatment, and emergency support.

“Older people have the same rights to life and heath as everyone else. Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all,” stated the UN Secretary-General, deeply concerned about events during the pandemic.

The silent massacre in care homes

About half of the coronavirus casualties in high-income countries were in care homes, though this is an underestimation because originally official death tolls did not include those who had died outside hospitals without a COVID19 test done.

Most countries reported insufficient protective equipment and testing in care homes for both residents and care workers. Thousands were infected with coronavirus in nursing homes, and while some staff heroically worked in dangerous conditions, others did not. Staff absenteeism added to real horror stories.

For example, in a nursing home in France, 24 persons passed away in only 5 days; they died alone in their rooms of hypovolemic shock, without food or water, because 40 percent of the staff was absent. In Canada, a criminal investigation was launched after 31 residents were found dead, unfed, and unchanged at a Seniors’ Residence; after other disturbing cases, the Canadian military had to be deployed to assist and the government is considering taking over all private long-term care institutions.

In Sweden, protocols discouraged care workers from sending older persons to hospitals, letting them die in the care homes. In Spain, when the military was deployed to disinfect nursing homes, they were shocked to find people “completely abandoned or even death in their beds.” Spain has launched criminal investigations into dozens of care homes after grieving relatives of thousands of elderly coronavirus victims claimed ‘our parents were left to die’.

Families demand justice, suing care services

In Italy’s Lombardy region, a resolution offering 150 euros (US$175) to care homes for accepting COVID19 patients to ease the burden on hospital beds, accelerated the spread of the virus among health workers and residents. Coffins piled up in nursing homes. Families are filing lawsuits for mishandling the epidemic.

In the US, more than 38,000 older persons have died in residences because of COVID19 and many families have filed lawsuits against nursing homes for wrongful death and gross negligence.

In the UK, families of care home residents who died from COVID19 are suing the Health and Social Care Secretary; the claims accuse the government of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights, National Health Service Act 2006, and the Equalities Act.

The multi-billion care industry lobbying to secure immunity against lawsuits

Long-term care is a lucrative and powerful industry. Europe’s care sector is concentrated in the hands of a few large private groups, often run by pension and investment funds. Also in the US, 70 percent of the 15,000 nursing homes are run by for-profit companies; many have been bought and sold in recent years by private-equity firms.

In the US, nursing homes and long-term care operators have been lobbying state and federal legislators across the US to pass laws giving them broad immunity, denying responsibility for conditions inside care homes during COVID19. Nineteen states have recently enacted laws or gubernatorial executive orders granting nursing home protection from civil liability in connection with COVID19. Nobody is responsible for the suffering of thousands of older persons that died alone in care homes.

Due to the rapidly aging population, all countries should invest more in health and long-term care services for older persons.

Health system capacity is strained because of austerity cuts in earlier years. It was the shortage of beds, staff, and equipment that made doctors discriminate against older persons and prioritize those younger, with more chances of survival to COVID19. Governments and international financial institutions must stop mean budget cuts that have condemned many to die, and instead invest in universal public health and social protection systems.

Countries must also invest in quality long-term care services for older persons. Half the world’s elderly lacks access to long-term care. At the moment, governments spend very little on long term care; instead, they have allowed private care services to develop, with minimal regulation. As a result, most older persons have to pay up to 100 percent of long term care out of their own pocket and most cannot afford quality services – a highly unequal system.

Societies have failed older persons during the COVID19 pandemic. Countries must redress this neglect and support survivors by properly regulating, inspecting, and investing in quality care services for all older persons.

*Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University in New York, former director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF, and former official of the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations.

Public health and private profits under COVID-19 pandemic

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The pandemic might be devastating countries, the people and their livelihoods, but is good for some companies and their stockholders, like the ones that hold patents for N95 masks, lifesaving medicines or vaccines.

By Prabir Purkayastha

MELBOURNE, 25 April 2020: During an interview with Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow asked who owned the patent for the vaccine. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk, adding, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” This is what drives science and scientists like Salk, that science must be for public good and not the private profit of companies.

While public domain science – universities or public research institutions – create the key components of knowledge for most medicines or vaccines, it is appropriated by private companies, and governed by the World Trade Organization’s patents’ regime. The global stock market may have completely tanked in the last few months, but Gilead Sciences, the holder of the patent on the drug Remdesivir, currently in clinical trials against COVID-19, has seen its share price rise by a whopping 25% in the same period.

Pandemics might be devastating countries, the people and their livelihoods, but are good for some companies and their stockholders. Riding the pale horse of Apocalypse are companies that hold patents for N95 masks, lifesaving medicines or vaccines.

I am not going to get into the debate of many people are likely to get sick, and how sick they are going to be. The simple answer, with the global numbers already nearing 200,000, is that the COVID-19 fatalities are likely to be in millions. As Harry Kennard from Financial Times shows us with UK data, the death rates are far higher for this current period than any flu epidemic we have seen in the past except the 1918 flu pandemic.

The world has forgotten what a pandemic looks like, as the plague and the 1918 kind of virulent flu epidemics have not been repeated for almost a century. Now that we confront the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we realise humanity is only one genetic mutation away from a new pandemic. Medicines and vaccines against viruses and bacteria are not just for the poorer countries, but also crucial for countries who thought they had left this history behind them.

There are three broad areas that are critical in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. They are personal protective equipment (PPE), critically the N95 masks, the drugs that are currently being tested against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the vaccines that will probably take another 12 months before they are available for the general public.

I will start with N95 respirators or masks that the frontline health workers – from doctors, nurses and other health staff – have to use to protect themselves. It is the lack of N95 masks and other protective equipment that have seen infections among the hospital staff, with hospitals themselves becoming hot spots for spreading the infections. In Delhi, we had the Delhi Cancer Hospital shut down for two weeks as 27 of its staff members tested positive from the virus. In Italy, 20% of the healthcare workers in Lombardy became infected due to shortage of protective equipment.

So, who are the world’s largest manufacturers of N95 masks? Eight of the top ten global manufacturers of N95 masks are US companies, with 3M and Honeywell topping the list. 3M holds a number of patents – by one account 400 such patents – on the N95 respirator. Again, its share price is doing comparatively well even under the current stock market meltdown. We are already aware of the importance of N95 masks with stories of shipments being hijacked by the US even from the tarmac, and Trump threatening 3M with dire consequences under Korean War-era Defense Production Act. 3M was also asked to stop exports to US allies Canada and in Latin America, and ship to the US on a priority basis masks produced in 3M factories abroad.

While protective equipment is critical for the hospital staff, for the bulk of the people the question is do we have medicine that can cure us if we fall sick?

The short answer is currently we do not have any, and will not be able to develop a medicine tailor-made for this disease in a short period. What we are doing instead, is to look for medicines – re–purposing existing medicines – that are likely to have some effect on the virus. We are currently testing our entire kitty of medicines to see if something works.

Apart from hydroxychloroquine that has made headlines, currently WHO’s Solidarity clinical trials are testing a set of anti–virals to see whether they would provide some relief in helping the body to fight the virus. The sets of medicines being tested are: a) Remdesivir b) Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine c) Lopinavir with Ritonavir d) Lopinavir with Ritonavir plus Interferon beta-1a.

All these medicines, except the old anti–malarial drugs chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, are currently under patent protection. Remdesivir was originally developed against Ebola but did not work well and was moth-balled. It seems to have a better efficacy in COVID-19 cases, though the evidence for benefits are similar to the French trials that used a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. That means that none of them have yet been tested using the standard double blind trials for drug development.

What is important about all the other combinations being tested in WHO’s Solidarity clinical trials is that they are all under patent protection. If any of them works – except chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine – the patent holders will make a windfall.

The key battle over the Uruguay Round of Trade negotiations that gave birth to WTO and Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was whether countries like India who had disallowed product patents for medicines, could continue to do so. Unfortunately, India and other developing countries lost that battle. In 1994, the TRIPS regime came into existence, with countries like India getting a moratorium of 10 years, after which they had to grant product patents.

Unlike AIDS, where India could act as a global supplier of AIDS drugs, can it still act as the global pharmacy for a new COVID-19 drug? For Remdesivir?

The short answer is that it is still possible to break the Gilead patent by compulsorily licensing it under a sovereign right that a country has during health emergencies. Fortunately, India has strong provisions for compulsory licensing that the Left was able to retain when the Patent Act was changed to conform to the TRIPS requirements. The Left held sufficient votes in the Parliament to force the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government to accept its demands. While the Glivec case, in which Novartis was denied a patent in India as it fell foul of Section 3 (d), the section against ever–greening of patents is better known, its compulsory licensing provisions can be particularly useful in the current context. This provision can be used against any patent holder by issuing a compulsory license to a domestic producer, while paying them some royalty. WTO allows, under pandemics, countries to issue compulsory licenses and even import such drugs from other countries. So, countries, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, and who might lack domestic manufacturing capability, can import such drugs from countries like India.

In the past, whenever India has considered use of compulsory licensing for producing, for example, life saving cancer medicines, the US has threatened India with dire consequences under USTR 301 Provisions. In 2019, too, this was one of the key contentious issue as outlined by USTR, while putting India in the Priority Watch List.

A group of Brazilian lawmakers have introduced a bill asking the Bolsonaro government to compulsorily license medicines that might have efficacy against COVID-19. Whether Modi, who rushed hydroxychloroquine to the US under Trump’s threat, will be willing to consider such a move against the US remains to be seen.

Finally, the vaccine. While in the short run, we have lockdowns, physical distancing, contact tracing and quarantine as our temporary weapons for prevention, the only long term preventive strategy is a vaccine. Herd immunity is not from the entire population (or 70-80%) being infected by the virus, as UK PM Boris Johnson believed, but by widespread vaccination. No major infectious viral disease – small pox, polio or measles – has been eradicated or contained without a vaccine.

So, here is the problem with vaccines. The genome sequences are put in public domain by countries, the private companies use these sequences to develop the vaccines, and if successful, can fleece the people and countries. This is the battle over the flu vaccine, where countries’ health systems submit the flu genome that are going around in their countries to public flu databases, but receive no or little benefits for doing so.

The question is, who are in the race for a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2? According to WHO, there are five companies that have entered the phase 1 trials, and another 71 in various stages of development. While most of the vaccine development is either public funded or funded by philanthropic institutions, the patent holder are mostly companies.

So, will the COVID-19 vaccines also sell like the flu vaccine for $20 a shot? Bankrupting poorer countries to protect their people? Or will we follow what Salk said about the polio vaccine – that it belongs to the people? The US is clear: it belongs to companies even if publicly funded. And if we want to compulsorily license it using the pandemic exception of WTO–TRIPS rules, USTR 301 and Super 301 sanctions can be still used against India. And as we know from the history of US sanctions, it believes it that it has a right to sanction any country in the world, even if such sanctions violate international humanitarian law.

Source: Peoples Dispatch

WHO reports fivefold increase in cyber attacks, urges vigilance

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By SAT News Desk/WHO, Geneva

MELBOURNE, 26 APRIL 2020: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cyberattacks directed at its staff, and email scams targeting the public at large.

This week, some 450 active WHO email addresses and passwords were leaked online along with thousands belonging to others working on the novel coronavirus response.

The leaked credentials did not put WHO systems at risk because the data was not recent. However, the attack did impact an older extranet system, used by the current and retired staff as well as partners.

WHO is now migrating affected systems to a more secure authentication system.

Scammers impersonating WHO in emails have also increasingly targeted the general public in order to channel donations to a fictitious fund and not the authentic COVID-19 Solidary Response Fund. The number of cyberattacks is now more than five times the number directed at the Organization in the same period last year.

“Ensuring the security of health information for the Member States and the privacy of users interacting with us a priority for WHO at all times, but also particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful for the alerts we receive from the Member States and the private sector. We are all in this fight together,” said Bernardo Mariano, WHO’s Chief Information Officer.
WHO is working with the private sector to establish more robust internal systems and to strengthen security measures and is educating staff on cybersecurity risks.

WHO asks the public to remain vigilant against fraudulent emails and recommends the use of reliable sources to obtain factual information about COVID-19 and other health issues.

For more information, please visit: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019