Tag: WHO

Smithsonian Science Education Center – WHO launch new COVID-19 Guide for Youth

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By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 21 MAY 2020: It is essential for young people to understand the science and social science behind COVID-19 to protect and keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic. To address this the Smithsonian Science Education Center, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP)—a partnership of 140 national academies of science, engineering, and medicine—has developed “COVID-19!

How can I protect myself and others?,” a new rapid-response guide for youth ages 8–17. The guide, which is based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, aims to help young people understand the science and social science of COVID-19 as well as help them take action to keep themselves, their families and communities safe.

Through a set of seven cohesive student-led tasks, participants engage in the activities to answer questions previously defined by their peers. The questions explore the impact of COVID-19 on the world, how to practice hand and respiratory hygiene and physical distancing, and how to research more information about COVID-19. The final task teaches youth how they can take action on the new scientific knowledge they learn to improve their health and the health of others. Each task is designed to be completed at home.

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The guide includes updated research, activities, quotes from scientists and frontline public health officials, and physical and emotional safety tips on COVID-19. It also integrates inquiry-based science education with social and emotional learning and civic engagement.

“We are immensely grateful to WHO, the IAP, our colleagues at the Smithsonian and other senior project advisors and translators for their perspectives and technical support in ensuring the science is accurate,” said Carol O’Donnell, director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center. “We are also grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their support during the development of this module. This work represents the power of collaboration and working closely with others across the globe, even during a time of physical distancing.”

“Through this project, the Smithsonian Science Education Center makes science exciting and approachable for children and youth all over the world and encourages them to learn by doing” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO. “With all the myths and misconceptions out there, it is important for children and youth to understand the nature of this pandemic and what can be done to prevent future pandemics from happening,”

“It is so important for children—wherever they are in the world—to develop their scientific understanding and rational thinking,” said Professor Volker ter Meulen, president of IAP. “Only by being able to make rational decisions based on the best science and evidence can any of us adjust our behavior to keep ourselves and our families safe from infections such as COVID-19.”

The Smithsonian Science Education Center will disseminate the information to youth worldwide in collaboration with WHO, IAP, educators, and museum and research center networks. The guide is free, will be available to youth in more than 15 languages, particularly African and Asian languages, and can be found at https://ssec.si.edu/covid-19

WHO Academy and the WHO Info mobile applications launched

WHO Head-Quater in Geneva, Switzerland.Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot
Photo: WHO

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 13 MAY 2020: WHO has announced the launch of the WHO Academy app designed to support health workers during COVID-19, and the WHO Info app designed to inform the general public.

Today, the WHO Academy, the World Health Organization’s lifelong learning center, launched a mobile app designed to enable health workers to expand their life-saving skills to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The app provides health workers with mobile access to a wealth of COVID-19 knowledge resources, developed by WHO, that include up-to-the-minute guidance, tools, training, and virtual workshops that will help them care for COVID-19 patients and protect themselves.

“With this new mobile app, the WHO is putting the power of learning and knowledge-sharing directly into the hands of health workers everywhere,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

The app is built around the needs expressed by 20,000 global health workers in a WHO Academy survey conducted in March of 2020.

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents feel they need to be more prepared, particularly in infection prevention and control, case management, use of personal protective equipment and occupational safety, and risk communication and community engagement.

An overwhelming majority of respondents said virtual learning on demand would be helpful in preparing for COVID-19 challenges.

The establishment of the WHO Academy, based in Lyon, France, is planned for launch in May 2021. The state-of-the-art lifelong learning center will apply the latest technologies and adult learning science to meet the learning needs of millions of health workers, policymakers, and WHO staff around the world.

The application is available for free download from both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in Arabic Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

One can also learn more about the WHO Academy here: http://academy.who.int

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

WHO: No evidence recovered COVID-19 people having antibodies are protected from a second infection

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By SAT Newsdesk

MELBOURNE, 25 April 2020: The World Health Organisation (WHO) says, “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.” The WHO explanation comes after some governments suggested the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.

A ‘Scientific Brief’(24 April 2020) emailed to SAT on 25 April 2020 says, “The development of immunity to a pathogen through natural infection is a multi-step process that typically takes place over 1-2 weeks. The body responds to a viral infection immediately with a non-specific innate response in which macrophages, neutrophils, and dendritic cells slow the progress of virus and may even prevent it from causing symptoms. This non-specific response is followed by an adaptive response where the body makes antibodies that specifically bind to the virus. These antibodies are proteins called immunoglobulins. The body also makes T-cells that recognize and eliminate other cells infected with the virus.

This is called cellular immunity. This combined adaptive response may clear the virus from the body, and if the response is strong enough, may prevent progression to severe illness or re-infection by the same virus. This process is often measured by the presence of antibodies in the blood.”

It also says, ” Laboratory tests that detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in people, including rapid immunodiagnostic tests, need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability. Inaccurate immunodiagnostic tests may falsely categorize people in two ways. The first is that they may falsely label people who have been infected as negative, and the second is that people who have not been infected are falsely labelled as positive. Both errors have serious consequences and will affect control efforts. These tests also need to accurately distinguish between past infections from SARS-CoV-2 and those caused by the known set of six human coronaviruses. Four of these viruses cause the common cold and circulate widely. The remaining two are the viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. People infected by any one of these viruses may produce antibodies that cross-react with antibodies produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2.

At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.” People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission. As new evidence becomes available, WHO will update this scientific brief.”

LINK to the Scientific Brief – https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/immunity-passports-in-the-context-of-covid-19