Health systems and global preparedness are not only an investment in the future but “the foundation of our response” to today’s COVID-19 health crisis, the head of the UN’s health agency said on Monday.
“Public health is more than medicine and science and it is bigger than any individual and there is hope that if we invest in health systems…we can bring this virus under control and go forward together to tackle other challenges of our times”, UN World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a regular press briefing.
‘Seize the opportunity’
Speaking via video conference from self-quarantine, having himself been in recent contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the symptom-free WHO chief noted that over the weekend cases spiked in some countries in Europe and North America.
“This is another critical moment for action…for leaders to step up…for people to come together for a common purpose”, he said. “Seize the opportunity, it’s not too late”.
He also flagged that where cases are going up exponentially and hospitals reaching capacity “patients and health workers alike” are at risk.
“We need countries to again invest in the basics so that measures can be lifted safely and Governments can hopefully avoid having to take these measures again”, the UN agency chief asserted.
As some countries are putting in place measures to ease the pressure of health systems, he attested that building “stronger systems ensuring quality testing, tracing and treatment measures are all key”.
“WHO will keep working to drive forward science, solutions and solidarity”, the WHO chief concluded.
To understand more about how hospitals can prepare and cope with COVID-19, three guests spoke about how their countries were coping with the pandemic.
The Republic of Korea went from the second highest caseload of coronavirus patients globally to one of the lowest – without having to lock down the country – by drawing on lessons it learned from the 2015 MERS COVID outbreak, according to Yae-Jean Kim, Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunodeficiency Department of Pediatrics, Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine.
In addition to rapid PCR swab testing and rapid isolation, she explained that physicians for the Republic of Korea, among other things, developed “drive-through testing facilities”; had a community treatment centre for milder cases; prepared public hospitals for high-risk communicable diseases; and had private hospitals pick up overload cases.
From South Africa, Mervyn Mer, Principal Specialist at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, University of the Witwatersrand, said they worked within their capacity to reach the greatest number of people.
Since the pandemic struck South Africa months after other countries, they used their time to draw up a protocol to maximize “everything we feasibly could”, including expanding the capacity of existing hospitals as opposed to putting up field hospitals, he said.
Meanwhile, new WHO staff member Marta Lado, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer of Partners In Health in Sierra Leone, underscored that the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak had that country how to manage infectious diseases through contact tracing, surveillance, critical care and PPE use.
“One of the most important lessons learned is how we were able to develop a critical care training” that covered monitoring patients vital signs and for shock as well as ventilation and oxygen, she detailed.
Over 500,000 people have been inoculated against COVID-19 in Moscow
The number of people who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Moscow has reached half a million, and over 500,000 of them have already received their first jab. Every day between 12,000 and 20,000 residents of the city sign up for vaccination.
Vaccines are being administered in 100 vaccination points in city polyclinics and 20 popular public places, where mobile teams have been deployed. The list of categories of citizens entitled to vaccination is constantly expanding and the city’s vaccination campaign is picking up pace.
The list of categories of citizens prioritized for vaccination also includes Muscovites over the age of 60 years old (who form the largest risk group and are most vulnerable to COVID-19). More than 9,000 residents of 33 retirement homes have already been vaccinated. In addition, vaccination is recommended for people with chronic diseases who need to stay at home, as well as college and university students over 18 years of age.
A convenient online vaccination appointments system has been set up specially for Muscovites in the mos.ru portal. It can be accessed by going to ‘Doctor’s Appointment’ in the list of services and selecting ‘Vaccination Against COVID-19’.
In addition, vaccine appointments can be made via the My Moscow mobile app, the Moscow Gosuslugi government services website and the emais.info medical services portal, as well as by calling a vaccination center. The vaccine is administered in two doses, with appointments for the second injection being made automatically.
Many large employers are requesting on-site vaccination of their staff, and this network will be gradually expanded. Naturally, the throughput capacity of such organizations and, most importantly, the employers’ wishes are being taken into account.
Detailed information on the vaccination program has also been posted in the portal’s special project.
The Sputnik V vaccine consists of two components requiring two injections, and provides a reliable immune response. Volunteers will first be injected with the first component of the vaccine, with a second vaccination following 21 days later. Only the first appointment needs to be booked, as the doctor will arrange the patient’s second visit on the day of their first vaccination. To ensure that people do not forget about their re-vaccination, they will receive an SMS message the day before it, reminding them of the date, time and clinic they need to attend.
The vaccination process takes at least an hour, including a 10-minute examination by a doctor before the vaccination and 15 minutes spent preparing the vaccine, which is stored in frozen state (with five doses in one vial) and thawed for five patients at once when they have been examined. Post-vaccination observation and examination take a further 30 minutes. Each patient receives a certificate recording the two injections and confirming that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The vaccine was produced using a biotechnological process based on the most modern technological platform created by Russian scientists. It is safe because it does not contain the coronavirus. It is based on special structures (carrier vectors) created in the laboratory that contain only a part of the virus gene. Upon encountering the vaccine, the human immune system produces protective antibodies.
Natalia Vodianova joins UNFPA to tackle stigma and advance women’s health
The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, on Wednesday appointed supermodel, philanthropist, and impact investor Natalia Vodianova as its newest Goodwill Ambassador, in an effort to empower women and girls, including fighting stigma surrounding menstruation.
“For too long, society’s approach to menstruation and women’s health has been defined by taboo and stigma”, said Ms. Vodianova, stressing that the situation “has undermined the most basic needs and rights of women.”
In her new role with UNFPA, officially known as the UN Population Fund, Ms. Vodianova will seek to help culturally redefine menstruation, as a normal bodily function.
On any given day, more than 800 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 are actively menstruating. In many countries, taboos surrounding the cycle leaves girls vulnerable and can even be life-threatening, says UNFPA, as they are excluded from public life, denied opportunities, sanitation and basic health needs.
The agency said in a press release, that the issue has been starved of the attention it deserves, but in recent years that has started to change, and “achieving this, is central to UNFPA’s mandate”.
“It’s a tragic irony that something as universal as menstruation can make girls feel so isolated…We all have a role to play in breaking the taboos around menstruation”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, underscoring the significance of spotlighting the damage caused.
She added that the agency “is pleased to partner with such a powerful and committed advocate. Societies prosper when girls are confident, empowered and making their own decisions!”
Building on past momentum
Over the past three years, Ms. Vodianova has teamed up with UNFPA to launch a series of “Let’s Talk” events worldwide, which have mobilised policy makers, civil society and the private sector to help tackle shame, exclusion and discrimination, faced routinely by millions of women and girls.
Leaders from various sectors such as fashion, politics, sport, technology and media have also gathered in Turkey, Kenya, Switzerland, Belarus and India to advance women’s health.
Raised in poverty by a single mother in Russia, along with caring for a half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, Ms.Vodianova is a passionate advocate for human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of people living with disabilities, UNFPA noted.
The agency said it was looking forward to working with her in her role as a bridge builder across the fashion and technology industries, where she’s an influential international voice, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Strengthen ‘One Health approach’ to prevent future pandemics
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates “intimate” linkages between the health of humans, animals and ecosystems, as zoonotic diseases spread between animals and people, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief said on Wednesday.
While the concept of One Health – where multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes – may have once seemed simple, “it is no longer”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, opening the 27th Tripartite Annual Executive Committee Meeting World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
“We can only prevent future pandemics with an integrated One Health approach to public health, animal health and the environment we share. Now is the time to take our partnership to a new level”, he underscored.
Zoonoses on the rise
The WHO chief maintained that to keep people safe, One Health must be translated into local-level systems.
He pointed out that approximately 70 per cent of all emerging and re-emerging pathogens are zoonotic, jumping from animals to humans, warning that “we don’t know when the next threat – the next disease X – will emerge”.
“It is clear, however, that One Health must be about more than zoonoses”, Tedros spelled out. “We cannot protect human health without considering the impact of human activities that disrupt ecosystems, encroach on habitats, and further drive climate change”.
These activities include pollution, large-scale deforestation, intensified livestock production and the misuse of antibiotics, along with how the world produces, consumes and trades food.
Effective collaboration needed
“Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic is giving us a unique opportunity to drive real change”, said the top WHO official, noting that One Health will be the focus of upcoming G7 and G20 meetings.
He flagged the need for more science, better data and bolder policies across multiple sectors, “with a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach”.
“Expectations for the Tripartite, and the need for effective collaboration, have never been higher”, he said.
Citing closer collaborative efforts at regional and country levels, and progress in joint areas of work, including the launch of the United Against Rabies forum, Tedros said that advances are also being made in establishing governance structures to curb antimicrobial resistance, and noted that the Global Leaders Group held its first meeting earlier this year.
Expert Council in the works
The UN health agency chief said that WHO will support and host the secretariat of a One Health High Level Expert Council, which will advise the expanded Tripartite members on action priorities, building consensus and collaboration.
“We also need to ensure that all partner organizations have the resources to play this role jointly”, he stated.
For its part, WHO will scale up investment and work through its disease programmes and technical networks to strengthen the One Health workforce for outbreak alert and response.
“We are at a critical juncture. We must build on this momentum to strengthen the One Health approach, with public health and disease prevention as its central pillar”, Tedros underscored.
The WHO chief concluded by saying: “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re stronger together”.
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