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Consecutive drop in new COVID-19 cases ‘encouraging news’: WHO

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A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a patient at a hospital in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

The number of new COVID-19 cases globally has fallen for the third week in a row, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Monday, though urging countries not to let up efforts to defeat the disease. 

“There are still many countries with increasing numbers of cases, but at the global level, this is encouraging news”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking during the agency’s bi-weekly briefing from Geneva. 

“It shows this virus can be controlled, even with the new variants in circulation. And it shows that if we keep going with the same proven public health measures, we can prevent infections and save lives”. 

Stay the course 

While welcoming the development, Tedros recalled “we have been here before”, and warned against complacency. 

“Over the past year, there have been moments in almost all countries when cases declined, and governments opened up too quickly and individuals let down their guard, only for the virus to come roaring back”, he said. 

The WHO chief stressed that as vaccines are rolled out, people everywhere must continue to take measures aimed at keeping themselves, and others, safe. 

“It is vital that governments enable people to make the right choices, whether it is making quarantine easier to adhere to, or making workplaces safer,” he said.  

“Controlling the spread of the virus saves lives now, and saves lives later by reducing the chances of more variants emerging. And it helps to ensure vaccines remain effective.” 

Lack of data undermines response 

WHO has underscored the urgent need for better data to strengthen pandemic response and improve health outcomes, in a new report launched on Monday. 

The SCORE Global Report provides a snapshot of the state of health information systems around the world and is the first study of its kind. 

SCORE stands for Survey, Count, Optimize, Review and Enable, and the report covers 133 country health information systems and just under 90 per cent of the global population. 

It reveals that globally, four in10 deaths remain unregistered, while only one in 10 deaths is recorded in the African region. 

WHO said the lack of data worldwide limits understanding of the true mortality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which undermines response planning.

Scoring a goal against COVID-19 

The global football governing body, FIFA, is supporting the drive to make COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics available to all countries. 

FIFA has teamed up with WHO for the “ACT Together” campaign, which also promotes adherence to the everyday public health measures aimed at preventing coronavirus spread, such as hand washing and wearing masks. 

Star footballers and competing team captains will participate in the campaign, which is being held in conjunction with the FIFA Club World Cup 2020, taking place in Qatar from 4-11 February. 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino emphasized the importance of having a level playing field, whether in football or in health. 

“Fairness and team spirit are key values of our sport,” he said. “And these same key values, fairness and team spirit are needed for today’s great challenge: overcoming COVID-19.” 

It is important for football to address issues that affect society, 2001 Ballon d’Or winner Michael Owen told the briefing, reminding that vaccine access must be fair and equitable. 

“This has been a global pandemic, and globally we need to give access to vaccination,” he said. 

Update on Wuhan mission  

Meanwhile, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, Dr. Maria Van Kerhkove, said the international mission on the ground in Wuhan, China, is having “very productive discussions” with counterparts there. 

The 15 experts arrived in the city last month to study the origins of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease. 

Dr. Van Kerhkove reported that they have visited hospitals, as well as the market, and have met with officials from the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Chinese CDC. 

“Their focus is on the early cases and they are having very good discussions around that,” she said. 

The mission has attracted media attention and Dr. Van Kerhkove  underscored that the team must be given the space to carry out its work. 

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Moderna vs. Pfizer: Two Recent Studies Show Moderna to Be The More Effective One

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The first study was published by medRxiv “The Preprint Server for Health Sciences” on August 9th, and compared (on 25,589 vaccinated v. 25,589 unvaccinated Minnesotans) “the effectiveness of two full-length Spike protein-encoding mRNA vaccines from Moderna (mRNA-1273) and Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) in the Mayo Clinic Health System in Minnesota over time from January to July 2021.” Moderna was 86% effective against the infection; Pfizer was 76% effective. In July (when the “Delta” variant first became dominant) Moderna was 91.6% effective against hospitalization; Pfizer was 85%. But during that month, effectiveness against the infection was 76% for Moderna v. 42% for Pfizer. Nationwide (including Mayo in MN, WI, AZ, FL, & IA), Moderna was about twice as effective “against breakthrough infection” v. Pfizer.

The second study was far smaller, published on September 10th by the CDC, and studied only 1,175 hospitalized U.S. veterans (93% male) at V.A. centers nationwide. Moderna was estimated at 91.6% effective, Pfizer at 83.4%. Since no non-hospitalized comparison-sample were studied, “Vaccine effectiveness … to prevent Covid-19-associated hospitalization was estimated by using multivariate logistic regression to compare the odds of full vaccination between case-patients and controls,” and so the reliability of this study was far less than in the Mayo Clinic study.

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India Completes First Drone Delivery of Vaccines

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Health workers pose with a vial of COVID-19 vaccine after receiving their shots at a hospital in India. UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

Today marks the beginning of the first trials for the delivery of MMR, influenza and COVID-19 vaccines in the southern state of Telangana.

The trials, which have been organized by the World Economic Forum in partnership with the state government of Telangana, Apollo Hospital’s HealthNet Global and NITI Aayog, will be conducted over 28 days in designated air corridors in the district of Vikarabad, Telangana.

Starting off with the first ever drone delivery of a vaccine in India, the trials are focused on laying the groundwork for a more elaborate drone delivery network that will improve access to vital healthcare supplies for remote and vulnerable communities. This is also the first drone programme since India recently liberalized its drone policy.

“The Forum is pleased to support Indian government and industry in demonstrating how emerging technologies can be used to improve access to healthcare for its most vulnerable populations,” says Timothy Reuter, Head of Aerospace and Drones, World Economic Forum. “The project has set into motion the adoption of drones to deliver lifesaving services across the country. We believe that India’s work with drones can serve as a model for other countries in the region and beyond.”

“Ever since Telangana issued the expression of interest in expanded drone use in March 2020, the industry has witnessed an acceleration around policy decisions,” said Vignesh Santhanam, Lead, Aerospace and Drones, World Economic Forum. “With the latest liberalization of India’s drone economy the Medicine from the Sky initiative has made efforts to invigorate the drone sector in India by demonstrating the essence of cooperative federalism and creating a template for the region.”

“Being at the forefront of leveraging emerging technologies, Telangana has always acted as a testbed for innovative solutions to support scaling across the nation,” said K.T. Rama Rao, Minister of Information Technology, Industries, Municipal Administration and Urban Development of Telangana, India. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that healthcare supply chains can be further strengthened and drones offer a robust value proposition especially when it comes to remote areas and emergencies. The Medicine from the Sky is the first of its kind initiative in the country to generate insights that shall benefit the entire ecosystem. The enthusiasm and support by all the partners is deeply appreciated.”

With the support of the Vikarabad municipality, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India, this will be the first drone-delivered COVID-19 vaccine in Asia. After extended trials with MMR and influenza vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines will also be transported beyond the visual line of sight.

“This pilot has been enabled through a series of collaborations between India’s regulatory agencies state government, the World Economic Forum, international organizations, healthcare experts and drone companies,” said Anna Roy, Senior Adviser, Frontier Technologies, NITI Aayog, Government of India. “The Medicine from the Sky community has acted as an important platform providing advice and insight that has translated the extensive academic groundwork into action on ground. Through a highly collaborative effort, the pilot programme also demonstrates the importance of localized inputs and micro planning for healthcare in remote parts of the world.”

This initiative aims to improve equity in healthcare while enabling healthcare access for isolated populations and hazard-prone areas. The project has eight participating partners, including drone operators and experts in healthcare and airspace management among others. Together, these partners will demonstrate short and long-range drone-based deliveries to assess the efficacy of low-altitude aerial logistics in healthcare.

“Drone use provides the opportunity to support our traditional approaches to healthcare delivery especially in underserved or remote regions of the country,” said Dr. Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals Group. “Our healthcare sector could potentially witness large-scale deliveries of long-tail medicines, vaccines, blood and vital organs throughout the country across terrains with drones in action. As clinical partners in the Medicine from the Sky initiative, Apollo Hospital’s HealthNet Global will be responsible for enabling vaccine and medicine availability and properly monitoring the adherence of clinical protocols throughout the project.”

An industry core group was commissioned in June 2021 to help scale the effort to bolster last-mile mobility in healthcare. The outcomes from the trials will be analysed and used to scale up the effort to additional states with the support of the Medicine from the Sky community and key stakeholders. The project is expected to be expanded to six states in the coming months.

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Pandemic increasing risk factors for suicide

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Suicide prevention must be prioritized after 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Americas office of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, commemorated annually on 10 September. 

Studies show that the global crisis has exacerbated risk factors associated with suicidal behaviours, such as job loss, trauma or abuse, mental health disorders and barriers to accessing health care.

‘Urgent public health problem’ 

“Suicide is an urgent public health problem and its prevention must be a national priority,” said Renato Oliveira e Souza, head of the Mental Health Unit at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).  

“We need concrete action from all elements of society to put an end to these deaths, and for governments to create and invest in a comprehensive national strategy to improve suicide prevention and care,” he added. 

Globally, one in 100 deaths is by suicide, making it among the leading causes of death worldwide and the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds, after road traffic accidents, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence. 

More people die each year from suicide than from HIV, malaria, or breast cancer, or from war and homicide, according to WHO

Warning signs 

Some of the verbal or behavioural warning signs for suicide include talking about wanting to die, feeling immense guilt or shame, or feeling like a burden to others.  Other signs are feeling empty, hopeless or trapped, or having no reason to live, or feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, or full of anger. 

Among behavioural changes that can also be warning signs, are researching ways to die, staying away from friends, giving away important items, showing extreme mood swings, eating or sleeping too much or too little, and using drugs or alcohol more often. 

Anyone who detects warning signs of suicide, whether in themselves or in someone they know, should seek help from a health care professional as soon as possible. 

Hope through action 

World Suicide Prevention Day is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and endorsed by WHO.  

This year’s theme ‘Creating hope through action’, focuses on the need for collective action to address the issue. 

WHO recently published guidance that supports national efforts to help reduce the global suicide rate by one-third by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Key prevention measures include limiting access to means of suicide, such as firearms and pesticide, as well as early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of people affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviours. 

Other actions include fostering adolescent social-emotional skills, and educating the media in responsible reporting on suicide

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