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Cabo Verde Received the First Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines

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Cabo Verde received Friday, March 12, its first batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, sent through the COVAX Initiative, a partnership between the Government of Cabo Verde, CEPI (Coalition for Innovation in Epidemic Preparedness), GAVI (Global Vaccine Alliance) and WHO (World Health Organization), in partnership with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), the World Bank and others.

This is a historic step towards achieving our goal of ensuring the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, and which is already considered the largest acquisition and operation of vaccine supply in human history. This delivery is the first batch part of the government plan agreed with the COVAX mechanism, aiming to cover 20% of the country’s population (111,372 people) prioritizing the population at more at risk.

On March 8, after submission of the required regulatory documentation required from Cabo Verde, COVAX through UNICEF supply division shipped to the capital city of Praia 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, licensed and manufactured by serum institute (PVT) Limited from Maharashtra, India and the shipment arrived at Nelson Mandela International Airport on March 12, 2021.

This first batch of 24,000 doses, part of a larger batch of 108,000 doses already planned for Cabo Verde expected to arrive in the country until May 2021, enables the country to start the vaccination campaign against COVID 19, prioritizing critical target groups already identified.

To vaccinate all these groups, the equivalent of 20% of the country population, Cabo Verde will needs a total of 267,293 doses of vaccines against COVID-19 under the COVAX Initiative.

“Today is a moment of renewed hope and a witness to the solidarity the world needs to respond to the global challenges and end human, social and economic suffering brought by this pandemic. The arrival of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to Cabo Verde under the COVAX Facility is a historic step for the country in what is consider the largest and most complex vaccine distribution operation ever.  For several months, the Government of Cabo Verde and COVAX’s partners have been working together for this moment to be a reality. The United Nations System in Cabo Verde will continue to support the Government in implementing vaccination alongside other health and socio-economic measures already underway. We thank all countries and partners who contribute to COVAX aware that only together we can recover from this crisis and achieve sustainable development in Cabo Verde, leaving no one behind,” said Ana Graça, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in Cabo Verde.

WHO, through its Representative Hernando Agudelo, states that “WHO is proud to co-lead COVAX together with Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in order to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID- 19 vaccines and guarantee a fair and equitable access for all countries in the world ”. WHO is the normative entity that has been monitoring the whole process including global recommendation on priority groups, in order to ensure that health professionals and the front line workers, people over 65; and people underlying risky health problems, are properly protected. The main objective of COVAX is to make vaccines available to at least 20% of the population in all participating countries for the population at risk and that low and middle income countries receive these 20% of vaccines free of charge, as in Cabo Verde, thanks to financial support provided by several countries and international donors. ”

For the UNICEF Representative, Steven Ursino, “This is indeed a crucial moment for Cabo Verde, the culmination of several efforts led by the Government of Cabo Verde to stop and prevent the spread of the pandemic and save lives. The only way out of this crisis is to ensure that vaccines are available to everyone. The more people are vaccinated, the faster it will be to see a gradual return to normality and better access to health, education and protection services for all Cabo Verdeans. We salute the Government of Cabo Verde, in particular the Ministry of Health, for the commitment and all partners that support the COVAX Facility in its mission to deliver safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 to all countries and quickly and equitably. We reinforce our commitment to support the vaccination campaign and contain the spread of the virus, in close cooperation with all partners. ”

The World Bank, Represented by Eneida Fernandes said, “This is an important day for Cabo Verde. With the arrival of the first batch of vaccines and the country’s track record in vaccination campaigns, the World Bank is convinced that the country will be able to roll-out its COVID vaccine campaign swiftly and promote resilient recovery for the people of Cabo Verde. Together with partners, the World Bank is stepping up its support through the Cabo Verde COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to help purchase and distribute vaccines, and strengthen vaccination systems”.

According to the national authorities, vaccination will begin in the 18 of March and will be implemented in a phased manner, depending on the distribution by different priority groups, such as health professionals, chronically ill and people over 60 years, professionals working in airports and ports, in the tourism sector, teachers and support staff in schools, National Police, Armed Forces, Civil Protection and Fire Service professionals. According to the national vaccination plan, health professionals, who are on the front line, will be the first to be vaccinated.

For several months, COVAX partners have been supporting the government in its preparedness efforts for this moment and several key steps have been taken, including confirming national regulatory authorization criteria related to delivered vaccines, compensation agreements, national vaccination plan, as well as other logistical factors such as special import authorizations. COVAX partners have also being collaborating with the preparation of the country readiness, technical and multisectoral coordination, the development of the National Vaccination Plan, support for cold chain infrastructure, as well as the storage of syringes and safety boxes for disposal, masks, gloves and other equipment to ensure that there is sufficient equipment for health professionals to start vaccinating priority groups follow-up and surveillance of adverse effects after the injection, among other.

It should be noted that COVAX Facility is co-led by GAVI – The Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), in partnership with UNICEF, the World Bank, and is part of the COVID-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT), an innovative global collaboration to accelerate development, production and equitable access to testing COVID-19 treatments and vaccines ensuring that low- and middle-income countries can also have access to vaccines with the aim of leaving no one behind.

COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a variety of configurations and populations and is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to the initiative’s participating countries worldwide by 2021, including about 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 low-income countries that are part of the COVAX Initiative.

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First EU TalentOn brings science to life in competition to solve global challenges

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Criss-crossed by a network of canals, the city of Leiden (pop. 120 000) is just 16km north of Dutch capital The Hague. It has been welcoming scholars since the first university in the Netherlands was established here in the late 16th century.

Recognised as a centre of scientific study from the 17th century onwards, it is fitting then that this year, Leiden is the European City of Science 2022 and the city threw open its doors to the first ever EU TalentOn competition, an event where young academics from all over Europe compete to find the best solutions to major challenges.

The three-day intensive event sees teams of four collaborating to develop new solutions to some of society’s most important challenges in a short timeframe.

The pressure-cooker format means that time is limited so the normally deliberative approach of scientists is thrown out in favour of a fast turnaround time from idea to solution.

Big challenges

The challenges were drawn from the five EU Missions which are Adaptation to Climate Change, Cancer, Restore our Oceans and Waters, 100 Neutral and Smart Cities and a Soil Deal for Europe. The EU Missions pool resources to devise concrete solutions to some of our greatest challenges by 2030. Follow the link for more information about the Horizon EU Missions.

Teams of four competed for cash prizes in each Mission category while the overall winner of the inaugural EU TalentOn as decided by a jury of 18 was a project called ROOTED, by the team SoilFix.

‘We developed a platform that will allow people to restore urban soils in their neighbourhoods or in the vicinity of their buildings’ said Roberta Gatta, the SoilFix spokesperson who explained the project to Horizon Magazine.

Soil community

She describes the purpose of the SoilFix platform. ‘This is a community-based project so people can spot an area in their neighbourhood where they think there is a need for some kind of restoration of the soil. They report it, start crowdfunding and make the transformation happen.’

The platform brings citizens living in urban communities into contact with soil experts who give scientific advice and partners who plan and coordinate the project. Community engagement and expert advice are key to improve soil health because even in urban areas, soil forms a complex ecosystem that needs to be kept in balance.

For example, even soil bacteria have communities and it’s far better if these microorganisms are from the local environment. ‘Our idea was to somehow restore the biodiversity of these soils and to supply local (microbial) strains to the soil,’ said Roberta.

There have also been unfortunate cases where trees planted in an urban area to green it have been welcomed initially but within a few years, the growing roots undermine nearby houses.

Within a couple of days, these four scientific strangers combined their knowledge, worked out the science and business models of the platform, and built a demonstration app they dubbed ROOTED to show how it works. They included educational elements to attract students because they are likely to be involved in such community projects.

‘Our major point is to reduce the concrete in our cities and make our cities greener,’ said Roberta, ‘And more like Leiden, let’s say,’ she said, half-joking.

Greenery lacking

The four members of SoilFix had never met before applying for EU TalentOn. They are from different countries and scientific disciplines but during the early brainstorming sessions, they found they had one thing in common. They each come from cities that have a distinct lack of greenery.

‘This was the first thing we noticed when we arrived in Leiden. The whole idea is based on the difference between Leiden and our cities.’

Beyond the scientific elements, the real challenge for the SoilFix team was to create a product. The EU TalentOn is unique in the way it introduces highly specialised academics to the world of business and challenges them to come up with consumer-facing solutions.

‘We decided to go behind the science and try to create something that everyone could understand, not only scientists. And for us this was the challenge,’ said Roberta. ‘Try something that was not entirely science, but that can share science with people.’

Comfort zones

‘Many of the scientists are challenged to get outside of their comfort zones because usually they might have several months or even years to evolve their research projects,’ said Henrik Scheel, the “Mission Navigator” and head coach for the teams at the EU TalentOn. ‘And now they’re asked in two days to define a problem and come up with a world-changing idea.’

Scheel is based in Silicon Valley, the high-tech innovation hub in California which is home to technology companies like Apple, Google and Intel. ‘Silicon Valley’ is a byword for transformative, rapid innovation. He works as an investor and business founder but also as an educator, coaching students in entrepreneurial skills.

‘I spend most my time working with young innovators around the world on helping them bring their ideas to life,’ says Scheel, ‘And solve big problems in their communities and in their countries and regions.’

With the effects of the pandemic and climate change being keenly felt, amongst other things, have there been any noticeable changes in the world of innovation in recent years in his view?

Changed innovation

One thing that’s clear to him is, ‘People are a lot more ambitious’ now. Investors and entrepreneurs have a new attitude, they want to build businesses that make money while doing good, ‘not just create another app to order pizza or hail a cab,’ said Scheel.

Another feature he’s seeing is that European start-ups will operate in the US and elsewhere but stay rooted in Europe. ‘There’s a lot of collaboration and the world has just become a lot more globalised,’ said Scheel. ‘Teams are born global and stay that way, with distributed teams that are able to grow much faster and be more agile.’

EU TalentOn’s ambition is to promote an entrepreneurial mindset in scientists. The SoilFix team are actively developing their idea to take their idea to the next level. Used to resolving challenges in a lab, they are learning how to navigate the maze of business rules and legal requirements.

But it’s as Scheel tells his students, ‘The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity.’ He is a big fan of the EU TalentOn format in which academics must think more like entrepreneurs.

‘I do think one of the big opportunities here is to merge these two worlds, the start-up world and the more academic scientific world,’ he said. ‘And by bringing those things together, you can have real scientific projects that are being tested and brought to life much faster than what is currently being done.’

his article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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