Saturday November 25, 2017

Influenza Pandemic Remains Global Threat despite increasing Worldwide supply of Flu Vaccines, warns WHO

The WHO said global production capacity for pandemic vaccines increased from an estimated 1.5 billion doses in 2006 to 6.2 billion last year

FILE - A boy gets an influenza vaccine injection at a health care clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 12, 2013. VOA

The World Health Organization has warned that a global influenza pandemic remains a real threat despite progress made over the past 10 years in increasing the worldwide supply of flu vaccines.

In 2006, the World Health Organization acknowledged that countries around the world were ill-prepared to tackle an influenza pandemic. At the time, there were concerns about an H5N1 bird flu pandemic spreading globally.

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In response, the WHO launched the Global Action Plan (GAP) for influenza vaccines with three main objectives. It aimed to increase evidence-based seasonal vaccine use; increase vaccine production as a protection against pandemics and improve regulatory capacity in developing countries; and promote research and development for better vaccines.

The flu season in the Northern Hemisphere is set to start in December, peak in late January or early February and run its course by April or May. Click To Tweet

That initiative has now ended, but Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant-director general for health systems and innovation, observed that global preparation for an influenza pandemic had vastly improved over the past decade.

“We are certainly better prepared for an influenza pandemic than we were 10 years ago,” Kieny said, “but,we must not lose the momentum and we are still facing the threat of an influenza pandemic in 2016.”

More vaccine production

The WHO said global production capacity for pandemic vaccines increased from an estimated 1.5 billion doses in 2006 to 6.2 billion last year. While it’s an impressive achievement, Kieny said, it “still falls short of the GAP goal to immunize 70 percent of the population with two doses of vaccine, potentially for which we would need 10 billion doses.”

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She noted that only rich countries were producing vaccines in 2006, whereas today, 14 mostly upper-middle-income countries were making strides toward manufacturing their own vaccines.

In addition, she said, the number of countries that have national influenza immunization policies in place has increased from 74 to 115 today, “including lower-middle-income countries and one low-income country.”

William Ampofo, a professor at the University of Ghana and an advisory group member of the GAP, said he was encouraged by the progress made, but he told VOA he was disappointed that the creation of the GAP had not resulted in increased vaccine production capacity in Africa.

“As part of the GAP, technology transfer was provided for developing countries, and South Africa and Egypt were part of this initiative,” he said. “Unfortunately, the tech transfer has not resulted in influenza vaccine production capacity as of now.”

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He added, however, that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa had shown that vaccination is an effective tool against a dangerous virus and that the manufacture of a flu vaccine on the continent should be seriously considered.

“Because of what happened with Ebola, now the countries — in West Africa, especially — the ministers of health are now giving attention to vaccine production capacity on the African continent,” he said. “They recognize, however, that it is very difficult, but they feel that something must be started.”

Flu season

The flu season in the Northern Hemisphere is set to start in December, peak in late January or early February and run its course by April or May. The WHO estimates every year there are between 3 million and 5 million forensic cases of influenza, resulting in 150,000 to 500,000 deaths.

A large variety of viruses or subtype influenza viruses are circulating in wild and domestic birds. Only three viruses currently are circulating in humans: influenza A (H1N1), an influenza A variant (H3N2) and an influenza B virus. Traditional flu vaccines, called “trivalent” vaccines, are made to protect against those three flu viruses.

Wenqing Zhang, a scientist in WHO’s Department of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases, said the influenza viruses are constantly changing. She said one type of change, “antigenic drift,” results in small changes in the genes of influenza viruses. A second way, “antigenic shift,” involves an abrupt, major change.

“With the antigenic drift, it will cause an epidemic, and if there is an antigenic shift, then there will be a pandemic,” she said. “Because the virus is constantly evolving, the threat of influenza pandemic is real. It is very real. It could be tomorrow or in five years’ time. It could be mild like the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, or it could be a very severe one, like in 1918.”

During the 1920s, scientists estimated that 21.5 million people had died as a result of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. More recent estimates have put the death toll at between 50 million and 100 million. (VOA)

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WHO launches a new global effort to end TB by 2030

The announcement was made in the Global Ministerial Conference in Moscow.

WHO will start working towards ending Tuberculosis
Dr. Simon Angelo (L) examines Iman Steven suffering from tuberculosis, held by her mother (R) at the hospital of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), June 15, 2016, at the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal, South Sudan. VOA

Delegates from 114 countries have agreed to take urgent action to end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030, the WHO said.

The announcement on Friday came as the delegates gathered in Moscow for the first WHO global ministerial conference on ending tuberculosis, Xinhua news agency reported.

The delegates promised to achieve strengthen health systems and improve access to the people regarding TB prevention and care so that no one is left behind.

They also agreed to mobilize sufficient and sustainable financing through increased domestic and international investments to close gaps in implementation and research.

Resources are expected to advance research and development of new tools to diagnose, treat and prevent TB, and to build accountability through a framework to track and review progress on ending TB.

“Today marks a critical landmark in the fight to end TB,” said World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It signals a long overdue global commitment to stop the death and suffering caused by this ancient killer.”

Though global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 53 million lives since 2000 and reduced the TB mortality rate by 37 per cent, progress in many countries has stalled, global targets are off-track and persistent gaps remain in TB care and prevention, according to the WHO.

As a result, TB still kills more people than any other infectious disease. Due to its antimicrobial resistance, TB is also the leading killer of people with HIV.

Representatives at the meeting, which was attended by over 1,000 participants, also promised to minimize the risk and spread of drug resistance and do more to engage people and communities affected by or at risk of TB. (IANS)

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Goodbye Holy Smoke, Vatican City bans Sale of Cigarettes

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking.

sale of cigarettes
The faithful gather in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. VOA

Vatican City, November 10, 2017 : Pope Francis has ordered a ban on the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican from next year because of health concerns, a spokesman said on Thursday.

“The motive is very simple: the Holy See cannot be cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people,” spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

He cited World World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that smoking causes more than seven million deaths worldwide every year.

Cigarettes have been sold at a discounted price to Vatican employees and pensioners.

Vatican employees are allowed to buy five cartons of cigarettes a month. Many Italians ask their non-smoking friends who work in the Vatican to buy cigarettes for them because they cost much less than in Italy, where they are subject to heavy taxes.

Burke acknowledged that the sale of cigarettes has been a source of revenue for the Holy See, adding, “However, no profit can be legitimate if it is costing people their lives.”

The spokesman said the sale of large cigars would continue at least for the time being because the smoke is not inhaled.

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking. Bhutan, where smoking is deemed bad for one’s karma, banned the sale of tobacco in 2005. (VOA)

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Neurologists say rising air pollution can cause stroke among adults

The WHO states that 4.3 million people a year in India die from the exposure to household air pollution, which is among the highest in the world.

Research bodies estimate that the number of fragments of dead cells in the bloodstream increase with higher levels of pollution. Pixabay

New Delhi, October 29, 2017 : As pollution levels deteriorate in the National Capital Region, health experts have warned that continuous exposure to polluted air has the potential to cause a stroke among adults.

Alhough it was earlier believed that pollution only increased the risk of heart problems, it also possesses the capability to damage inner linings of veins and arteries.

“In the current scenario, the situation is getting worse. Many young patients in the 30-40 age group suffer from stroke. We get around 2-3 patients almost every month. The number of young stroke patients has almost doubled as compared to last few years. Studies suggest major risk factors include soaring air pollution,” said Praveen Gupta, Director Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.

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Research bodies estimate that the number of fragments of dead cells in the bloodstream increased with higher levels of pollution. Polluted environment promote stroke incidences more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought.

Nearly 15 million people annually suffer a stroke worldwide, of which around six million die and five million are left with permanent disabilities such as loss of sight and speech, paralysis and confusion.

On the occasion of World Stroke Day, October 29, the experts emphasised that indoor air pollution caused by combustion of solid fuels is equally contributing to the stroke burden in the society.

On an average, the internal air pollution in Indian rural homes exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) norms by 20 times.

“Women inhaling the household fumes are at a 40 per cent higher risk of getting a stroke. The reason being the carbon monoxide and particulate matter from burning solid fuels tend to reduce the levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein). This in turn prevents the removal of LDL (low density lipoprotein) from the body leading to hardening of the arteries,” said Jaideep Bansal, head neurologist at Saroj Super Speciality Hospital.

He added that the rise in the levels of LDL, or harmful fat, thereby raises the risk of a clot, blocking blood supply to the brain and causing stroke.

More than 90 per cent of the global stroke burden is linked to modifiable risk factors, of which internal air pollution tops the list. Other preventable factors include hypertension, a diet low in fresh fruits and whole grain, outdoor air pollution, high BMI and smoking.

The WHO states that 4.3 million people a year in India die from the exposure to household air pollution, which is among the highest in the world.

According to surveys, over 30 crore people in India use the traditional stoves or open fires to cook or heat their homes with solid fuels (coal, wood, charcoal, crop waste).

Poor ventilation and such inefficient practices, especially in rural India, mean the smoke and ambient air in households exceeds the acceptable levels of fine particles by at least 100-fold.

According to neurologists, recognisable symptoms, known often as a ‘mini stroke’ will occur prior to getting a stroke attack which is often known as a mini-stroke.

“Though it lasts only for a minute but certainly indicates the onset of a major stroke attack within 48-72 hours. Delay in treatment can lead to loss of 2 million neurons each minute. This happens due to the fact that the blood flow to certain part of the brain is blocked by the clot formed due to inhalation of compound like carbon monoxide and particulate matter,” said Atul Prasad, Director and Senior Neurology Consultant at BLK Super Specialty Hospital. (IANS)