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Some political leaders are hailing a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19: simple pin-prick blood tests or nasal swabs that can determine within minutes if someone has, or previously had, the virus.
The tests could reveal the true extent of the outbreak and help separate the healthy from the sick. But some scientists have challenged their accuracy.
Hopes are hanging on two types of quick tests: antigen tests that use a nose or throat swab to look for the virus, and antibody tests that look in the blood for evidence someone had the virus and recovered. The tests are in short supply, and some of them are unreliable.
“The market has gone completely mad,” Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said Thursday, lamenting the l ack of face masks, personal protection equipment and rapid tests, “because everybody wants these products, and they want the good ones.”
The Spanish government on Thursday sent 9,000 rapid antigen tests that were deemed unreliable back to a manufacturer that, according to the Chinese government, had no license to sell them. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week called the rapid tests a “game changer” and said his government had ordered 3.5 million of them.
The U.K. hopes the tests will allow people who have had COVID-19 and recovered to go back to work, safe in the knowledge that they are immune, at least for now. That could ease the country’s economic lockdown and bring back health care workers who are being quarantined out of fears they may have the virus.
Many scientists have been cautious, saying it’s unclear if the rapid tests provide accurate results.
In the past few months, much of the testing has involved doctors sticking something akin to a long cotton swab deep into a patient’s nose or throat to retrieve cells that contain live virus. Lab scientists pull genetic material from the virus and make billions of copies to get enough for computers to detect the bug. Results sometimes take several days.
Rapid antigen tests have shorter swabs that patients can use themselves to gather specimens. They are akin to rapid flu tests, which can produce results in less than 15 minutes. They focus on antigens — parts of the surface of viruses that trigger an infected person’s body to start producing antibodies.
Health authorities in China, the United States and other countries have offered few details on the rates of false positive and false negative results on any coronavirus tests. Experts worry that the rapid tests may be significantly less reliable than the more time-consuming method.
Lower accuracy has been a concern with rapid flu tests. Spanish scientists said the rapid tests for coronavirus they reviewed were less than 30% accurate. The more established lab tests were about 84% accurate.
Those results “would prevent its routine introduction,” according to a report by the Spanish Society of Infectious Disease and Clinical Microbiology that triggered the alarms in Spain and spurred the government’s rejection of the 9,000 antigen tests.
Similar questions swirl around new antibody tests involving blood samples. Some versions have been described as finger-prick tests that can provide important information in minutes.
Antibody tests are most valuable as a way of seeing who has been infected in the recent past, who became immune to the disease and — if done on a wide scale — how widely an infection has spread in a community.
The antibody tests also will allow scientists to get a better understanding of how deadly coronavirus is to all people, because they will provide a better understanding of how many people were ever infected, ranging from those who never showed symptoms to those who became fatally ill. The results will also guide vaccine development.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. Most people recover.
More than 15 companies have notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that they have developed antibody tests, the agency said. The companies are permitted to begin distributing the tests to hospitals and doctors’ offices, provided they carry certain disclaimer statements, including: “This test has not been reviewed by the FDA.”
The prime minister’s spokesman was unable to say Thursday how much the U.K. had paid for the tests, which come from several suppliers, or whether the money would be refunded if they turned out to be unreliable.
The chief scientist at the World Health Organization said wider testing would allow health officials to pinpoint infections in people who appear healthy but may be carrying the virus.
“We know that if you really go out and test everyone in the community, you’re going to find people walking around with this virus in their nose who do not feel at all ill,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said in an interview.
WHO believes most transmissions of the virus occur through people who already show symptoms, but “the question is still open” about how asymptomatic people may spread infection, Swaminathan. (VOA)
By Nikhila Natarajan
In a continuing study on the effects of machine learning (ML) on public conversation, Twitter has confirmed that its algorithms amplify right-leaning political content. "In six out of seven countries - all but Germany - tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group," Twitter blogged.
"Right-leaning news outlets, as defined by the independent organisations, see greater algorithmic amplification on Twitter compared to left-leaning news outlets." Since 2016, Twitter users are able to choose between viewing algorithmically ordered tweets first in their home timeline or viewing the most recent tweets in reverse chronological order.
"An algorithmic home timeline displays a stream of tweets from accounts we have chosen to follow on Twitter, as well as recommendations of other content Twitter thinks we might be interested in based on accounts we interact with frequently, tweets we engage with, and more. "As a result, what we see on our timeline is a function of how we interact with Twitter's algorithmic system, as well as how the system is designed."
The new research is based on tweets of elected officials of House of Commons members in Canada, the French National Assembly, the German Bundestag, House of Representatives in Japan, Congress of Deputies of Spain, House of Commons in the UK, and official and personal accounts of House of Representatives and Senate members in the US, as well as news outlets, from April 1 to August 15, 2020.
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. | Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
The study was conducted by Ferenc Huszar (Twitter, University of Cambridge), Sofia Ira Ktena (now at DeepMind Technologies), Conor O'Brien (Twitter), Luca Belli (Twitter), Andrew Schlaikjer (Twitter), and Moritz Hardt (UC Berkeley).
The questions probed were:
How much algorithmic amplification does political content from elected officials receive in Twitter's algorithmically ranked Home timeline versus in the reverse chronological timeline? Does this amplification vary across political parties or within a political party?
Are some types of political groups algorithmically amplified more than others? Are these trends consistent across countries?
Are some news outlets amplified more by algorithms than others? Does news media algorithmic amplification favour one side of the political spectrum more than the other?
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: algorithmically, timeline, algorithmic, tweets, political, survey, twitter, study, germany, skew
Even as India celebrates reaching a milestone of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Snapdeal co-founder and COO Rohit Bansal on Friday lauded a man who facilitated 64 registrations for the vaccine on the CoWin portal. In a video shared on his Facebook and Twitter page, Bansal hailed Sonu Kumar as a "citizen celebrity".
Bansal said that Kumar not only helped "just co-workers and family but complete strangers too. With patience, empathy and uncanny jugaad". He added that Kumar joined him "many moons ago" and completed his open school from a parking lot.
"Education has helped this wonderful man enable others to get India back on track. Bravo! The CoWin portal on Thursday mentioned that a total of 100 crore vaccine doses has been administered so far to the eligible population under the vaccination drive in India, nine months after the nationwide inoculation programme was started to protect the people against Covid-19.
"It's a cause of significant celebration and happiness," Bansal said in the video. He said that while people just help a few around them, Kumar "bridged the digital gap" for 64 people, who were finding it difficult to register themselves online on the vaccine portal. Kumar said he doesn't feel that he has contributed much towards the 100 crore vaccine dose count. "I have been able to help only 64 people, if I was able to help more I would have been happier." (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: cowin, covid, india, people, Rohit bansal, Sonu kumar, vaccine, snapdeal, registrations
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Uganda has kickstarted a trial for the injectable HIV drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine. Researchers and those living with HIV say the trial will likely end pill fatigue, fight stigma, improve adherence and ensure patients get the right dosage.
The two drugs have been in use as tablets. The World Health Organization last year licensed their use as injectables.
While the two injectables already went through trials in Europe and North America, this will be the first time they are tested in an African population for efficacy and safety in an African health care system.
Uganda is one of three African countries, along with Kenya and South Africa, which got approval from the WHO to carry out the trials. However, Kenya and South Africa have yet to acquire approvals to start their trials, expected by the end of the year.
Uganda and Kenya will both have three trial sites and there will be two in South Africa, with a total of 512 participants -- 202 from Uganda, 160 from Kenya and 150 from South Africa.
Dr. Ivan Mambule, the lead project researcher at the Joint Clinical Research Center, says participants will need one injection every two months.
"We are going to choose participants who are already on ART [anti-retroviral treatment] and are stable on ART. And we will randomize them to either continue on their normal treatment, which is the pill that they've been taking, or to switch them to this injectable. The injection is on the buttock," he expressed.
In this photo taken in Nov. 15, 2012 a patient, right, is attended to, at the US sponsored Themba Lethu, HIV/AIDS Clinic at the Helen Joseph hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa Image credit: VOA
Uganda has 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Barbara Kemigisa who is living with HIV and founded the Pill Power Foundation working with rural women, says the injectable drugs will increase adherence to treatment and ensure people get the right dosage.
"One of the things that affects adherence is the fact that people have to hide medicine. In the village, people are hiding medicine in the kitchen roof, in trees, in bushes, in a baby's shoe…If someone is wrapping the medicine in like five plastic bags and digs a hole in the garden and keeps the medicine there, by the time someone is taking that medicine, it's no longer medicine, it's poison," Kemigisa points out.
Nicholas Niwagaba, who has worked with young people living with HIV welcomes the trial, saying it will reduce the pill burden and fight stigma.
"Young people feel like, this is a lot of pills to take. Those who are on the first line, they will have to take one tablet a day. There are those who are on second line and they have to take more than one pill and they have to take it in the morning and in the evening. And of course, this requires you to have actually a balanced diet which is really a challenge for most of young people especially those from vulnerable communities," he says.
According to the WHO, there are 25.7 million people living with HIV in Africa. With only the pill currently available to manage the scourge, this injectable may come as a relief for people living with HIV/AIDS. (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally by Halima Athumani)
Keywords: HIV, WHO, Africa, Research, Uganda