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Why Africa’s success in eradicating polio is important today | Africa

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“Could you patent the sun?” This is how American virologist Jonas Salk responded when asked whether he would be patenting his breakthrough polio vaccine.

The polio virus, which once killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of children every year and led to summertime lockdowns, is a step closer to being consigned to the history books. 

With no recorded cases since 2016, the African region has received certification as wild polio virus free by the World Health Organization (WHO) – and this is one of the greatest achievements in public health history.  

Delivering polio vaccines to every child in the African region and wiping out the wild virus is no small feat, and the human resources, skills and experience gained in the process leave behind a legacy in how to tackle diseases and reach the poorest and most marginalised communities with lifesaving services. 

Leadership from all levels of government across party lines, a historic public-private partnership which raised billions, millions of health workers reaching children across the region – from conflict zones to remote areas only accessible by motorbike or helicopter – and a culture of continual improvement were all critical to overcoming challenges and bottlenecks. 

As countries work to suppress COVID-19, many of the same basic traditional public health methods used in polio eradication, including contact tracing and surveillance, are key to breaking the chains of transmission and saving lives and livelihoods from the first coronavirus pandemic in human history.

As recently as 2012, half of all globally recorded cases of wild polio virus were in Nigeria – the last country in the region to rid itself of the virus. However, as with the COVID-19 pandemic, the lesson is that it is never too late to turn a disease outbreak around. Through hard work, new innovations and ensuring that no child was missed, Nigeria and the entire African region have now defeated polio.

Across the region, health workers go village to village and door to door vaccinating children multiple times and offering health advice and support to the community. It is a remarkable effort started by Rotary International, which in the 1980s – when there were hundreds of thousands of cases every year – made a global call for eradication.

The unique public-private partnership was spearheaded by governments from across the world that politically and financially backed the effort, as well as a host of partners including Rotary International, WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

There is a very good reason why the world’s best scientists are racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Bringing polio to the brink of eradication was only possible because of safe and effective vaccines that were developed jointly by the United States and the USSR at the height of the Cold War.

Putting the common interest of humanity before nationalistic endeavours was a worthy act that paid off not only for the US and the USSR, but for the whole world.

Using the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which aims to fast track diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, WHO is currently working with the public and private sectors to hasten the scientific process and ensure that when new tools are available, they reach those who need them. 

Learning from past cooperation and sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in the national interest of every country.

With the African region hitting the golden number of zero cases of wild polio, the world’s attention will now shift to the remaining places where the virus hides. And the good news is that the two remaining countries that still register cases of wild polio, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have resumed polio vaccination after a brief suspension due to COVID-19. 

A surge of resources and effort is needed to ensure that the world uses this critical window of opportunity to protect all children in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the upcoming low season, during which there is a natural decline in cases of the polio virus.  

Now is the moment to work with all partners and put child vaccination first so that we can end polio and the global health community can go on to tackle other childhood diseases like measles, pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhoea which can be prevented with a vaccine.

While thanking and congratulating governments, health workers, civil society and all groups that have been part of this titanic struggle, it is important to use the momentum to invest further in health systems, as well as the health worker force, to protect people from this pandemic, and prepare them for future disease outbreaks.

Polio and COVID-19 both demonstrate that the best ways to break the chains of disease transmission are working together in solidarity, accelerating the science and continually cooperating to solve problems on the ground and improve service delivery.

Salk’s vision of a polio-free world is within our grasp. Let us grab it with both hands and use it as our inspiration for a safer, healthier world.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Yellen: Private funds also needed to tackle climate change | Climate News

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The cost of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 could climb to $2.5 trillion over 10 years for the US alone, according to one estimate.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said private financing, and not just government spending, will be needed to tackle the “existential threat” of climate change.

The overall cost of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement that the U.S. has rejoined — could run to $2.5 trillion over 10 years for the U.S. alone, according to one estimate, Yellen said in a speech to a virtual conference Wednesday organized by the Institute of International Finance.

“It’s going to be tremendously important for the financial services industry to marshal and allocate capital that’s needed to make the transition toward net-zero” emissions, she said in a question-and-answer segment that followed the speech. “Massive investments are likely to be needed and the bulk has to be private.”

The Treasury chief also highlighted the need to strengthen financial risk disclosures — making them more reliable, consistent and comparable across markets and countries — so investors can accurately gauge risks and opportunities.

Yellen pledged that the U.S. will help developing countries that are especially vulnerable to threats from climate change, but stopped short of making any specific financial promises on that front.

The infrastructure-focused economic proposal that President Joe Biden unveiled last month, including money to address climate change, “will be the most significant public investment in America since the 1960s, dramatically reducing U.S. emissions by greening the electricity and transportation sectors,” Yellen said.

Biden Summit

Yellen’s comments come as Biden convenes the leaders of 40 nations, corporate executives and union leaders in a two-day virtual summit on the climate change, with a focus on how to galvanize finance in the endeavor.

While many recent international climate-change discussions have focused on the role of multilateral development banks and formal climate-assistance programs, the conversation at the summit will include a more expansive look at the role of private funds in propelling clean energy and building resilience, administration officials said Wednesday.

Yellen said the Treasury is involved in a number of initiatives aimed at removing hurdles, including efforts to improve financial reporting and increasing the reliability of climate-related disclosures.

The Financial Stability Oversight Council, a multi-agency body of regulators chaired by Yellen, will be the Treasury’s principal tool in attempting to minimize financial-sector risks associated with climate change, she said.

“It’s FSOC’s job to understand these risks, to coordinate across U.S. regulatory agencies in assessing the risks and, if necessary and appropriate, acting to mitigate risks to overall U.S. financial stability,” she said in the Q&A.

Global Harmonization

Yellen said U.S. officials will also work with the multilateral Financial Stability Board and other international bodies to make reporting requirements consistent and comparable across borders. She endorsed a “solid framework” for climate-related disclosures from an FSB task force chaired by Michael R. Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Yellen didn’t offer any specific new pledge of additional U.S. government funding to help developing nations adapt to a warming planet or build clean-energy projects.

Rich countries promised in 2009 that by 2020 they’d collectively devote $100 billion annually to climate finance, but have fallen far short. As the world’s No. 2 emitter of greenhouse-gas emissions, the U.S. is under pressure to loosen its purse strings.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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‘Chad is not a monarchy’, rebels warn interim president 

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Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno

Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno

The son of the late President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad has been named interim president of the central African nation by a transitional military council.

Wednesday’s announcement comes a day after 37-year-old Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno was named head of the 18-month council as the army announced the death of his 68-year-old father from injuries sustained while visiting troops on the front line.

A rebel force known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, known by its French acronym FACT, has advanced from the north in recent days toward the capital, N’Djamena. The group had been based in neighbouring Libya. The rebel group released a statement Tuesday vowing to take the capital and depose the younger Deby.   
 
“Chad is not a monarchy,” the statement read. “There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country.”
 
A day before his death, the elder Deby was declared the winner of Chad’s April 11 election with 79 per cent of the vote, giving him a sixth term in office. Most opposition groups had boycotted the poll, citing arrests and a government ban on opposition rallies.  

Deby had ruled Chad since coming to power in a December 1990 coup, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Opponents called him an autocrat and criticized his management of Chadian oil revenue. In 2008, a different rebel force reached N’Djamena and came close to toppling Deby before French and Chadian army forces drove them out of the city.
 
In the West, however, Deby was seen as an important ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups in West Africa and the Sahel, like Nigeria-based Boko Haram.
 
The Libya-based FACT had attacked a border post on the day of the election and then moved hundreds of kilometres toward the capital. On Monday, the Chadian army said it had inflicted a heavy loss on the rebels, killing more than 300 of them.



Source – observer.ug

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COVID vaccine scarcity and fake doses hamper efforts in Americas | Latin America News

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Amid a limited supply of vaccines, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across the Americas, PAHO officials said.

Amid a scramble to secure enough coronavirus vaccines in the Americas, there are reports of fake doses proliferating on the black market in several countries in the region, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“We have received some information from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil that some doses have been offered through social media, illegal markets offering vaccines that probably are falsified,” Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of PAHO said during a weekly news conference.

“They are not real vaccines or maybe they are stolen doses from a health facility that no one can assure that they were properly stored,” Barbosa said.

A woman receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, during a vaccination day campaign in Duque de Caxias near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer had identified counterfeit vaccines in Mexico and in Poland. According to the report, 80 people in Mexico had been jabbed with fake doses in a clinic, after paying $1,000 per dose.

According to the report, the people who received the fake vaccines were not adversely affected. Citing authorities, the report said in Poland the fake vaccines were seized before they were administered.

During Wednesday’s news conference, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said the organisation was also concerned about vaccine hesitancy. She said “insidious rumours and conspiracy theories” were “inspiring fear and costing lives”.

She said PAHO was working with tech companies to tackle misinformation that has quickly proliferated on the internet and on social media sites.

“Because unreliable information spreads quickly, PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to address fake news and ensure the public can easily find accurate information,” she said.

The reports of fake vaccines and vaccine hesitancy in the Americas came amid a scarce supply of vaccines in the region, and a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Brazil has so far vaccinated 11.6 percent of its population and Mexico has vaccinated 8.7 percent. Other nations in the region are lagging behind [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

“Latin America is the region that currently has the greatest need for vaccines,” Etienne said, “this region should be prioritised for distribution of vaccines.”

“No one will be safe until we are all safe.”

Nearly half of the world’s coronavirus deaths during the weekend were in the Americas, Etienne said, adding that nearly every country in Central America is reporting a rise in infections. Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, she said were the worst hit.

“Over the weekend, the world reached a tragic milestone – more than three million have lost their lives to COVID, and nearly half of these deaths happened right here in the Americas,” Etienne said.

Chile is seeing a plateau in cases, while Brazil is reporting a drop. But despite the drop, Etienne said, cases in Brazil “remain alarmingly high.” Argentina ranked third regionally in the weekly number of new cases. Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay were also seeing a worsening. And Mexico, after weeks of decline in new cases, is seeing a slight increase.

Regionally, the United States and Chile have made the most progress in their vaccination campaigns – both have vaccinated about 40 percent of their population – according to Our World in Data.

Uruguay has inoculated more than 30 percent of its population while Brazil has so far vaccinated 11.6 percent and Mexico has vaccinated about 8.7 percent. Other nations in the region are lagging behind.

During the news briefing, officials said most of the region’s countries are relying on the global COVAX mechanism, which aims to equitably distribute vaccines to developing nations.

Etienne said more than 4.2 million vaccine doses have so far been supplied to 29 countries in the Americas through COVAX, and more doses are on the way.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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