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Fake medicines kill almost 500,000 sub-Saharan Africans a year: UNODC report

A lack of access to healthcare and medicines has been fuelling a host of opportunists aimed at filling the gaps, the report Trafficking in Medical Products in the Sahel shows. But, this supply and an imbalance in demand, has triggered deadly results.

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Bitter pill of trafficking

In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 267,000 deaths per year are linked to falsified and substandard antimalarial medicines, the transnational organized crime threat assessment found.

In addition, up to 169,271 are linked to falsified and substandard antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia in children.

Trafficking these products is also taking a direct economic toll on affected countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs between $12 million to $44.7 million every year.

605 tons seized

International operations saw more than 605 tons of medical products seized in West Africa, between January 2017 and December 2021. Typically, these products travel through mainstream international trade channels, mainly by sea.

Diverted from the legal supply chain, the products often come from major exporting countries to the Sahel region, including China, Belgium, France and India. Others are manufactured in neighbouring States.

Once in West Africa, smugglers move medical products by bus, cars and trucks to the Sahel, following existing trafficking routes, to avoid border controls.

Myriad traffickers

Terrorist groups and non-State armed groups are commonly associated with medical product trafficking in the Sahel, but, their involvement is limited. These groups levy “taxes” in areas they control or they abuse the drugs themselves.

News reports on drug use for non-medicinal purposes among terrorist groups, have documented an Al-Qaida affiliate in Côte d’Ivoire and former Boko Haram recruits in Nigeria, using or attempting to buy the opioid-like clonazepam (rivotril) since at least 2016.

At the same time, the UNODC report states that investigations have uncovered a variety of actors involved in the illicit medical product trade. Traffickers include pharmaceutical company employees, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors.

Tackling trafficking

The African Union established the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization initiative in 2009 to improve access to safe, affordable medicine. The effort is part of its Framework on Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa. In addition, all Sahel countries but Mauritania have ratified a treaty for the establishment of the African Medicines Agency.

Recognizing these achievements, the UNODC report offered recommendations. Among them was to introduce or revise legislation to prevent all related offences, such as smuggling, money-laundering and corruption.

In the Sahel, challenges in access to healthcare fuels trafficking in medical products in the region.

Read UNODC’s 🆕Report on Trafficking in Medical Products to know how these trends are evolving: https://t.co/wQK6D6ohld https://t.co/ht6miFQ0Id

African leaders commit to end AIDS among children by 2030

The first ministerial meeting of the Global Alliance to end AIDS in children marked a step up in action to ensure all boys and girls with HIV can access life-saving treatment, and that HIV-positive mothers can have babies free from the virus. 

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Ministers and representatives laid out plans which include providing testing to more pregnant women and linking them to care, as well as finding and caring for infants and children living with HIV. 

Hope and heartbreak 

International partners set out how they would support them in meeting these objectives. 

“This meeting has given me hope,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, the UN agency leading the global fight to end the disease. 

“An inequality that breaks my heart is that against children living with HIV, and leaders today have set out their commitment to the determined action needed to put it right,” she added. 

Death every five minutes 

Currently, around the world, a child dies from AIDS-related causes every five minutes.

Roughly half of children living with HIV, 52 per cent, are on life-saving treatment, whereas 76 per cent of adults are receiving antiretrovirals, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as “one of the most glaring disparities in the AIDS response.”

Furthermore, although children comprise just four per cent of people living with HIV, they account for 15 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths. 

Commitment and support 

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the leaders’ commitments and pledged the agency’s full support. 

Every child has the right to a healthy and hopeful future, said UNICEF Associate Director Anurita Bains, adding “we cannot let children continue to be left behind in the global response to HIV and AIDS.” 

The Global Alliance to end AIDS in children was unveiled at the AIDS conference in Montréal, Canada, in July 2022. 

The outcome of its first ministerial meeting, the Dar-es-Salaam Declaration for Action to end AIDS in Children, was endorsed unanimously. 

No room for complacency 

Tanzania’s Vice-President, Philip Mpango, called for moving forward as a collective.   

“All of us in our capacities must have a role to play to end AIDS in children,” he said. “The Global Alliance is the right direction, and we must not remain complacent. 2030 is at our doorstep.” 

Tanzania is among the 12 countries with high HIV burdens that have joined the Alliance in the first phase. 

The others are Angola, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Early testing and treatment 

Work will centre on four pillars, including early testing and optimal treatment for infants, children and adolescents; as well as closing gaps in treating HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women, to eliminate transmission to their babies. 

The countries will also focus on preventing new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women, in addition to addressing rights, gender equality and structural barriers that hinder access to services. 

Progress is possible! 

UNAIDS believes that progress is possible, as 16 countries and territories have already been certified for validation of limiting mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis. 

While HIV and other infections can be transmitted during pregnancy or breastfeeding, prompt treatment, or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for at-risk mothers, can interrupt the process.  

Last year, Botswana became the first African country with high HIV prevalence to be validated as being on the path to eliminating vertical transmission of HIV, meaning the country had fewer than 500 new HIV infections among babies per 100,000 births.  

The vertical transmission rate in Botswana is now two per cent, versus 10 per cent a decade ago. 

Children living with HIV is an inequality that breaks my heart.
Today’s launch of the #GlobalAlliance to End AIDS in Children has given me hope.
Leaders today have set out their commitment to close the treatment gap for children, to save children’s lives.
https://t.co/CuqmYySWsg https://t.co/hVYpBtCzF9 https://t.co/qgdleMqfCw

WHO calls for more action to end ‘cycles of poverty and stigma’ related to tropical diseases

To mark World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day, the UN agency has released a report highlighting progress and challenges in delivering care for these 20 conditions, which mainly affect the world’s poorest people

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NTDs are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins, and can be deadly.  Other examples are Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, chikungunya, rabies, scabies and yaws. 

Stigma and hardship 

They are mainly prevalent in tropical areas, primarily in locations where water safety, sanitation and access to healthcare are inadequate. These diseases often cause life-long stigma, and resulting economic hardship, and have devastating health, social and economic consequences. 

Although nearly 180 countries and territories reported at least one case of NTDs in 2021, just 16 nations account for 80 per cent of the global burden. Globally, some 1.65 million people are estimated to require treatment for at least one of these diseases. 

“Around the world, millions of people have been liberated from the burden of neglected tropical diseases, which keep people trapped in cycles of poverty and stigma,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.  

“But as this progress report shows, we still have a lot of work to do,” he added. 

Building on progress 

The report showed that the number of people requiring NTD interventions fell by 80 million between 2020 and 2021.  

Furthermore, eight countries had eliminated at least one of these diseases during this period.  As of last year, the number stood at 47 countries, and more were on the road to achieving this target. 

These accomplishments build on a decade of significant progress, said WHO, with 25 per cent fewer people requiring interventions in 2021 than in 2010.  

Additionally, more than a billion people were treated for NTDs each year between 2016 and 2019. 

The COVID-19 impact 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had significant impact on community-based interventions, access to health facilities, and on supply chains for healthcare products.   

As a result, 34 per cent fewer people received treatment between 2019 and 2020, even if a general resumption of activities sparked an 11 per cent increase in recovery the following year, with roughly 900 million people treated. 

In 2020, WHO’s governing body, the World Health Assembly, endorsed an NTD road map for the coming decade, and the report emphasizes the need for more action and investment to reverse delays and accelerate progress. 

Accountability, financing and partnerships 

Promoting country ownership and accountability, as well as sustainable and predictable financing, will be key to providing quality NTD services. 

WHO also stressed the importance of multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships.

Last week, the UN agency signed a new agreement with Gilead Sciences, a research-based American biopharmaceutical company, for the donation of 304,700 vials of AmBisome, an antifungal medicine used to treat visceral leishmaniasis in countries most impacted by the disease, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal, Somalia and South Sudan. 

This new three-year collaboration, which extends a previous agreement to 2025, is estimated at $11.3 million and also will support improved coverage and access to diagnosis and treatment. 

WHO urged more partners and donors to fill existing gaps that hamper the full-scale implementation of NTD activities at the global and local levels.

Around the world, neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1 billion people, trapping generations in cycles of poverty and stigma. Today on World Neglected Tropical Diseases day, @WHO’s message is clear: Act Now, Act Together, to #BeatNTDs.
https://t.co/MVDpQjbMyM https://t.co/Oj9kQtyckW

Tedros: COVID-19 remains an international health threat

Tedros’s decision follows the advice offered at the latest coronavirus Emergency Committee meeting last Friday, held at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva via videoconference.

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There is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future,” the Committee said.

It is three years to the week since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern. The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

Still a killer

The WHO Director-General said that although the world is in a better position than a year ago, when Omicron infections surged, more than 170,000 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported globally, in just the last eight weeks. 

Tedros noted once again that surveillance and genetic sequencing of the coronavirus have declined globally, making it more difficult to track known variants and detect new mutations. 

He warned that health systems continue to struggle to treat a high number of COVID-19 patients and others with influenza and respiratory infections, amid staff shortages and health worker burnout. 

The value of vaccines

The UN health agency chief also insisted that vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics remain critical in preventing severe disease, saving lives and taking the pressure off health systems and health workers globally.

Despite their proven worth, Tedros said that the COVID-19 response remains “hobbled” in too many countries that are unable to provide these tools to the populations most in need, older people and health workers. 

Globally, there have been more than 752.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6.8 million deaths, reported to WHO’s Coronavirus dashboard.

At the WHO meeting of the Emergency COVID Committee, participants heard that globally, 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered, with 89 per cent of health workers and 81 per cent of older adults (over 60) completing the primary series.

Committee members expressed concerns about insufficient vaccine uptake in low and middle-income countries, as well as in the highest-risk groups globally, and the uncertainty associated with emerging variants. 

‘Pandemic fatigue’

They also recognized that “pandemic fatigue” and the impression of reduced risk “have led to drastically reduced use of public health and social measures, such as masks and social distancing”.

Among its recommendations, the UN health agency urged countries to remain vigilant and to continue to report surveillance and genomic sequencing data to WHO.

“Appropriately targeted” public health and social measures should also be implemented where necessary, and the most vulnerable communities should be vaccinated to minimize severe disease and deaths, the WHO meeting heard.

Answering people’s concerns about COVID-19 remains key to improving why it is so important to implement preventative that will keep the coronavirus at bay, the UN health agency said.

The Emergency Committee explained that although the Omicron variants that are circulating globally remain highly transmissible, infection no longer necessarily means that severe disease will follow, when compared to earlier coronavirus variants of concern.

The Emergency Committee issued 7 key recommendations to WHO Member States:

1⃣ focussing on vaccination & boosters
2⃣ improving data reporting to WHO
3⃣ increasing uptake & long-term availability of #COVID19 vaccines, diagnostics & therapeutics

📌 https://t.co/1fKPcWh1JN https://t.co/wDFPzvXzmt

$2.54 billion needed to tackle unprecedented health needs in 2023: WHO  

In its appeal, the WHO said that a staggering 339 million people now need humanitarian assistance globally.  

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the UN agency’s Director-General, urged donors “to be generous” and help WHO to save lives, prevent the spread of disease within and across borders, and support communities as they rebuild. 

Today, WHO staff are providing assistance in 54 health crises around the world, 11 of which are classified as Grade 3, WHO’s highest level of emergency, requiring the most comprehensive response.  

“As it is often the case, the most vulnerable are the worst-hit,” the UN agency said in a statement. 

Responding in all crisis situations 

The UN agency is already working in an “unprecedented” number of emergencies, from the fall-out of devastating flooding in Pakistan, to catastrophic food insecurity across the Sahel and in the greater Horn of Africa.  

The WHO is also heavily involved in alleviating suffering in Ukraine following the Russian invasion and it continues to work in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and northern Ethiopia, where conflict, COVID-19 and climate change have dangerously disrupted health care access.  

​The main hospital in Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, has been almost completely destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to access essential services. .
© UNFPA/Andriy Kravchenko

​The main hospital in Izyum, in the Kharkiv region, has been almost completely destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to access essential services. .

Tedros appeal 

“This unprecedented convergence of crises demands an unprecedented response,” said Tedros. “More people than ever before face the imminent risk of disease and starvation and need help now. The world cannot look away and hope these crises resolve themselves.” 

In 2022, WHO’s assistance to communities in conjunction with local and national authorities, non-governmental authorities and civil society organizations included medicines and other key supplies, training for health professionals, vaccines, enhanced disease surveillance, mobile clinics, mental health support, maternal health consultations and more.  

Health benefits 

“WHO delivers cost-effective, high-impact responses that protect health, lives and livelihoods,” the agency insisted. “Every $1 invested in WHO generates at least $35 in return on investment.” 

According to the WHO website, the UN agency is responding to Grade 3 health emergencies in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the greater Horn of Africa, Northern Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic and mpox outbreaks are also Grade 3 emergencies. 

WHO calls for action to totally eliminate trans fat, ‘a toxic chemical that kills’

Industrially produced trans fat – commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads – is responsible for up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year, the UN agency said. 

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WHO has released a status report that follows up on its 2018 call for the substance to be totally eliminated from all foods by this year. 

Huge health risks 

Since then, 43 countries have implemented best-practice policies for tackling trans fat, with some 2.8 million people now protected, a nearly six-fold increase. However, the elimination goal currently remains unattainable. 

“Trans fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General. 

“By contrast, eliminating trans fat is cost effective and has enormous benefits for health. Put simply, trans fat is a toxic chemical that kills, and should have no place in food. It’s time to get rid of it once and for all.” 

Limits and bans 

Best-practices policies towards this goal follow specific criteria established by WHO and limit industrially produced trans fat in all settings. 

Alternatives include limiting trans fat to two grammes per 100 grammes of total fat in all foods, and mandatory national bans on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils – a major source of trans fat – as an ingredient in foods. 

Currently, nine of the 16 countries with the highest estimated proportion of coronary heart disease deaths caused by trans fat intake do not have a best-practice policy.  

They are Australia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and the Republic of Korea. 

Nations adopting policies 

While most policies have so far been implemented in richer nations, largely in the Americas and in Europe, WHO said an increasing number of middle-income countries are implementing or adopting policies, including Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Paraguay, the Philippines and Ukraine.  

Other countries are considering taking action this year, such as Mexico, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. To date, no low-income countries have adopted a best-practice policy on trans fat elimination. 

A ‘preventable tragedy’ 

The annual status report was published by WHO in collaboration with Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organization that supports action towards eliminating industrially produced trans fat from national food supplies. 

Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Live, warned that progress is at risk of stalling. 

“Every government can stop these preventable deaths by passing a best-practice policy now. The days of trans fat killing people are numbered – but governments must act to end this preventable tragedy.” 

Areas for action 

This year, WHO recommends that countries focus on adopting best-practice policy, in addition to monitoring and surveillance, healthy oil replacements and advocacy.  

The UN agency has developed guidance to help governments make rapid advances in these four areas. 

Meanwhile, food manufacturers are encouraged to eliminate industrially produced trans fat from their products, in line with commitment made by the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA).

Major suppliers of oils and fats also are asked to remove industrially produced trans fat from products sold to food manufacturers globally. 

 

Globally most #transfat elimination policies have been implemented in high-income countries. But this is not the case for low-income countries.

Read more in our status report 👉https://t.co/r8ZQ2C9GIt https://t.co/n7Jx49J45R

‘We are not afraid’: Indigenous Brazilian women stand up to gender violence

In Parque das Tribos, an indigenous neighbourhood in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, violence against women is not uncommon.

“As a leader, I have experienced many things,” says Lutana Ribeiro, a member of the Kokama ethnic group, and the only female chief in Parque das Tribos, which is home to around 4,500 people. “Women knock on my door asking for help.”

Sparsely populated and relatively isolated in terms of air, road and sea access, the state of Amazonas faces particular challenges in access to public services, including for sexual and reproductive health support and gender-based violence response.

Indigenous Brazilian women discuss gender violence in a UNFPA workshop.
UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Indigenous Brazilian women discuss gender violence in a UNFPA workshop.

Huge increase in femicide

In 2021, at least one person called the national police emergency number in Brazil every minute to report domestic violence. From 2016 to 2021, the rate of femicide – defined as the intentional killing of a woman, motivated at least in part by her gender – was reported to have increased by over 44 per cent, with one woman dying as a result of femicide every seven hours.

In the state of Amazonas, of all women killed intentionally by another person, more than one in five were cases of femicide.

Ms. Ribeiro, who is well known among her community as a staunch defender of human rights, recently facilitated a series of workshops for survivors of gender-based violence, which were attended by 50 women from the area. “On the first day, few spoke. Today, most of them have spoken.”

The workshops, run by the UN reproductive and sexual health agency, UNFPA, explored different types of violence and explained how to access local social support networks and available legal protection mechanisms.

These include the Maria da Penha Law, which changed Brazil’s penal code in 2006 to not only allow for aggressors to be arrested for an act of violence against a woman or girl, but also for them to be detained, if the risk of them committing such an act was deemed a threat to a person’s life.

Drawings by children of indigenous Brazilian women participating in UNFPA workshops.
UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Drawings by children of indigenous Brazilian women participating in UNFPA workshops.

A safe space for women

Ms. Ribeiro described how, from the second day of the workshop, the women were eager to share their experiences with each other and with the UNFPA team. “After the first lecture, many women felt stronger. The next day, people said ‘enough’ to violence. These men will no longer do what they want with them, because now the women are more empowered.”

The workshops are aimed at training women from indigenous communities to help spread life-saving information among their friends, family, and peers.

Children also joined in recreational activities so their mothers could attend. “The initiative was very important for us to become increasingly stronger and have this support through dialogue and experience,” says Ms. Ribeiro.

“The workshops created a safe space for women to reflect together on the different forms of violence that affect their daily lives and on coping strategies,” says Débora Rodrigues, head of the UNFPA office in Manaus, “which include expanding the supply of and access to services that guarantee protection and rights for all the Parque das Tribos community”.

With financial support from the United States Agency for International Development, UNFPA is implementing projects across Brazil’s northern states of Amazonas and Roraima to strengthen the local capacities in preventing and confronting gender-based violence.

In 2022, more than 36,000 women and girls benefited from the initiative, with increased access to services such as shelters and safe spaces for survivors, as well as workshops that also engaged men and boys.

Ms. Ribeiro says the participants in the Parque das Tribos workshop felt collectively strengthened, asserting: “We, as indigenous people, are not afraid.”

COVID-19: China ‘making enormous progress’ to get every older adult vaccinated

Dr. Kate O’Brien from the World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the change in China’s initial “zero-dose” policy for elderly people had left some unsure about asking for a coronavirus vaccine now.

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“Clearly with the need for protection of older adults, it’s been difficult for older adults to sort of change their understanding of the recommendation and to move on from that first recommendation about adults being vulnerable. China’s making enormous progress and effort to get to every older adult with both primary doses and with booster doses.”

Dr. O’Brien, who is the UN health agency’s Director for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said that the WHO would be “looking with great anticipation” at data from China on routine immunisations for 2022.

During the height of the pandemic, many countries had supplied the WHO with vaccine data on a monthly basis, but more recently there has been notable backsliding, “and we really don’t want that to happen”, Dr. O’Brien said.

Keep getting vaccinated

She emphasized that based on evidence, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination greatly outweigh the potential risk of side effects of the vaccines and that the effectiveness of the current shots relies on people taking all of their recommended doses. As of January 2023, 83 per cent of the global population has been vaccinated.

“The vaccines that we have to protect from COVID-19 are…highly effective by preventing severe disease and death, though they are less effective at stopping people from getting infected or from transmitting to somebody else”, she told journalists in Geneva.

However, she said, that “maximizing this effectiveness against hospitalization, severe disease and death really does rely on people taking all the recommended doses and that’s particularly important for people who are in high-priority groups”.

No evidence for stroke link with mRNA vaccines

Dr. O’Brien noted that, based on US data that monitors vaccine safety, concern has been fuelled in recent weeks over the possibility of mRNA vaccines – such as the Moderna and Pfizer COVID shots – increasing the risk of strokes among the older population.

According to her, “the evaluation of reports…has not found further evidence to substantiate” a link between mRNA vaccine and strokes.

“But I do want to emphasize that we have already known that there is a risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, that has also received attention recently”.

This has been linked to COVID-19 vaccines, said WHO, but is a rare event. When it occurs, it is typically mild, responsive to treatment, and less serious than myocarditis found with COVID-19 disease, or myocarditis due to another cause.

“What I really want to emphasize is that our advice to the public remains that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination greatly outweigh the potential risk. This is based on evidence”.

Routine immunizations drive

She also announced that WHO would rapidly step-up routine vaccinations for preventable diseases during the year ahead.

In 2021 alone, 25 million children missed routine vaccinations, she emphasized.

“We have over 50 million children cumulatively that now missed out on critical vaccines against measles, rubella, diphtheria and other of the life threating infections for which we vaccinate”, said Dr. O’Brien. 

“Our advice to the public remains that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination greatly outweigh the potential risk. 𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒊𝒔 𝒃𝒂𝒔𝒆𝒅 𝒐𝒏 𝒆𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆”.”
– Dr. @Kate_L_OBrien at today’s @UNGeneva press briefing https://t.co/zaILFy6auf

Small island States to accelerate action on preventable diseases, mental health

This follows a two-day meeting in Barbados hosted by the Government, WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which concluded on Wednesday. 

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Over half of all people living in small island countries are dying prematurely from preventable diseases and the rate of hypertension is over 30 per cent in nearly all countries, according to a new WHO data portal. 

Crises fuelling disease 

SIDS account for 10 of the nations with the highest rates of obesity worldwide.  

They also are on track to have the highest prevalence of diabetes among adults in the world, while rates of mental health conditions reach as high as 15 per cent in the Caribbean and the Pacific. 

The situation is partly due to multiple overlapping crises affecting countries, WHO explained. 

“The climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with poverty, unemployment, inequality and the marginalization of minority communities, are fuelling an increase in non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency’s Director-General. 

Collaborating for change  

During the meeting, participants identified key recommendations to scale up action towards achieving a one-third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs and suicide, before 2030. 

Recommendations include accelerating collaboration on early detection, prevention and management; strengthening health systems in the face of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic; tackling obesity, and providing adequate, sustainable financial and human resources for NCDs and mental health.  

Reducing the risk 

The meeting also heard that small island states are at the forefront of rolling out low-cost, high-impact solutions to reduce the most common risk factors of NCDs and mental health. 

Interventions include the use of health taxation, incorporating health into climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, and maintaining NCD and mental health services during health emergencies. 

Commercial drivers of NCDs also were discussed, such as trade agreements and policies. 

WHO said these measures influence the price, availability and promotion of food products, cigarettes and alcohol, which have contributed to the alarmingly high levels of food insecurity and preventable diseases in the SIDS. 

Small island developing states are facing overlapping crises like climate change, the #COVID19 pandemic, poverty & more.

This together w/ negative commercial influences is driving high rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) & #MentalHealth conditions.👉https://t.co/ztxmCqp3zv https://t.co/mG4ZMDDDZi

WHO launches Council to develop TB vaccines, hoping to save millions of lives

Tedros announced the creation of the TB Vaccine Accelerator Council at a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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During his opening remarks, he noted that one of the most important lessons from the COVID-19 response is that innovative health interventions can be delivered fast if they are prioritized politically and financed adequately: no new TB vaccines have been licensed in a century, despite its impact on human health. 

“The challenges presented by TB and COVID-19 are different, but the ingredients that accelerate science, research and innovation are the same: urgent, up-front public investment; support from philanthropy; and engagement of the private sector and communities,” said Tedros. “We believe the TB field will benefit from similar high-level coordination.” 

No slowing down 

The new Council is intended to bring together funders, global agencies, governments and those with TB, in identifying and overcoming barriers to vaccine development. 

TB, also known as consumption, is caused by bacteria that mostly affect the lungs. It is spread through the air when someone who has TB coughs, sneezes or spits. 

The disease is both curable and preventable, yet, despite global commitments to end TB by 2030, the epidemic shows no sign of slowing down, says WHO. 

In 2021, roughly 10.6 million fell sick with the disease, and 1.6 million died from it. Drug resistance continues to be a major problem, with close to half a million people developing drug-resistant TB every year. 

A sole vaccine 

Currently, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, developed in 1921, is the only licensed TB vaccine. While BCG provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and young children, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for nearly 90 per cent of TB transmissions globally. 

WHO recently commissioned a study on investing in new TB vaccines, which estimates that over 25 years, a vaccine that is 50 per cent effective in preventing disease among young people and adults could avert up to 76 million TB cases. 

Furthermore, every dollar invested in a 50 per cent effective vaccine could generate an economic return of $7 in terms of averted health costs and increased productivity. Additionally, some 8.5 million lives could be saved, as well as $6.5 billion in costs faced by TB-affected households, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, a vaccine with 75 per cent efficacy could avert up to 110 million new TB cases and 12.3 million deaths. 

Countries will meet later this year for a UN High-Level Meeting to review progress on commitments made in a 2018 political declaration on the fight against TB. WHO described the event as an important opportunity to correct setbacks in the response to the virus, which includes the urgent development and delivery of new TB vaccines. 

 

One key lesson from #COVID19 is that innovative health interventions can be delivered rapidly, if they are prioritized politically and financed adequately. We believe the #tuberculosis field will benefit from similar high-level coordination. https://t.co/3NdhSMlzd7 #wef23 #EndTB

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