Tag: South Africa

Tech Transfer for Local mRNA Vaccine Production

South Africa is planning to make vaccines locally using messenger RNA, the breakthrough technology of the global COVID vaccination effort – and once nearly consigned to the dustbin of medical research history.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its COVAX partners are working with a South African consortium comprising Biovac, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.

This follows WHO’s global call for Expression of Interest to establish COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hubs to scale up production and access to COVID vaccines. The partners will negotiate details with the South African government and public and private partners both local and international.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The COVID pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security. This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self determination. South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort.”

“This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “COVID has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.”

The announcement follows the recent visit to South Africa by French President Emmanuel Macron, who gave his country’s commitment to aiding local vaccine production.

“Today is a great day for Africa. It is also a great day for all those who work towards a more equitable access to health products. I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years,” said President Macron. “This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”

Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licences to the technology, assisted by the WHO and partners.

Biovac is a bio-pharmaceutical company resulting from a partnership formed with the South African government in 2003 to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability for the provision of vaccines for national health management and security.

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is a biotechnology company focuses on product development, bulk adjuvant manufacturing and supply and distribution of key biologicals to address unmet healthcare needs.

The organisations complement one another, and can each take on different roles within the proposed collaboration: Biovac will be the developer while Afrigen is the manufacturer, with a consortium of universities as academic supporters providing mRNA know-how. Africa CDC will provide technical and regional support.

The South African consortium has existing operating facilities with available capacity and experience in technology transfers. It is also a global hub that can start training technology recipients immediately.

The WHO is speaking to a number of pharmaceutical manufacturers about establishing the hub, though the talks are so far mainly with “smaller companies,” said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist. “We are having discussions with the larger companies with proven mRNA technology,” she added.

The mRNA vaccines may be produced in South Africa within 9 to 12 months, she said. WHO’s call for expressions of interest has so far generated 28 offers to either provide technology for mRNA vaccines or to host a technology hub or both. 

It is the first time that messenger RNA technology has been used to make vaccines, which has been used by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. They have proven very effective against the original SARS-CoV-2 strains and even against its more recent variants.

Source: World Health Organization

High Burden of Uncontrolled Disease in KwaZulu-Natal

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

A comprehensive health-screening program has found a high burden of poorly controlled or uncontrolled disease KwaZulu-Natal, along with a high incidence of undiagnosed diseases.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, found that four out of five women over 30 had a chronic health condition, and that the HIV-negative population and older people had the highest burden of undiagnosed or poorly controlled non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The study was conducted at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI).

Study co-leader Emily Wong, MD, at AHRI in Durban, said: “The data will give AHRI researchers and the Department of Health critical indicators for where the most urgent interventions are needed,” Dr Wong said. “The research was done before COVID, but it has highlighted the urgency of diagnosing and treating people with non-communicable diseases — given that people with uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension are at higher risk of getting very ill with COVID.” 

HIV-associated tuberculosis infections are particularly prevalent in Durban. Dr Wong of the University of Alabama works there to understand the impact of HIV infection on tuberculosis pathogenesis, immunity and epidemiology. In sub-Saharan Africa, 15 years of intense public health efforts that increased access to antiretroviral therapy has resulted in decreased AIDS mortality and raised life expectancy. As a result, there is an increasing priority to address other causes of disease, including tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases.

Over 18 months, health workers screened 17 118 people aged 15 years and older via mobile camps within 1 kilometre of each participant’s home in the uMkhanyakude district. They found high and overlapping burdens of HIV, tuberculosis, diabetes and hypertension among men and women.

While the HIV cases were largely well diagnosed and treated, some demographic groups  still had high rates of undiagnosed and untreated HIV, such as men in their 20s and 30s. In contrast, the majority of people with tuberculosis, diabetes or hypertension were either undiagnosed or not well controlled. Of particular concern was the high rates of undiagnosed and asymptomatic tuberculosis discovered, as it remains one of the leading causes of death in South Africa.

“Our findings suggest that the massive efforts of the past 15 years to test and treat for HIV have done very well for that one disease,” Dr Wong said. “But in that process, we may have neglected some of the other important diseases that are highly prevalent.”

The mobile camps screened for diabetes, high blood pressure, nutritional status (obesity and malnutrition), and tobacco and alcohol use, as well as HIV and tuberculosis. The tuberculosis screening component included high-quality digital chest X-rays and sputum tests for people who reported symptoms or had abnormal X-rays. Clinical information was combined with 20 years of population data from AHRI’s health and demographic surveillance research. Using a sophisticated data system combined with artificial intelligence to interpret the chest X-rays, AHRI’s clinical team examined the information in real time, referring people to the public health system as needed.

The study found that: 

  • Half of the participants had at least one active disease, and 12 percent had two or more diseases. Diabetes and hypertension incidences were 8.5 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
  • One-third of the people were living with HIV, but this was mostly well diagnosed and treated. A particularly high burden of HIV, high blood pressure and diabetes was seen in women.
  • For tuberculosis, 1.4 percent of the people had active disease, and 22 percent had lifetime disease. About 80 percent of the undiagnosed tuberculosis was asymptomatic, with higher rates of active tuberculosis seen in men.
  • Several disease patterns varied by geographical location — eg, the highest HIV burden was seen near main roads, while higher rates of tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases were seen in more remote areas.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Journal information: Wong, E. B., et al. (2021) Convergence of infectious and non-communicable disease epidemics in rural South Africa: a cross-sectional, population-based multimorbidity study. The Lancet Global Health. doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(21)00176-5.

SAMA Head Urges Stronger Lockdown; Two-thirds of Cases in Gauteng

Photo by Maxim Zhgulev on Unsplash

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) had said that early indications showed that the third wave of South Africa’s COVID pandemic would be worse than the previous two.

As infections surge around the country, particularly in Gauteng Province, the government  moved to Level 3, strengthening some curbs, including liquor sale restrictions, an extended curfew and a cap on the number of people allowed at gatherings. However, there has been no outright ban on alcohol.

As of Thursday, 11767 new COVID infections have been confirmed, with nearly two-thirds (7502) being recorded in Gauteng. The overall case positivity rate is 22.6%

SAMA chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said that the government’s measures were implemented far too late.

“People carry on as if everything is right. Everything is not right. We are in a pandemic, we are in a third wave and a third wave that’s going to be worse. At this stage, all the indications are that it is going to be worse than the second wave.”

Speaking to the SABC, she said Gauteng was running out of beds and oxygen. “If you want a bed in Gauteng you are going to struggle so this is what we’re seeing and if we want to get out of this we need to make tough decisions. But it seems like it’s not going to happen so for now it is what it is and no one should be astonished if the numbers go up,” says Coetzee.

Dr Coetzee also warned that allowing schools to remain open was a bad decision.

“Without proper, effective and decisive measures to curb the spread of COVID, our infection and fatality numbers are going to climb even further. In addition, schools are still open, travel is still allowed and public transport can still operate as they currently are. This should not have been allowed.”

The Basic Education Department had already dismissed suggestions that schools should be closed as well as part of the COVID containment efforts. She also argued against a  simple tightening of curfews and alcohol sales.

“Nothing significant has changed. The stricter curfew measures and limitations on alcohol sales will simply mean people change their behaviour to accommodate for these restrictions and will have little impact on people’s daily routines. This is actually where restrictions should have been targeted.”

Speaking to Jacaranda, she said, “For us, it doesn’t make sense, we need people at home. We don’t want people in a shopping centre or anywhere else, if we can manage to do that for three to four weeks we can get the numbers down but for now, I don’t see that happening.”

Source: EWN

Millions of J&J Vaccines for South Africa Unfit for Use

In yet another blow to South Africa’s flagging vaccination programme, millions of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses meant to be used have been declared unfit for use. This is due to contamination concerns at one of the group’s facilities in the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration said that the doses were not suitable for use. Upon reviewing this decision, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said in a statement that it had decided “not to release vaccine produced using the drug substance batches that were not suitable”.

J&J’s Emergent plant was ordered to pause production in April several weeks after it was determined that batches of a substance used to produce the vaccine were cross-contaminated with ingredients from another jab made by Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca. The FDA is yet to allow the factory to reopen.

Acknowledging the setback in South Africa’s vaccination programme, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said Saturday that the batches concerned were stored in a high-security laboratory in Port Elizabeth belonging to drugmaker Aspen. Aspen meanwhile promised that it is ramping up production elsewhere to meet the shortfall, and President Ramaphosa said that he discussed with President Biden the possibility of receiving US vaccine donations.

Along with other countries South Africa, is pushing for a patent waiver on COVID vaccines to allow low cost production of generics.

“If we are to save lives and end the pandemic, we need to expand and diversify manufacturing and get medical products to treat, combat and prevent the pandemic to as many people as quickly as possible,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told the G7 group of wealthy nations meeting in Britain on Sunday. The country needs 31 million doses of the J&J vaccine to help vaccinate its population of 59 million.

South Africa has secured 30 million doses of the highly effective Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but is a two-dose vaccine which has significant cold chain requirements.

Emergency shipment

SAHPRA stated that there is a new delivery of approximately 300 000 J&J doses “that have been cleared by the US FDA that meet the requirements and will subsequently be released and shipped to South Africa.” The expiry date of these doses have been extended, and will be ready for administration to South African teachers within days.

Vaccinations were already paused in April after reports of rare cases of blood clots. And in February, South Africa rejected over 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as it was deemed ineffective. The J&J vaccines were already facing expiry as they had been removed from long term storage.

South Africa has only vaccinated just over 1% of its population but as far as can be ascertained with limited testing in Africa is the hardest hit by COVID on the continent, with over 1.7 million recorded cases.
Source: Eyewitness News

Urgent Vaccine Call as COVID Closes Free State Schools

Photo by Mary Taylor from Pexels

As COVID cases and deaths continue to rise in the Free State, with schools being closed, it is unclear when the province’s teachers will receive their vaccinations.

The deaths of six learners, 75 teachers, and three support staff from COVID have been reported in the Free State since March 2020.

While teachers await their vaccines, COVID still claims lives in the school system – and not just older teachers and staff. Quincy Tsoenyane lost a daughter to COVID-related complications, 18 year-old Nomthandazo Ngcoyi, who was a learner at Lephola Secondary school in Welkom. Nomthandazo was one of 11 learners at the school who tested positive for COVID in May. Tsoenyane, who is a father to two surviving children, said it pains him to know that his daughter got sick at school.

According to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Nomthandazo developed a cough at school and was tested for COVID along with other learners. On 19 May, she tested positive and was sent home to self-isolate. She died at home six days later.

A rare case

Dr Cloete van Vuuren, an Infectious Disease Specialist in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Free State, said that Nomthandazo’s death is a rare case as it is uncommon for young people to die from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The DBE figures show that since March 2020, the Free State has recorded a total of 2101 positive cases among teachers in schools: 1377 among learners, and 461 among non-teaching staff. Outbreaks of COVID cases have forced several shutdowns of Free State schools.

Holding out for vaccines

As COVID numbers climb in Free State schools, teaching federations and unions are urging that teachers be vaccinated as soon as possible.

From 26 July, children from Grades R to 7 will return to in-person classes. In a media statement, the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said that they are pleased to hear that the education sector will receive 500 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

However, the union said they are still in limbo because the doses must still require verification by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will expire on 28 July.

As of Thursday, there were 591 new COVID cases in Free State, with a new case incidence rate of 17.8 per 100 000 people.

Teachers need to protect themselves and others

Dr Kerrin Begg, Public Health Specialist in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town reminded teachers that although it is understandable for them to be anxious about the vaccination, each and every person has the responsibility to educate themselves.

“Teachers need to be teaching themselves about the virus just like they do in their everyday line of work of teaching children.

“At the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa, we have produced school guidelines on measures to take to reduce the transmission of COVID in the school environment,” she said. She said that socialising outside of class was where most of the transmission took place, and that learners now no longer adhered to social distancing.

“We remind parents and teachers to remember that protecting themselves is not to be practiced during school hours only, but there are three major focal points of transmission which are before, during, and after school hours.

“Teachers need to understand that the environment of the classroom is very important. Fresh air is better than artificial air, outside is better than inside. Schools also need to continue to promote personal and physical distancing, and hygiene measures daily,” Dr Begg said.

Source: Spotlight

ImmunityBio Vaccine Trial Expanding in Western Cape

In addition to traditional subcutaneous administration for the vaccine candidate, the trial will measure immune responses generated by sublingual and nasal administration routes. Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The Phase I clinical trial of ImmunityBio’s experimental COVID vaccine, designed to be effective against COVID variants, is about to be expanded to include different administration routes as well as effectiveness in people who previously had COVID. 

Co-investigator Prof Graeme Meintjes, second chair in the Department of Medicine at UCT, said that the Phase I trial has started and is still ongoing at the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa’s (CIDRI-Africa) Khayelitsha clinical research site.

He said that the first two cohorts of ten participants each both received two subcutaneous injections of the vaccine, three weeks apart, with one cohort receiving a higher dose.

“The purpose of that was to assess safety, so participants were followed up very carefully for side effects and for reactions to the vaccine. And the review of that suggests no major safety concerns,” he explained. He added that the Phase I trial design has since been adapted to include four more cohorts, which is going through the approval process.
These four additional cohorts will include people who have had COVID because the researchers want to look at the effect the vaccine will have on boosting existing immunity against COVID. Each cohort will have ten participants, bringing the expected total number of participants for Phase I to 60 people.

New administration routes

To see whether different administration routes produce a sufficient immune response, each participant in these new cohorts will receive one dose of the vaccine through one of four routes. These would be either a subcutaneous injection, a sublingual route, a combination of subcutaneous injection and sublingual method, or an intranasal route.

“We’ll be measuring the antibody responses as well as the T-cell responses to the vaccine, but we do not have results yet,” said Meintjes. He added that enrolment should be complete in the next two months, pending the outcome of the approval process.

Phase II/III trial plans

Phase II and Phase III trials in South Africa are being planned, which will be headed by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Mentjes confirmed.

Details will be made available once the trial has been approved by SAHPRA. It is unlikely that placebos will be used, now that vaccines are shown to be effective; rather different vaccines will be compared.

Broader immune response with two-pronged defence

The vaccine has been designed to potentially offer a broader, long-lasting immune response, Mentjes noted. In this way it should also provide improved protection against COVID variants.

Currently, most of the COVID vaccines are designed to produce an immune response against the spike protein of the virus, but it mutates rapidly, allowing certain variants to partially or fully escape vaccines. 

The ImmunityBio vaccine aims to offer a two-pronged or dual defence, Meintjes said, with the vaccine containing two proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus: the spike protein along with the more stable nucleocapsid protein. The nucleocapsid is an RNA-binding protein which is critical for viral replication and genome packaging.

He explains that targeting nucleocapsid could potentially provide more durable and long-term protection against different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus because the immune system will recognise the nucleocapsid even when the spike protein changes.

“The hope is that by including the nucleocapsid you would generate a vaccine response that covers emerging variants, those that have emerged and those that might emerge in the future,” he says.

Human-adenovirus based vaccine carrier

The ImmunityBio vaccine will use an adenovirus vector to deliver the antigens. Director of the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), Professor Willem Hanekom, explained that a vector is needed in order to stimulate the immune system’s response, and a viral vector is effective since it is foreign to the immune system, helping provoke an immune response. The virus is designed to simply carry the antigens into the body.

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a modified chimpanzee adenovirus while Johnson & Johnson’s uses the human adenovirus Ad26, which has been used before in a number of vaccines including HIV. ImmunityBio’s vaccine uses the human adenovirus hAd5, which was initially used in failed gene therapy trials — but which proved to be an excellent vaccine delivery system. However, its development over the past two decades has been halting.

According to Prof Hanekom, if there is previous immunity against the adenovirus being used in a vaccine, the immune system will destroy it before the antigens inside are released. This has been circumvented with the ImmunityBio vaccine so that the immune system doesn’t immediately recognise the hAd5 vector. There was concern that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would have limited efficacy in sub-Saharan Africa due to the fact that about half the population have immunity to Ad26.

“They’ve modified the adenovirus so it will still work and still be seen by the immune system even if there is pre-existing immunity because they’ve taken out the parts that the pre-existing immunity sees,” Prof Hanekom said.

Enhanced T-cell response

The vaccine is specifically designed to elicit strong T-cell responses to the nucleocapsid, and this has been seen in animal studies, Mentjes noted.

“Obviously one purpose of these studies is to see whether this design element generates those strong T-cell responses in humans as well,” he says. “All COVID vaccines elicit T and B cell responses, it’s not one or the other. But this (vaccine) is specifically designed to enhance those T-cell responses.”

B-cells and T-cells form part of the body’s adaptive immune response. B-cells form the antibodies to respond to a pathogen, and when the virus is introduced again, memory B-cells provide the antibodies to respond quickly.

Vardas says that with the ImmunityBio vaccine, B-cells and memory B-Cells will be formed that will remember the spike protein and the nucleocapsid and how to attack it. She likens this to a sniper attack. She explains that when a memory B-cell detects the spike or nucleocapsid protein, it signals for the production of B-cell antibodies. These antibodies then coat the outside of the virus, which signals the T-cells to attack and essentially “eat up” the virus-infected cells.

There are two types of T-cells, explains Vardas – CD4 cells which attack the virus, and CD8 cells, which also form a memory cell as the B-cell does. “You’ll have groups of CD4 and CD8 cells that are spike protein-specific and groups that are nucleocapsid specific, so improving that kind of attack to two sides of the war,” said Vardas.

Source: University of Cape Town

Meet the Two Women in the Running for SA’s Top Medical Job

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize is in hot water over alleged procurement fraud for a R150 million COVID contract, and is widely expected to step down shortly.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is reportedly weighing up two candidates to replace Dr Mkhize as health minister.

The candidates are the former Gauteng health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, (who took over following the Life Esidimeni tragedy) and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who, as Health Minister saw the overhaul of the country’s apartheid-era healthcare systems.

As an anti-Apartheid activist, Dr Ramokgopa held various leadership positions. She qualified as a medical doctor (MBChB) in 1989 and obtained her Master’s in Public Health (MPH) in 2007. She worked as a Medical Officer at the Dr George Mukhari (then Ga-Rankuwa) Hospital until 1992.

Having served once as the Gauteng health MEC in 1999,  Dr Ramokgopa took on the role deputy health minister from 2010 to 2014. She succeeded Qedani Mahlangu as Gauteng health MEC following the shameful Life Esidimeni tragedy involving the deaths of at least 94 mental health patients released from private mental healthcare facilities to 27 unlicensed facilities. In a  statement, she vowed to tackle waste and corruption.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma completed her MBChB at the University of Bristol in 1978, and took part in underground ANC activities. During Mandela’s presidency, she was appointed Minister of Health, and courted controversy by voicing support for Virodene, an ‘HIV cure’ which attracted heavy criticism and which was never approved.

She then served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2009, and then Minister of Home Affairs to 2012, where she turned around a department mired by mismanagement. Despite stubborn resistance from French-speaking nations, she was elected the African Union’s (AU) Chairperson from 2012 to 2017 and was praised for focusing on gender issues. After this, she began vying for the ANC presidency as an MP. In 2019, she was appointed Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

During South Africa’s lockdown, she memorably rose to internet fame for using “zol” to refer to cannabis when giving reasons for the tobacco ban.

South African Woman Gives Birth to 10 Babies in World First

Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

In a world first, a Gauteng woman has given birth to 10 babies. It was only last month when Malian woman Halima Cissé had set the record when she gave birth to nine children in Morocco.

Gosiame Thamara Sithole, 37, delivered her seven boys and three girls by Caesarean section at 29 weeks along last night at a Pretoria hospital, according to her husband Teboho Tsotetsi. 

While such large numbers are usually a result of fertility treatment, Sithole had told the Pretoria News that her pregnancy was natural. She already has a pair of six-year-old twins.

Sithole said in an interview that she was shocked and fascinated by the pregnancy.

The retail store manager was told she had sextuplets, before that was revised to octuplets and finally decuplets because two foetuses were hidden in the fallopian tubes.

“I am shocked by my pregnancy. It was tough at the beginning. I was sick. It was hard for me. It’s still tough but I am used to it now. I don’t feel the pain anymore, but it’s still a bit tough. I just pray for God to help me deliver all my children in a healthy condition, and for me and my children to come out alive. I would be pleased about it,” Sithole said.

At first, she was dubious when the doctors informed her she was pregnant with octuplets.

“I didn’t believe it. I doubted it. I was convinced that if it was more, it would be twins or triplets, not more than that. When the doctor told me, I took time to believe it. Even when I saw the scans I didn’t believe it. But, as time went by, I realised it was indeed true. I battled to sleep at night though.”

Sithole had worried a great deal about her unborn children.

“How would they fit in the womb? Would they survive? What if they came out conjoined at the head, in the stomachs or hands? Like, what would happen? I asked myself all these questions until the doctor assured me that my womb was starting to expand inside. God made a miracle and my children stayed in the womb without any complications.”

Tsotetsi, who is unemployed, also said he was shocked when he heard the news.

“I could not believe it. I felt like one of God’s chosen children. I felt blessed to be given these kinds of blessings when many people out there need children. It’s a miracle which I appreciate. I had to go do my own research on whether a person could really conceive eight children. It was a new thing. I knew about twins, triplets and even quadruplets,” Tsotetsi said.

“But after I found out that these things do happen, and saw my wife’s medical records, I got even more excited. I can’t wait to have them in my arms.”

Professor Dini Mawela, deputy head of the school of medicine at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, said Sithole’s case was rare and usually the result of fertility treatments. Because it was a “high risk” situation, the children will spend the next few months in an incubator, she said. Termed ‘grand multiparity‘, such pregnancies can be risky, and a pregnancy with 10 babies is of course unprecedented.  

“It’s quite a unique situation. I don’t know how often it happens. It’s extremely high risk (pregnancy). It’s a highly complex and high-risk situation. The danger is that, because there is not enough space in the womb for the children, the tendency is that they will be small. What would happen is that they would take them out pre-term because there is a risk if they keep them longer in there. The babies will come out small, chances of survival compromised. But all this depends on how long she carried them for.”

Source: IOL

WHO Warns of African Third Wave

COVID cases map. Photo by Giacomo Carra on Unsplash

A surge in COVID cases in many parts of Africa could mean a continental third wave, the World Health Organization warned, posing a great threat for a continent where immunisation drives have been hamstrung by funding shortfalls and production delays for vaccine doses.

The WHO said that over the last week, test positivity had risen in 14 African countries, with eight reporting a surge of over 30% in new cases. Infections are steadily climbing in South Africa, where four of nine provinces are battling a third wave and the positivity rate was 14.2% as of Sunday. Uganda has also seen sharp increases, with hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients and a lockdown being considered.

Weak compliance with social restrictions, increasing travel and the arrival of winter is behind the rise in cases, the WHO said. Experts also believe that new variants are also driving the numbers up.

Although Africa has reported less than 3 per cent of global coronavirus cases, the WHO said that the continent accounted for 3.7 percent of total deaths. This is likely an underestimate, given the lack of formal reporting for deaths.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement. “It’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of Covid-19.”

While many wealthier countries have vigorous vaccination campaigns and some are on track to fully reopen, many of Africa’s poorer countries face a huge challenge in accessing vaccines.

Out of 1.3 billion people on the continent, only 31 million have received at least one dose, Dr Moeti said, and only seven million are fully vaccinated. Just 1386 people in Kenya have received two doses of a vaccine, out of a population of 50 million.

Countries like Ghana and Rwanda have run through their first deliveries of vaccines through Covax, the global facility working to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines.

In some countries, vaccine hesitancy has been so high that it even caused stocks of vaccines to expire. Possible contamination in Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses detected at a US manufacturing plant has resulted in yet another delay to South Africa’s immunisation programme.

Meanwhile, fake vaccines and PPE pose another problem; last November a police raid in South Africa found almost 2400 doses of fake vaccine.

The WHO warned that the surge of causes could swamp the limited capacities of healthcare systems. To stave off a full-blown crisis, Dr Moeti urged “countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”

Only about two per cent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, compared with the 24 per cent global figure.

“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,” said Dr. Moeti. “I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”

Source: UN News

Gift of The Givers Rescues Hospital by Drilling for Water

Photo by Anandan Anandan on Unsplash

Three weeks into Johannesburg’s water crisis, which has put tremendous strain on hospitals amid the pandemic, Gift of the Givers have said they will drill for water at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital.

“Having delivered bottled water on 28 and 31 May, Gift of the Givers drilling teams will be arriving at the hospital shortly, having been granted permission by the management and infrastructure team to drill for water,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the non-governmental disaster response organisation, the largest African one on the continent.

According to the Daily Maverick, Johannesburg Water’s infrastructure woes are the consequence of years of chronic under-funding. In its business plan for the year, the entity has “has an infrastructure renewal backlog of approximately R19.9-billion as a result of underfunding, which has also led to having 25% of the asset base (reservoirs, towers, pipes, etc) that has a remaining useful life of less than 10 years.”

Amidst concerns about knock-on effects on facilities such as Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa hospitals, Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said that since last week, the hospitals’ management were trying to ease the pressure on the two worst affected facilities by transferring some patients to other hospitals and performing some theatre operations at sister hospitals.

Hospital staff and management had approached Gift of the Givers, requesting bottled water, portable toilets and any means to augment the water tankers arriving daily.

Rahima Moosa is one of the feeder hospitals for the temporarily closed Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and healthcare workers trying to work through a backlog of non-COVID patients between the second and third waves. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, said Sooliman,

“Add to that a desperate community thronging to the hospital in search of drinking water, clearly worsening COVID risk,” he said.

Sooliman said a drilling site had been identified.

“Existing, defunct boreholes will be assessed with a view to resuscitating them while drilling for new boreholes then pumping water directly into the hospital infrastructure using booster pumps and setting up taps outside the hospital for community use once the water has been tested and approved for human consumption,” said Sooliman.

Bottled water from companies will be welcomed while they waited for the work to be completed, he added.

Source: Times Live