Roche (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY) announced the launch of the BenchMark ULTRA PLUS system, its newest advanced tissue staining platform. The system enables quick and accurate test results so clinicians can make timely decisions regarding a patient’s care journey.
“Over one million cases of cancer are diagnosed in Africa each year2. With many African communities living in rural areas or far from healthcare centres, waiting for a diagnosis is often one of the most stressful times. The BenchMark ULTRA PLUS enables pathologists to provide quick and accurate results that help inform patient treatment options, timeously.” says Alan Yates Ad-Interim General Manager South Africa & SADC markets, Roche Diagnostics.
Cancer and other abnormal cells can be characterised by biochemical markers from within the cells. By applying chemical solutions to tissue on glass slides with the BenchMark ULTRA PLUS, a healthcare professional can identify these markers to determine the presence or absence of key drivers that feed the unhealthy cells and, in many cases, the type of therapy that could be used to combat them3.
The new BenchMark ULTRA PLUS system continues the evolution of the BenchMark series, which revolutionised cancer diagnostics by fully automating processes that used to be performed manually, one slide at a time.
Lab personnel will be able to manage their activities more efficiently as a result of simplified software and streamlined productivity and quality control. These enhancements can help support the quicker delivery of test results for patients who are waiting for a diagnosis.
The new system has several innovations such as new intuitive software, remote monitoring features, an integrated touchscreen for a more optimised user experience, and a more environmentally sustainable waste system and product packaging1&4.
The BenchMark ULTRA PLUS system will be available in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Namibia and Mauritius in 2023.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, announced the launch of Wiki Unseen, a collaboration with artists aimed at expanding the visual representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Wikimedia projects and advancing knowledge equity.
Launched on Tuesday, the first iteration of the project, a collaboration with artists from Africa, North America, and the Caribbean, will help to address the visual and written underrepresentation of several Black historical figures on Wikipedia and in the media repository Wikimedia Commons. In addition to global artists, the Foundation is collaborating with AfroCROWD.org, a Wikipedia-volunteer-led initiative to create and improve information about Black culture and history on Wikipedia, as well as Bēhance, a social media platform that showcases creative work on the initiative.
Research shows that Wikipedia articles featuring illustrations increase audience engagement and views, creating an additional point of entry for visual learners and expanding understanding of the information presented. With this in mind, the Wikimedia Foundation and AfroCROWD.org worked together to select 20 Wikipedia articles of BIPOC historical figures without visual representation, further collaborating with Bēhance to source a list of artists from the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean to create portraits of each. This year, the artists will create portraits for six of 20 total historical figures.
“Wiki Unseen aims to make Black histories and those of other people underrepresented on Wikipedia more visible,” said Anusha Alikhan, Vice President of Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation. “Closing knowledge equity gaps — including visual ones — is key to ensuring Wikimedia projects are accessible to everyone and represent the breadth of the world’s cultures, experiences, and languages. We know that our work is incomplete until the diversity of our world’s histories is seen.”
When BIPOC histories are told, too often they lack visual representation. Of the 30+ articles in the African Royalty category on English Wikipedia, for example, only three pages picture their subjects. Visual aids and illustrations help people understand and retain the information; their absence reinforces and perpetuates biases.
“Participating in this project is part of what I have been wanting to do as an artist in Africa. Black Africans have been excluded from history and knowing that I can contribute towards making this wrong right is an honor. Wiki Unseen has presented me with an opportunity to make a difference at a larger scale,” said Enam Bosokah “I hope more African artists will take heed of this call and contribute to the free knowledge movement.”
Wikipedia is powered by a global community of volunteer contributors working to advance Wikimedia projects in support of a vision to ensure that people everywhere can share in the sum of all human knowledge. A central pillar of the Wikimedia Movement’s 2030 strategy is to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge, focused on communities left out by structures of power and privilege.
A new WHO report shows that close to 7 million deaths could be prevented by 2030 if low- and lower-middle-income countries were to make an additional investment of less than a dollar per person per year in the prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
NCDs – including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory disease – currently cause 7out of every 10 deaths around the world.
Yet their impact on lower income countries is often underestimated, despite the fact that 85% of premature deaths (between ages 30–69) from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries, making them a huge health and socioeconomic burden.
The vast majority of those deaths can be prevented using WHO’s tried and tested NCD Best Buy interventions. These include cost effective measures to reduce tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, improve diets, increase physical activity, reduce risks from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and prevent cervical cancer.
Keeping people healthy reduces health costs, increases productivity and leads to longer and healthier lives.
“With the right strategic investments, countries that bear a significant amount of the NCD burden can change their disease trajectory and deliver significant health and economic gains for their citizens,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing we can be certain of is that without action, NCDs will continue to be a significant threat to global health. Investing in these evidence-based policies is an investment in a healthy future.”
The report emphasizes the urgency of investing in NCD prevention and management given that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these diseases can worsen outcomes for COVID-19.
By investing in the 16 recommended Best Buy policies, countries will not only protect people from NCDs, but also reduce the impact of infectious diseases like COVID-19 in the future.
“Noncommunicable diseases take a terrible health and economic toll, especially on countries that can least afford it,” says WHO Global Ambassador for NCDs and Injuries Michael R. Bloomberg. “We know the prevention measures that work best, and hopefully this new report leads more governments to take the smart, cost-effective actions that can help save millions of lives around the world.”
Best Buy actions include increasing health taxes, restrictions on marketing and sales of harmful products, information and education, and vaccination. They also include actions connected to managing metabolic risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, in order to prevent more severe disease or complications.
The interventions are all relatively inexpensive and require little capital investment but could help avoid much of the high cost of treatment in future. The report also indicates that while each of the interventions can be implemented individually, the effects are stronger and produce a greater return on investment when introduced together. With marginalized groups often at greater risk from the physical and financial impact of NCDs, the interventions may also help to reduce health and economic inequalities.
The interventions have already been used successfully in many countries around the world, with some of the success stories highlighted in the report. International donors have also begun to use the arguments to catalyse investment in this area: in 2019 the Norwegian Government launched the first ever international development strategy on NCDs.
“Saving lives, spending less: the case for investing in noncommunicable diseases sets out a path on which countries can follow to deliver the next generation a better and healthier world. The impact of COVID-19 on people living with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and lung diseases shows that it’s more important than ever to prioritize the investment of prevention and management of NCDs,” says Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director for NCDs at WHO. “We call on all our partners to follow examples like Norway, who have stepped up funding and action. In a world where financial resources are increasingly constrained, this report shows where the best investments can be made and where millions of lives can be saved.”
At its third meeting, the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce on COVID-19 (MLT) – the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization -met with the leaders of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), Africa CDC, Gavi and UNICEF to tackle obstacles to rapidly scale-up vaccines in low- and lower middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, and issued the following statement:
“The global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is progressing at two alarmingly different speeds. Less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated in most low-income countries compared to almost 50% in high‑income countries.
These countries, the majority of which are in Africa, simply cannot access sufficient vaccine to meet even the global goals of 10% coverage in all countries by September and 40% by end 2021, let alone the African Union’s goal of 70% in 2022.
This crisis of vaccine inequity is driving a dangerous divergence in COVID-19 survival rates and in the global economy. We appreciate the important work of AVAT and COVAX to try and address this unacceptable situation.
However, effectively tackling this acute vaccine supply shortage in low- and lower middle-income countries, and fully enabling AVAT and COVAX, requires the urgent cooperation of vaccine manufacturers, vaccine-producing countries, and countries that have already achieved high vaccination rates. To ensure all countries achieve the global goals of at least 10% coverage by September and 40% by end-2021:
We call on countries that have contracted high volumes of vaccines to swap near-term delivery schedules with COVAX and AVAT.
We call on vaccine manufacturers to immediately prioritize and fulfill their contracts to COVAX and AVAT, and to provide regular, clear supply forecasts.
We urge G7 and all dose-sharing countries to fulfill their pledges urgently, with enhanced pipeline visibility, product shelf life and support for ancillary supplies, as barely 10% of nearly 900 million committed doses have so far been shipped.
We call on all countries to eliminate export restrictions and any other trade barriers on COVID-19 vaccines and the inputs involved in their production.
We are in parallel intensifying our work with COVAX and AVAT to tackle persistent vaccine delivery, manufacturing and trade issues, notably in Africa, and mobilize grants and concessional financing for these purposes. We will also explore financing mechanisms to cover future vaccine needs as requested by AVAT. We will advocate for better supply forecasts and investments to increase country preparedness and absorptive capacity. And we will continue to enhance our data, to identify gaps and improve transparency in the supply and use of all COVID-19 tools.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) welcome the opportunity to make rotavirus vaccine available to more children living in humanitarian crises thanks to a landmark pricing agreement with the manufacturer, GSK.
Children living in refugee camps, displaced communities or in other emergency situations now have a better chance of being protected against severe diarrhoeal disease with these lower price rotavirus vaccines. Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five.
The agreement makes use of the multi-partner Humanitarian Mechanism, launched in 2017. Rotavirus vaccine is the second vaccine to be accessed through the scheme, which depends on manufacturers making their vaccines available at their lowest price for use in emergencies – across countries of all income levels. The first to be made available was the pneumococcal vaccine.
“We welcome this engagement from manufacturers and hope it will be a step towards making more vaccines available in the future at affordable prices,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO. “It is unacceptable that some of the most at-risk children are not vaccinated against devastating diseases like rotavirus because of lack of availability or high costs.”
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in children under 5 years globally, responsible for up to 200,000 child deaths each year. Children in refugee camps and displaced communities are among the most vulnerable in the world to such diseases, due to population density, poor hygiene and sanitation, and higher rates of malnutrition. Vaccination is therefore especially critical for these children, who may otherwise lack access to essential health services.
The Humanitarian Mechanism facilitates access to vaccines for humanitarian organizations working in countries affected by emergencies, where access and prices have otherwise been a bottleneck.
“Every day across the globe, children die because they are critically weakened by diarrhoea – it’s one of the biggest killers of young children in the world. Save the Children is seeing the devastating impacts the rotavirus has on children every day, so we welcome this important commitment as a vital step in protecting some of the most vulnerable children from life-threatening, yet easily preventable diseases. Money should never be a barrier between life and death,” said Rachel Cummings, Director of the Humanitarian Public Health Team at Save the Children.
Since 2017, nearly one million doses of pneumococcal vaccine have been approved for use by civil society organizations through the Mechanism in 12 countries: Algeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Greece, Kenya, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against childhood pneumonia, also a leading cause of childhood deaths during emergencies.
Once secured through the Mechanism, the vaccines are offered to humanitarian organizations working in camps and other emergency settings, who can make applications to access the vaccine at these lower prices.
“The Humanitarian Mechanism has already expanded the number of children who can receive lifesaving vaccines, but to reach its full potential and save more lives, MSF calls on manufacturers to commit additional vaccines and to allow governments hosting children in humanitarian emergencies to access the vaccines too,” said Miriam Alia, Vaccination and Outbreak Response Referent at MSF. “Children everywhere, no matter where they live, should have access to lifesaving vaccinations.”
“We know that it is critical for us to expand the reach and breadth of immunization coverage among communities affected by humanitarian crises to meet our goal of immunization equity in the next decade,” said Robin Nandy, UNICEF’s Principal Advisor and Chief of Immunizations. “These communities bear the brunt of preventable morbidity and mortality and have disproportionately suffered from programme disruptions as a result of the pandemic. We very much welcome this initiative which further expands access to rotavirus vaccine at affordable prices for populations in need.”
The World Health organization (WHO0 has raised alarm requesting increased vigilance in African countries likely to be affected by falsified VITAMIN A (retinol) capsules identified in Chad and reported to WHO in November 2020.
The WHO noted that increased vigilance should include hospitals, clinics, health centres, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacies and any other suppliers of medical products.
“All medical products must be obtained from authorized/licensed suppliers. The products’ authenticity and physical condition should be carefully checked. Seek advice from a healthcare professional in case of doubt.”
Table 1: Products subject of WHO Medical Product Alert N°1/2021
This WHO Medical Product Alert referred to two falsified VITAMIN A (retinol) capsules identified in Chad and reported to WHO in November 2020.
Accordng to the WHO, laboratory analysis of recovered samples identified that both products are severely degraded and underdosed – containing less than the stated active ingredient. Both falsified products also carry now-defunct logos – the outdated WHO Essential Drugs Programme logo and the outdated Micronutrient Initiative logo. Both falsified products were supplied at patient level and may still be in circulation in the region.
Vitamin A (retinol) is a micronutrient used for the prevention and treatment of vitamin A deficiency. The most severe effects of this deficiency are seen in young children. Deficiency of vitamin A is associated with significant morbidity and mortality from common childhood infections and is the world’s leading preventable cause of childhood blindness. Vitamin A deficiency also contributes to maternal mortality and other poor outcomes of pregnancy and lactation. Retinol is listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for Children.
“The public health threat of falsified vitamin A (retinol) particularly affects vulnerable children already suffering from vitamin A deficiency. It is important to detect and remove any falsified vitamin A (retinol) from circulation so as to prevent harm to patients.”
According to the World Health Organization, sham drugs are the world’s most lucrative counterfeit goods, with a global market worth roughly $200bn, and Africa accounts for around 42% of the world’s cases.
Deaths from COVID-19 in Africa have surged by 40% in the last month, pushing Africa’s death toll towards 100 000 since the first reported case on the continent on 14 February 2020. This comes as Africa battles new, more contagious variants and gears up for its largest-ever vaccination drive.
Over 22 300 deaths were reported in Africa in the last 28 days, compared with nearly 16 000 deaths in the previous 28 days. The continent is expected to reach 100 000 deaths in the coming days. Thirty-two countries reported a rise in deaths in the last 28 days, while 21 reported flat or falling rates. Africa’s COVID-19 fatality rate rose to 3.7% during the last 28 days compared to 2.4% in the previous 28 days and is and is now well above the global average.
This spike in mortality comes as Africa’s second wave of cases which began in October 2020 seems to have peaked on 6 January 2021. The second wave spread much faster than the first and is far more lethal.
“The increasing deaths from COVID-19 we are seeing are tragic, but are also disturbing warning signs that health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overstretched. This grim milestone must refocus everyone on stamping out the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
In the second wave as cases surged far beyond the peak experienced in the first wave, health facilities have become overwhelmed. Preliminary reports which WHO has received from 21 countries show that 66% reported inadequate critical care capacity, 24% reported burnout among health workers and 15 countries reported that oxygen production, crucial for severely ill COVID-19 patients, remains insufficient.
The one-year milestone comes as the continent faces the spread of new strains of virus. Variant 501Y.V2 (also known as B1.351), first identified in South Africa, has been detected in eight African countries, while the VOC202012/01 variant (also known as B1.1.7) initially identified in the United Kingdom has been detected in six countries on the continent.
This week South Africa announced that it will pause the roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine because of a study indicating that the vaccine is less effective in preventing mild and moderate infection with the 501Y.V2 variant that is dominant in the country.
“This is obviously very disappointing news, but the situation is very dynamic. While a vaccine that protects against all forms of COVID-19 is our biggest hope, preventing severe cases which overwhelm hospitals is crucial,” said Dr Moeti. “If cases remain mostly mild and moderate and don’t require critical care then we can save many lives. So, my message is, go out and get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available in your country.”
On 10 February 2021, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, known as SAGE, strongly recommended that countries use the AstraZeneca vaccine, for priority groups, even if variants are present in a country.
These preliminary findings highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants and their potential impact on vaccine effectiveness. WHO will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as new data become available.
New variants are likely to emerge as the virus continues to spread so preventive measures must be maintained even as Africa gears up to start vaccinations against the virus.
“The pandemic is far from over, and vaccines are just one crucial tool in our fight against the virus. We must boost investments and support for our health workers and health systems by sticking to mask wearing, regular hand cleaning and safe social distancing,” said Dr Moeti.