World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable
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Updated 21 September 2021

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable

World leaders, philanthropists push for radical solutions to COVID-19 at FII Institute roundtable
  • African Union president among those urging rich countries to relinquish vaccine patents
  • Saudi-based institute convened experts to push for ‘tangible solutions’ to global health challenges

NEW YORK: Leaders and trailblazers from the political, corporate and medical worlds gathered at a high-profile event in New York on Tuesday to contemplate the future of medicine and push for equitable, forward-thinking solutions to the world’s health challenges, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic.

To quickly turn the tide against the pandemic, rich countries should waive the intellectual property rights they hold over COVID-19 vaccines, speakers — including the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — told attendees at the Future Investment Initiative Institute’s “Health is Wealth” roundtable.

The event, attended by Arab News and timed to coincide with the UN General Assembly, convened world leaders, experts and figureheads for a series of panels with one goal in mind: Driving tangible solutions to challenges facing the global health system.

DRC President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo told attendees at the Saudi-based non-profit’s event that Africa’s vaccine shortage is of “high importance” to the world.

He offered a radical solution that he said would help to turn the tide against the spread of COVID-19 worldwide: “Rich countries have the moral obligation to transfer the technologies and lift all patents that hold us from using (the vaccine) — that’s the only way we can manage global immunity.”

Vaccines must be considered a “common good” for the world, he said, adding that less than 3 percent of Africans have been fully inoculated against COVID-19.

Tshilombo said addressing this vaccine deficiency is one of the “main pillars” of his tenure as current president of the African Union.

Unlike Africa, the US has been able to mobilize its immense wealth to implement a world-leading campaign that has seen hundreds of millions of Americans fully vaccinated.

Bechara Choucair, the Biden administration’s vaccination coordinator, told attendees that jabs are returning an element of normalcy to American life, so “we have to make sure they’re widely available.” 

This vaccination effort expands beyond US borders, he said, adding: “We know this virus doesn’t respect any boundaries. We’re proud to have donated nearly 150 million vaccines to over 90 countries — more than all other countries combined.

“And we’ve started to ship another 500 million vaccines to 100 lower-income countries in need of vaccines.”

The Biden administration has previously also expressed support for a relaxation of intellectual property rights surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.

Tuesday’s event also saw the FII Institute launch its Global Infectious Disease Index. It is a “unique tool that captures both endemic and epidemic disease” across 204 countries and territories, said Safiye Kucukarraca, director of strategic partnerships at the institute.

The index focuses on five global endemic diseases: HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, lower respiratory diseases and viral diseases.

The tool “reflects the readiness and vulnerability of medical systems,” and the data produced will be used to “inform health ministries worldwide about the gaps that need be filled to tackle endemic and emerging epidemics,” Kucukarraca said.

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladeshi community bank Grameen Bank, said the global health system is “dysfunctional,” pointing to how despite promises of multilateral solutions at the start of the pandemic, countries quickly became “isolated islands” in their responses. 

He reiterated Tshilombo’s call for rich countries to relinquish their intellectual property rights over COVID-19 vaccines, and said the US has now backed that initiative.

Yunus singled out German resistance to the idea — which requires a global consensus — as a major obstacle to its implementation.

Looking to the future, he warned of a world of “global warming, wealth concentration and massive unemployment created by wealth concentration” if there is no change in course.

But he said the pandemic, for all its ills, has given people a chance to pause, reflect, and push for the creation of a new world characterized by “zero net carbon emissions, zero wealth concentration and zero unemployment.” This, he added, could be achieved by “unleashing the entrepreneurship of the people.”


Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks
Updated 5 sec ago

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks
DOHA: The Taliban renewed its call for the United States to release billions of dollars in frozen funds after two days of talks in Doha as aid-dependent Afghanistan grapples with an economic crisis.
The Afghans also called for an end to blacklists and sanctions in meetings led by Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan.
It was the second round of talks between the two sides in Qatar since the US ended its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan and the hard-line Islamists rapidly returned to power.
“The two delegations discussed political, economic, human, health, education and security issues as well as providing necessary banking and cash facilities,” tweeted Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi.
“The Afghan delegation assured the US side of security and urged that Afghanistan’s frozen money should be released unconditionally, blacklists and sanctions must end and human issues be separated from political ones.”
Washington seized nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also suspended activities in Afghanistan, withholding aid as well as $340 million in new reserves issued by the IMF in August.
The Afghan economy has effectively collapsed, with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports. The United Nations has warned that around 22 million people, more than half the population, will face an “acute” food shortage in the winter months.
Taliban government leader Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund is among those targeted by the US sanctions. The US side stood firm on the measures and said it was taking steps to get support to ordinary Afghans.
“The United States remains committed to ensuring that US sanctions do not limit the ability of Afghan civilians to receive humanitarian support from the US government and international community while denying assets to sanctioned entities and individuals,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“The Department of the Treasury has issued general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs.”
The US also urged the Taliban to provide access to education for women and girls across the country and “expressed deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses.”
It reminded the Taliban of its commitment not to allow terrorist organizations to operate on its soil and to guarantee safe passage for US citizens from Afghanistan.
The Americans also called for the release of US citizen Mark Frerichs, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in February last year.
The Taliban called the talks “positive” and said Muttaqi also met with the Japanese and German ambassadors to Afghanistan in Doha.
bur/th/kir

Japan reports second case of the omicron variant

 A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 23 sec ago

Japan reports second case of the omicron variant

 A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
  • Brazil finds the variant in two travelers returning from South Africa — the first known omicron cases in Latin America

BRASILIA/TOKYO: Japan has found a second person who has tested positive with the COVID-19 omicron variant, broadcaster FNN reported on Wednesday.
The first case of the variant was discovered on Tuesday.
Brazil and Nigeria also joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant Tuesday, while new findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa sounded the alarm.
The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute disclosed that patient samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23 were found to contain the variant. It was on Nov. 24 that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.
That indicates omicron had a bigger head start in the Netherlands than previously believed.
Together with the cases in Japan and Brazil, the finding illustrates the difficulty in containing the virus in an age of jet travel and economic globalization. And it left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.
The pandemic has shown repeatedly that the virus “travels quickly because of our globalized, interconnected world,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. Until the vaccination drive reaches every country, “we’re going to be in this situation again and again.”
Brazil, which has recorded a staggering total of more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths, reported finding the variant in two travelers returning from South Africa — the first known omicron cases in Latin America. The travelers were tested on Nov. 25, authorities said.
France likewise recorded its first case, in the far-flung island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Authorities said the patient was a man who had returned to Reunion from South Africa and Mozambique on Nov. 20.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, said much more will be known about omicron in the next several weeks, and “we’ll have a much better picture of what the challenge is ahead of us.”
In the meantime, a WHO official warned that given the growing number of omicron cases in South Africa and neighboring Botswana, parts of southern Africa could soon see infections skyrocket.
“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” said Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a WHO regional virologist.
Cases began to increase rapidly in mid-November in South Africa, which is now seeing nearly 3,000 confirmed new infections per day.
Before news of the Brazil cases broke, Fauci said 226 omicron cases had been confirmed in 20 countries, adding: “I think you’re going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly.”
Those countries include Britain, 11 European Union nations, Australia, Canada and Israel. American disease trackers said omicron could already be in the US, too, and probably will be detected soon.
“I am expecting it any day now,” said Scott Becker of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “We expect it is here.”
While the variant was first identified by South African researchers, it is unclear where and when it originated, information that could help shed light on how fast it spreads.
The announcement from the Dutch on Tuesday could shape that timeline.
Previously, the Netherlands said it found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday, the same day the Dutch and other EU members began imposing flight bans and other restrictions on southern Africa. But the newly identified cases predate that.
NOS, the Netherlands’ public broadcaster, said that one of the two omicron samples came from a person who had been in southern Africa.
Belgium reported a case involving a traveler who returned to the country from Egypt on Nov. 11 but did not become sick with mild symptoms until Nov. 22.
Many health officials tried to calm fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get the shots to every part of the globe.
Emer Cooke, chief of the European Medicines Agency, said that the 27-nation EU is well prepared for the variant and that the vaccine could be adapted for use against omicron within three or four months if necessary.
England reacted to the emerging threat by making face coverings mandatory again on public transportation and in stores, banks and hair salons. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of Britain’s Health Security Agency urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to.
After COVID-19 led to a one-year postponement of the Summer Games, Olympic organizers began to worry about the February Winter Games in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said omicron would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control.”
World markets seesawed on every piece of medical news, whether worrisome or reassuring. Stocks fell on Wall Street over virus fears as well as concerns about the Federal Reserve’s continued efforts to shore up the markets.
Some analysts think a serious economic downturn will probably be averted because many people have been vaccinated. But they also think a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, especially in tourism, has been dramatically delayed.


Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO
Updated 11 min 15 sec ago

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO
  • NATO should prepare economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia if it “decides to chose the worst-case scenario” and boost the military and defense cooperation with Ukraine

RIGA: Ukraine urged NATO on Wednesday to boost military cooperation with Kyiv and prepare a package of measures, including sanctions, to deter Russia from attacking the country.
“We will call on the allies to join Ukraine in putting together a deterrence package,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on arrival for talks with his NATO counterparts in Riga.
As part of this package, NATO should prepare economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia if it “decides to chose the worst-case scenario” and boost the military and defense cooperation with Ukraine, he said.


Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
Updated 35 min 34 sec ago

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
  • Retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria

ABUJA: Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant among two travelers who arrived from South Africa last week, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday.
The NCDC said retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria had also identified the variant among a sample collected in October.


Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron
Updated 53 min 4 sec ago

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will temporarily ban the entry of travelers from countries that have reported the omicron coronavirus variant or are considered high-risk, its health ministry said on Wednesday.
It will also delay plans to set up so-called Vaccinated Travel Lanes with those countries, minister Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters.