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.”


Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
Updated 16 October 2021

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
  • Presidential and vice-presidential election is scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022

MANILA: Foreigners involved in political campaigning in the Philippines could face deportation, especially if their activity involves electioneering, immigration authorities have said, as the Southeast Asian nation prepares for next year’s presidential election.
The presidential and vice-presidential polls are scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022. Registration for candidates closed on Oct. 8, but the list of presidential hopefuls is not yet final as substitutions may take place until Nov. 15.
Among those seeking to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term will end in June, are the current vice president, and Duterte critic, Leni Robredo, former boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, former actor and now Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa — who was the chief implementor of Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs” campaign — and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“Foreigners joining mass actions and protests including election campaigns is disrespectful to our prescribed laws and is considered a violation of their stay in the Philippines,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said earlier this week. “Those foreigners … found guilty of such acts, especially electioneering, shall be deported and blacklisted, perpetually barring them from returning to the Philippines.”
Morente said the authorities have zero tolerance for non-citizens “meddling in the internal affairs of the Philippines as a sovereign nation.
“We are sending this early reminder as we have encountered so many deportation cases of foreigners who have engaged in political activities in the past,” he added.

Political activities
In 2018, four foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country on charges of participating in political activities. Among them was Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who had lived in the Philippines for nearly three decades and who had publicly denounced Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign.
In 2013, Dutch activist Thomas van Beersum was deported after he was photographed shouting at a Filipino police officer as he joined a protest held during the annual presidential state of the nation address.
Another foreign national, Canadian student Kim Chatillon-Miller, was deported the same year, also for joining an anti-SONA demonstration.
Around 62 million Filipinos over the age of 18 are expected to take part in next year’s presidential vote, which will coincide with general elections.
Politicians from across the country will vie for more than 18,000 positions — at the Senate, House of Representatives, party-list groups, and the national and sub-national administration.


Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program
Updated 16 October 2021

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

ISLAMABAD: An animal sanctuary in the Pakistani capital claims to be the first in the country to introduce a dedicated trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program to deal with
stray dogs.
The initiative is aimed at using humane methods to manage thousands of free-roaming dogs in Islamabad often seen by authorities and the public as a threat due to their aggressive behavior and them carrying diseases such as rabies.
The Comprehensive Disaster Response Services Benji Project Animal Sanctuary in the city has estimated there are at least 3 million stray dogs in Pakistan, with upward of 50,000 culled each year.
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has said that more than 80,500 cases of dog bites are reported by basic health units across Pakistan annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that up to 5,000 people die of rabies in the country
every year.
The solution adopted by authorities in most major Pakistani cities is culling of the animals either by shooting them or feeding them poisonous food.
But animal rights groups have advocated vaccination and spaying methods as a better, more humane alternative.
The CDRS Benji Project is testing out one such solution with Pakistan’s first dedicated TNVR program, aimed at reducing both the number of stray dogs and the suffering they have been subjected to for decades, while also making them safer through vaccination, and training to be less aggressive.
“We realized that TNVR is the only way that we can help in reducing, humanely, the number of dogs that roam the streets,” project director Quatrina Hosain told Arab News.
“We have no idea what kind of level of poisoning takes place or shooting takes place ... but one estimate is that it’s upward of 50,000 dogs being killed every year. And that is not the solution,” she said.
She pointed out that the sanctuary’s latest arrivals were 15 puppies brought in from Rawalpindi after their mothers were poisoned.
“It (culling) is cruel and inhumane, because they don’t differentiate between nursing mothers, pregnant dogs, and it is just a terrible thing to do. I believe that nobody wants to kill dogs, but they don’t want the dogs to multiply at the level that they are. So TNVR is the only humane way,” Hosain added.
A single female dog can deliver more than a dozen puppies a year, or more than 80 over her lifetime, according to animal rights NGO Four Paws International. Without loving homes to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical care, puppies and kittens — in Pakistan and countries around the world without adequate care for strays — are frequently left to fend for themselves.
Born under less-than-ideal conditions, most of the pups do not survive their first weeks of life — during the winter months many freeze to death, starve when their mothers are killed by traffic, are attacked and eaten by other animals, and sometimes deliberately killed by humans.
CDRS wants to change this, which is why it set up a dedicated facility just a short drive away from Islamabad’s Gulberg Greens neighborhood.
Staff at the facility said that strays were an integral part of the larger ecosystem, particularly for their scavenger roles in removing leftover food such as carcasses and agricultural and city waste. They also help reduce rat populations.
The project is so far a humble beginning, but sanctuary workers are hopeful for more support from authorities and the public. They noted that Turkey was a good example to follow.
CDRS veterinarian, Dr. Hasnain Raza, said: “TNVR was implemented in Turkey some 20 years back, and it has shown very positive results in the country, so we are trying to implement that model in Pakistan. This is a model facility for showing people that it can work, and it is worth trying.
“But we can’t do it alone. In collaboration with the public sector and the private sector, together, we can make sure that animals are cared for in Pakistan.”


Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
Updated 15 October 2021

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
  • Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week
  • Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist

NEW YORK: The lawyer for an Afghan man awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court on charges that he commanded the Taliban fighters responsible in the killing of three American soldiers said Friday it was “preposterous” to charge his client in deaths that occurred in a war the US started.
Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client, Hajji Najibullah, pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week.
Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
But the new indictment accused him of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for a fatal ambush of the three service members in Afghanistan in 2008.
The attack killed Matthew L. Hilton, of Livonia, Michigan; Joseph A. McKay, of Brooklyn, and Mark Palmateer, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Najibullah was also charged with playing a role in the downing of a US military helicopter later in the same year.
Gombiner said evidence will show the allegations are not true.
The lawyer said the deaths of American soldiers was an “immense tragedy.”
“Nobody disputes that,” Gombiner said.
But he said it “is preposterous” that his client should be held responsible for murder in a US courtroom for the death of “American soldiers fighting in a war commenced by the United States.”
US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla interrupted Gombiner, accusing him of having “gone off on a huge P.R. campaign.”
She added: “I want you to talk to me and not the press.”
The lawyer, however, said prosecutors were to blame for publicizing the charges through a news release “that was circulated around the world.” The lawyer noted that he refused to comment when reporters asked him about the new charges.
Assistant US Attorney David Denton told the judge that Gombiner was raising arguments “that have been raised and dismissed before, particularly as it relates to the Taliban.”
Najibullah, 45, was extradited to the United States last year to face charges including hostage taking, conspiracy and kidnapping.
The original indictment charged him with orchestrating the abduction of David Rohde, who then worked for The New York Times, and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, when they were on their way to interview a Taliban leader.
Both men made a dramatic escape from a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas more than seven months after their Nov. 10, 2008, kidnapping. Their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was a third kidnapping victim. He escaped a few weeks after Ludin and Rohde.

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Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
Updated 15 October 2021

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
  • Both women were found dead in Kenya this week
  • Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes

NAIROBI: Cynthia Makokha was a 17-year-old student and volleyball player. Agnes Tirop was a 25-year-old rising athletics star, who finished fourth in the 5,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics and had won two World Championship bronze medals.
Both women were found dead in Kenya this week, and while their murders are not linked they have shone a spotlight on violence against women, which the government says has grown worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tirop was found in her bed at her home in the town of Iten, with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Police on Thursday arrested a man they described as her husband, whom they called “the main suspect.”
Makokha, who was a student at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi, was raped, killed and then dumped in a river. She had been on her way to visit family in Western Kenya on Oct. 4 when she disappeared. Her body was found days later.
One suspect is in custody, Mumias East sub-county police commander Stephen Mwoni told Reuters.
Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes, and a third of Kenyan girls experience some form of sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
“I’m scared,” said 17-year-old Latifah Shaban, who shared a bunk bed with Makokha. She said Makokha often woke up at 3am, cracked the hallway door open, and used that light to study. “I’ve heard a lot of rape cases. I’m just always scared about men… it’s worse,” she said.
The school’s dorms are only a few months old, created to help protect the girls, many of whom come from vulnerable living situations, administrators said.
“As much as we are trying to ensure that the girls are safe, outside they…. are not safe,” said Claris Akinyi, the school’s principal.
Tirop’s family told Kenya Television Network that she had separated from the man suspected of killing her because she suspected he had cheated on her when she was competing in Japan.
Police say that after Tirop’s murder, they found a new athletics trophy, still carefully wrapped, in her living room.
On social media, fellow athletes and politicians shared messages of condolence, as did sportswear manufacturer Adidas and the World Athletics governing body.
“Agnes was an incredible person, a record breaking athlete and a beloved member of our family,” Adidas posted https://twitter.com/adidasrunning/status/1448344158087827457?s=20 on Twitter.
At Makokha’s school, rows of seated girls passed around tissues to wipe their tears as they remembered their fellow student. One girl untied her sweatshirt from around the waist to cry into it; another clutched a poster saying: “STOP KILLING.”


Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
Updated 15 October 2021

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
  • Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution
  • "I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems," German Chancellor said

BRUSSELS: The European Union should resolve its differences by talking to each other rather than through court decisions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, responding to a question on the dispute with Poland over the rule of law.
“We are all member states of the European Union, which means we have the duty always to try to find compromise — without giving up our principles, obviously,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the central tenet of the European Union and fueling talk that Poland could one day quit the 27-nation bloc.
Poland’s right-wing populist government has clashed regularly over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence with the European Commission, triggering a series of European Court of Justice cases.
“I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems,” Merkel said. “It is certainly right that, from time to time, cases have to be decided by the European Court of Justice.”
The chancellor, who will leave office once a new German coalition is formed, said she was concerned by the number of cases ending up at the EU’s top court.
De Croo said he was on the same page as Merkel
“This could become a big issue, but we could prevent it becoming a big issue if we engage ... I think that just criticizing and finger-pointing from the outside is not going to lead us anywhere,” he said.