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The time is ripe for an enquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic

The time is ripe for an enquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic

The 73rd session of the World Health Assembly was held on May 18-19 at the WHO HQ and in Geneva and (mostly) virtually under the presidency of Keva Bain of Bahamas. The session was suspended and will be reconvened at a later date.

The WHA was marred by a letter by Donald Trump accusing the WHO and threatening to withdraw from the organisation. In the letter, the US president listed many mistakes the WHO and its director Dr Thedros allegedly committed, and denounced the organisation’s allegiance to China. As a response, the WHA adopted a resolution strongly supportive of the WHO and calling for an investigation into the global response to the pandemic.

At the opening of the Assembly on Monday, UN Secretary-General Guterres said that some countries have ignored WHO recommendations, with the virus consequently spreading, while Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed his country acted fast and in full transparency. 

In general, most countries cited their own efforts and said that the global health emergency can only be defeated through global cooperation, praising the WHO’s work and leadership. A notable exception has been the US, whose Secretary of Health and Human Services accused the WHO of causing many deaths through its failures.

The EU, who played an important role in the passing of the resolution, also defended the WHO, with Commission President von der Leyen declaring that we shouldn’t even be thinking about international cooperation, and that discussions about WHO reform should be held after the crisis.

It is also interesting to note how in a general climate of health emergency and the consequent disregard for some individual freedoms, several countries highlighted the need to preserve access to sexual and reproductive health rights.

Another contentious issue was an invitation to Taiwan, a country that has been a model for coronavirus response, to participate in the WHA. From 2009 to 2016 Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China and was one of the most hit countries by SARS, was allowed to attend the WHA as an observer. For the last four years, China’s longstanding one country policy has prevented it from doing so. New appeals led by the USA have also failed to lead to an agreement.

In early March, Science for Democracy launched an international appeal to suggest a series of punctual and general reforms to strengthen the international mechanisms on health-related issues ensuring the full respect of human rights and individual privacy, also investing in the promotion of scientific research and an open access to institutionally produced data. 

The appeal can be signed HERE

The Right to Science and Why it Matters

The Right to Science and Why it Matters

On April 30th Science for Democracy held the first-ever online webinar on the Right to Science

Titled “The Right to Science and Why it Matters”, it featured speakers from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, UNESCO as well as Science for Democracy’s own experts. Participants discussed the publication of the General Comment on Science and its implications.

You can watch the whole event here.

Below you can find the the interventions in written form, listed by speaker’s name.

Andrea Boggio

Mikel Mancisidor

Jessica Windham

WHO conditionally backs Covid-19 vaccine trials that infect people

WHO conditionally backs Covid-19 vaccine trials that infect people

‘Challenge’ studies would deliberately give coronavirus to healthy volunteers

Controversial trials in which volunteers are intentionally infected with Covid-19 could accelerate vaccine development, according to the World Health Organization, which has released new guidance on how the approach could be ethically justified despite the potential dangers for participants.

So-called challenge trials are a mainstream approach in vaccine development and have been used in malaria, typhoid and flu, but there are treatments available for these diseases if a volunteer becomes severely ill. For Covid-19, a safe dose of the virus has not been established and there are no failsafe treatments if things go wrong.

Scientists, however, increasingly agree that such trials should be considered, and the WHO is the latest body to indicate conditional support for the idea.

“There’s this emerging consensus among everyone who has thought about this seriously,” said Prof Nir Eyal, the director of Rutgers University’s Center for Population-Level Bioethics in the US.

The prospect of infecting healthy individuals with a potentially deadly pathogen may sound counterintuitive, but according to Eyal the risk of death from Covid-19 for someone in their 20s is around one in 3,000 – similar to the risk for live kidney donation. In this case, the potential benefits would extend not to a single individual, but to thousands or millions who could be protected by a vaccine.

“Once you give it thought, it is surprisingly easier to approve than dispatching volunteers as part-time medical workers and other practices that we’ve already accepted,” he said.

Continue reading the Guardian article

US$ 1.4 Million for COVID-19 Surveillance in Africa

US$ 1.4 Million for COVID-19 Surveillance in Africa

With surveillance being at the centre of containing the spread of the coronavirus, the African Union Commission, on behalf of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is receiving a $ 1.4 million donation of sequencing systems and related consumables intended to expand COVID-19 sequencing capabilities and capacity in ten African countries.

With only few African public health institutions implementing Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) based surveillance on SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, the donation from Illumina Inc. will enable more countries to rapidly characterize outbreak samples, without the need to ship samples across borders.  These countries include: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

“It is critical to provide access to NGS technology throughout the world to drive a global response that will be effective in supporting SARS-CoV-2 control efforts, and ultimately, help improve human health,” said Illumina’s Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Phil Febbo.

“This donation enables the Africa CDC to deeply understand the circulating virus throughout the continent, providing equitable access to important technology that can be used to help protect the health of the African population. With this outbreak, it has become clear that enabling local or regional proactive surveillance will benefit those immediately at risk as well as all of us around the globe.”

Continue reading the Science Africa article

Modelling the COVID-19 epidemic and implementation of population-wide interventions in Italy

Modelling the COVID-19 epidemic and implementation of population-wide interventions in Italy

Abstract

In Italy, 128,948 confirmed cases and 15,887 deaths of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were registered as of 5 April 2020. Ending the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic requires implementation of multiple population-wide strategies, including social distancing, testing and contact tracing. We propose a new model that predicts the course of the epidemic to help plan an effective control strategy. The model considers eight stages of infection: susceptible (S), infected (I), diagnosed (D), ailing (A), recognized (R), threatened (T), healed (H) and extinct (E), collectively termed SIDARTHE. Our SIDARTHE model discriminates between infected individuals depending on whether they have been diagnosed and on the severity of their symptoms. The distinction between diagnosed and non-diagnosed individuals is important because the former are typically isolated and hence less likely to spread the infection. This delineation also helps to explain misperceptions of the case fatality rate and of the epidemic spread. We compare simulation results with real data on the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy, and we model possible scenarios of implementation of countermeasures. Our results demonstrate that restrictive social-distancing measures will need to be combined with widespread testing and contact tracing to end the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Main

After a novel strain of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was identified in Wuhan (Hubei), China, an exponentially growing number of patients in mainland China were diagnosed with COVID-19, prompting Chinese authorities to introduce radical measures to contain the outbreak. Despite these measures, a COVID-19 pandemic ensued in the following months. The World Health Organisation report dated 5 April 2020 reported 1,133,758 total cases and 62,784 deaths worldwide.

Italy has been severely affected. After the first indigenous case on 21 February 2020 in Lodi province, several suspect cases (initially epidemiologically linked) began to emerge in the south and southwest territory of Lombardy. A ‘red zone’, encompassing 11 municipalities where SARS-CoV-2 infection was endemic, was instituted on 22 February 2020, and put on lockdown to contain the emerging threat. A campaign to identify and screen all close contacts with confirmed cases of COVID-19 resulted in taking 691,461 nasal swabs as of 5 April 2020. Of the 128,948 detected cases, 91,246 were currently infected (28,949 hospitalized, 3,977 admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) and 58,320 quarantined at home), 21,815 had been discharged due to recovery and 15,887 had died. In the early days of the epidemic in Italy, both symptomatic and asymptomatic people underwent screening. A government regulation dated 26 February 2020 limited screening to symptomatic subjects only. On 8 March 2020, to further contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the red zone was extended to the entire area of Lombardy and 14 more northern Italian provinces. On 9 March 2020, lockdown was declared for the entire country and progressively stricter restrictions were adopted.

Continue reading the Nature article

#UnitedAgainstCoronavirus – the UN should take center stage

#UnitedAgainstCoronavirus – the UN should take center stage

Sign the appeal HERE

On May 4th the European Union, together with Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Italy (the latter two respectively current and next state holding the G20 presidency) convened a global pledging event. 

Coronavirus Global Response” invited heads of state and government, the private sector and international philanthropists to pledge funds for research to develop and implement diagnostics, treatment and a vaccine for Covid-19.

Leaders and representatives of many countries took part, thanking President von der Leyen personally and the European Union as an institution for taking the leadership on this initiative, underlined how the global pandemic can only be defeated if everybody works together. 

World leaders underlined the need for the vaccine to be available to everybody who needs it, irrespective of their ability to pay. “The measure of success will be the equality with which we distribute tools, not the speed to achieve them” said Dr Tedros, World Health Organisation chief.

The target of €7.5 billion was almost reached, but thanks to exchange rate creativity the $8 billion goal was exceeded. This allowed Mrs von der Leyen to declare victory, even though much of the money pledged includes existing funds and spending going back to January 2020. Everybody agreed that the sum raised is only the beginning, and that much more will need to be done before the pandemic is over.

Nevertheless, the initiative promoted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is doubly important. On the one hand it helps international organisations in a moment in which the US blocked their financing of the World Health Organisation and China tries to use the international aid it is providing to its own advantage. On the other hand it highlights how it is crucially important to promote the sharing, cooperation and coordination of hundreds of activities that move forward simultaneously all over the world.

On behalf of the African Union, chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa called for coordinated and consistent measures, and announced regional coronavirus task forces within the continental organisation. 

Another regional leader, King Abdullah II of Jordan, said that protecting refugees from Covid-19 is Jordan’s priority, while calling for a better integration of our world,  and a re-globalisation based on building capacities, cooperation and putting the wellbeing of people first.

Since March Science for Democracy, together with the Luca Coscioni Association, has worked with dozens of experts to collect, in an international appeal, a series of suggestions that can help build a future in which we will no longer be “unprepared”, technically as much as politically.

Starting from the recommendations adopted by participants in the VI World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research organized by the African Union Commission at the end of February and taking into account some of the urgencies that emerged in the past weeks, 13 suggestions were designed, encompassing the full respect of the right to health and the promotion of the right to science.

Besides the WHO, many organisations that have been active in proposing global cooperation for an accelerated development took part in the pledging conference. Among these the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, the Global Fund, UNITAID, the Wellcome Trust, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics and the World Bank.

International pledging efforts will continue, with the European Commission-led one ongoing for the whole of May. On June 4th GAVI, the vaccine alliance, will hold its own pledging conference, hosted by the UK government.

Credit should be given to the European Union for taking the responsibility to lead such a multilateral response in a context where other potential leaders of the international community, the US and China, are taking a confrontational approach to international relations rather than accepting the cooperative effort that is needed to defeat a global pandemic. The importance of the EU’s role was duly underlined by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

There is a big need to take this opportunity to go back to the United Nations as the context in which decisions are taken. Decisions that, precisely because taken there, cannot go against the UN founding principles that it codified over the years and that it is mandated to uphold.

European Commission’s response to EU CAN DO IT

European Commission’s response to EU CAN DO IT

During the public hearing of the European Parliament’s PETI Committee, convened to discuss petitions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Martin Seychell from DG HEALTH of the European Commission responded to Virginia Fiume, Eumans Coordinator and first signatory of the EU CAN DO IT petition.

Part of the response was the announcement of the May 4th international pledging conference for a coronavirus global response.

You can watch the video of the hearing here, and below you can find the transcription of the speech by Mr Seychell.

“Honorable Members, I’d like to thank the petitioner for providing me with an opportunity to briefly explain what the Commission is doing to help address this unprecedented crisis that links with many of the aspects the petitioner mentioned.

First of all, I’d like to start by saying that the Commission is coordinating a strong European response to Covid-19, and this response is, as it has to be, multisectoral. It is, of course, about health, this is fundamentally a health crisis but it’s also about civil protection, about economic recovery and about global action, which is something the petitioner rightfully emphasizes.

Covid-19 has illustrated, if anyone doubted that before, the paramount role that health systems plays in our societies and in our economies, and it underpins our societies. And it has also revealed to everyone that our health systems were not prepared in all respects to face this challenge, and we need to invest more, particularly in areas like primary care, prevention and others.

On health, the Commission role is to help Member States coordinate their National responses to Covid-19. This is being done under European decision on serious crossborder threats to health and we have already mobilized all the mechanisms available. We frequently convene the Health Security Committee to facilitate information sharing about national measures to contain Covid-19 and recently also a discussion has started about the gradual de-escalation of those measures. We have also launched, accelerated, joint procurement procedures for key medical equipment, including protective gear for health workers, very important, but also for ventilators and laboratory equipment. In the light of this, the Commission has put all remaining allocations from the 2020 budget, an amount of 2.7 billion euros, to the emergency support instrument. With all of this going to finance health system needs, equipment, supplies and scaling up of testing and treatments.

We are also participating in the global race towards a much needed vaccine, which is the only way we can put this definitively behind us, and we have already secured just under 15 million euros from the Horizon2020 program for research on Covid-19 and, of course, other initiatives will follow in this respect.

Now, regarding the protection of EU citizens, the Commission has been delivering from the start of the crisis via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism: we have facilitated more than 260 repatriation flights, bringing home more than 53000 EU citizens stranded abroad. We have helped Member States provide in-kind assistance and expertise to each other, which is a great example of European solidarity. In addition, we have started stock-piling key medical equipment creating a first-of-its-kind rescue stockpile.

Covid-19 is not just a health crisis, but as I’ve said, the first and foremost, it has also caused a major shock to European economies, which calls for a visionary strategy for economic recovery and, here as well, the Commission is taking action on all fronts. Large emergency packages have already been launched and together with the other institutions we are working on a comprehensive recovery plan, including a recovery fund. Resources will come from the overall EU budget via a solid reinforcement of the Multiannual Financial Framework, which is currently being revised.

We want to kickstart European economies after the crisis and, at the same time, and I would like to emphasize this, deliver on other priorities, such as the digital and the green transition. Moreover, the Commission has made available all the remaining financing under the structural funds for the fight against Covid-19 under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative. This is more than 37 billion euros in total, which is available to EU Member States this year through exceptional flexible and accelerated procedures. A second coronavirus response investment initiative has introduced extraordinary flexibility and simplification in the implementation of cohesion policy and included changes to the European aid to the most deprived to ensure that the most deprived, including homeless people and others, can continue to receive material assistance in a safe environment. Member States can use their country specific allocations to mitigate the economic consequences of the crisis, for example to support their economies, their health systems, their working population or small and medium enterprises. In addition, the European Globalization Adjustment Fund can be used to support workers who have permanently lost their job because of Covid-19.

But as the petitioner reminded us, global action is also needed. The Commission supports the WHO to boost preparedness, prevention and containment of Covid19 and we need to pay particular attention to countries with fragile health systems. On May 4th, therefore, together with WHO, and other global health organizations, we will kickstart a global pledging effort: the coronavirus global response to close funding gaps, which we estimate to be around 7.5 billion euros.

Honorable Members, dear petitioner, this is indeed a moment of truth and we need to ask ourselves, despite all our efforts, whether we are doing enough. Of course, we are all aware the EU has a limited mandate in heath, and the Commission can only step in to a certain extent, and Covid-19 shows us that there might be a need, there could be a need, to strengthen this mandate, and we must certainly discuss at the opportune time how to better deal with emergencies in future, and the great opportunity for this indeed be the Conference on the Future of Europe which will be held under due consideration to the current situation. The time will come, and I hope soon, when we will be looking forward again and at that moment the lessons learnt from Covid-19 have to be central to our efforts and it will be our responsibility to offer perspective for the future of the EU and to give EU citizens a clear say in decision-making beyond participation in the European elections. So, the Commission believes that it is really important that, in the light of all this, we discuss political priorities as well as the strategic agenda of the European Council, and there should be a robust feedback mechanism so that all ideas expressed are taken into account. We should also discuss, as the petitioner has also emphasized, the importance of the role that citizens play in not only speaking up, but also being listened to.

Thank you very much.”

You can still sign the EU CAN DO IT petition here.

Science for Democracy’s Statement on #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus

Science for Democracy’s Statement on #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus

Coronavirus, Science for Democracy: Italy should promote at reforms on the right to health and the right to science at the UN – we identified 13 #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus

On May 4th the European Union and a dozen states launched an initiative to organise a “coronavirus global response” inviting heads of state and government, as well as the private sector and international philanthropists, to reach the goal of 7,5 billion euros to finance a “phase 2” of research and treatment at a global level.

On the occasion of the launch of #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus, Science for Democracy and the Luca Coscioni Association launched the appeal “against all pandemics” that in 13 points articulates reforms inspired by the promotion and protection of the right to health and the new human right to science. The document is part of the recommendations of the VI World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research organised by the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa and summarises the recommendations of other organisations.

This return to the affirmation of the centrality of a system of international cooperation and coordination” stated Filomena Gallo, secretary-general of the Luca Coscioni Association “must be the occasion to add structural reforms to ever-needed funding. Changes of dynamic and competences that, starting from today, prevent the return of the worst nationalist answers of these last few years and the poverty and discrimination they have inflicted.”

Marco Perduca, Science for Democracy coordinator, added that “at a moment in which the US withdraw their half a billion dollar funding to the World Health Organisation (an amount equal to the annual budget of the Italian Senate!) and China aims at occupying the top positions of international organisations rather than respect their founding principles or support their actions in a neutral manner, there is a need for trans-regional alliances so as not to be found unprepared  to future bullying and discriminations and viral and climate mutations”.

“In the last few weeks, together with Eumans.eu, thousands of citizens and dozens of associations and mayors from all over Europe”, concluded Marco Cappato, treasurer of the Luca Coscioni Association and Eumans founder we have started a fruitful formal dialogue with the European Parliament, which has received the propositions we suggested. We plan on doing the same with Italy, one of the promoters of the Conference to pledge funds against coronavirus. In the seven online public assemblies organized by the Luca Coscioni Association from March we have gathered important signals of parliamentary support. We hope that these turn as soon as possible into motions to make the government take important reform responsibilities at the United Nations”.

The “coronavirus – never again” appeal has been sent to the world’s scientific academies, hundreds of MPs, Nobel Prize winners and participants of the six world congresses for freedom of scientific research. Among the first signatories Nobel Prize for Medicine awardee Rich Roberts. It is available on AssociazioneLucaCoscioni.it and ScienceforDemocracy.org

Join the first Webinar on the Right to Science – 30/04/20

Join the first Webinar on the Right to Science – 30/04/20

You can relive the event here

On 30 April, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm CET (Central European time), Science for Democracy will host a virtual panel discussion on the “Right to Science and Why it Matters” with our experts as well as representatives of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UNESCO and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Programme

Andrea Boggio, Professor of Legal Studies, Bryant University, who will introduce and chair the debate

“The General Comment”

Mikel Mancisidor, visiting Professor at the University of Deusto, member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), co-rapporteur on the General Comment on Science 

“UNESCO and the right to science: past milestones and future perspectives”

April Tash and Konstantinos Tararas, Programme Specialists at the Social and Human Sciences Sector of UNESCO.

“Scientists’ perspectives on the right to science: from definition to implementation”

Jessica Wyndham, Director of the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

“General Comment: Now What?”

Cesare Romano, Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, chairs with questions 

Final remarks

Marco Cappato & Marco Perduca, coordinators Science for Democracy

You can read the General Comment Science here.