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Tackling COVID-19 in Afghanistan with international aid

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(Last Updated On: August 27, 2020)

One of the greatest challenges Afghanistan faces in its fight against the Coronavirus pandemic is the overwhelming demand placed on its fragile health system. 

But since April, the Ministry of Public Health has signed into action the $100 million World Bank-supported COVID-19 emergency response grant for the Afghanistan COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project.  

In line with this, the Afghan government has been able to create 1,300 intensive care unit beds and care better for up to 10,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

In a World Bank report, by Doctors Fraidoon Farzad and Ahmad Wali Rasekh – both from the Public Health Ministry – they said the Afghan government has been able to support infected individuals, at-risk people, medical and emergency personnel, service providers and medical and testing facilities. 

They said this project is well underway with the collaboration of several stakeholders, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which flew in emergency health supplies in June, including single-use medical supplies for intensive care units (ICUs), X-ray and laboratory reagents, and 150,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for more than 6,800 frontline health care providers. 

“These supplies have enabled health workers, who are at high risk of exposure, to identify and care better for up to 10,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The project has also added almost 1,300 intensive care unit beds across the country,” they said.

In addition, with the World Health Organization (WHO), seven existing laboratories have been equipped, and two new ones set up for COVID-19 testing under the project.

Raising public awareness around the pandemic was also crucial in trying to slow the spread of coronavirus and in line with this, the project helped disseminate 10,000 radio, television and print messages on the virus, its symptoms and prevention between April and August. 

“The project aims to lower COVID-19 testing turnaround to 48 hours or less for 70 percent and reach a 50 percent public awareness rate,” read the report. 

“With the assistance of the international community and financial support from organizations such as the World Bank, we have high hopes of saving countless lives and further strengthening the health care system on which millions of Afghans depend each day,” the two doctors stated. 

So far, Afghanistan has 38,113 reported cases but early this month the Ministry of Public Health said about 10 million Afghans had been infected with the virus. 

Addressing a press conference, acting Health Minister Jawad Osmani said according to a survey conducted across the country, 31.5 percent of Afghans – which is about 10 million people – have contracted COVID-19.

He said the survey had been based on antibody tests on people across the country, with technical support from the World Health Organisation.

The highest infection rate was in Kabul where more than half of the city’s five million population was thought to have been infected.

Osmani said 37 percent of the population in cities and 27 percent of the population in villages have been infected with the virus.

COVID-19

COVID disruptions led to 63,000 more malaria deaths: WHO

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(Last Updated On: December 9, 2022)

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted efforts to control malaria, resulting in 63,000 additional deaths and 13 million more infections globally over two years, according to a report from the World Health Organization published Thursday.

Cases of the parasitic disease went up in 2020 and continued to climb in 2021, though at a slower pace, the U.N. health agency said Thursday. About 95% of the world’s 247 million malaria infections and 619,000 deaths last year were in Africa.

“We were off track before the pandemic and the pandemic has now made things worse,” said Abdisalan Noor, a senior official in WHO’s malaria department.

Alister Craig, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, noted that progress in reducing malaria deaths had stalled even before COVID-19.

“It is almost as if we have reached a limit of effectiveness for the tools we have now,” said Lister, who was not linked to the WHO report.

Noor said he expected the wider rollout of the world’s first authorized malaria vaccine next year to have a “considerable impact” on reducing the number of severe illnesses and deaths if enough children get immunized, adding that more than 20 countries have applied to vaccines alliance Gavi for help in securing the shot. Still, the vaccine is only about 30% effective and requires four doses.

Bed nets can protect people from being bitten by the mosquitoes that spread malaria. The WHO report found that about three-quarters of nets provided by donors have been distributed, but there are major gaps in some of the worst-hit countries. Authorities in Nigeria, for example, gave out just over half their nets, while Congo distributed about 42% of theirs.

Officials also raised concerns about a new invasive mosquito species that thrives in cities, is resistant to many pesticides and which could undo years of progress against malaria. The invasive species has not yet significantly contributed to the continent’s overall malaria burden, but the insects are likely responsible for a recent spike in parts of the horn of Africa, Noor said.

David Schellenberg, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said there were promising new tools and strategies to tackle malaria, but that “the elephant in the room is the level of funding.” WHO estimated the total investment into malaria — about $3.5 billion — was less than half of what was needed to dramatically reduce its impact.

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Chinese hackers stole millions worth of US COVID relief money

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(Last Updated On: December 6, 2022)

Chinese hackers have stolen tens of millions of dollars worth of US COVID relief benefits since 2020, the Secret Service said on Monday.

The Secret Service declined to provide any additional details but confirmed a report by NBC News that said the Chinese hacking team that is reportedly responsible is known within the security research community as APT41 or Winnti, Reuters reported.

APT41 is a prolific cybercriminal group that had conducted a mix of government-backed cyber intrusions and financially motivated data breaches, according to experts.

According to Reuters several members of the hacking group were indicted in 2019 and 2020 by the U.S. Justice Department for spying on over 100 companies, including software development companies, telecommunications providers, social media firms, and video game developers.

“Regrettably, the Chinese Communist Party has chosen a different path of making China safe for cybercriminals so long as they attack computers outside China and steal intellectual property helpful to China,” former Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said at the time.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

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Scientist involved with Wuhan lab says COVID has been ‘biggest cover up in history’

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2022)

A scientist, Andrew Huff, who worked closely with the Wuhan lab has claimed in a new book that COVID was genetically engineered – and accidentally leaked from the facility.

Huff claims the issue is one of the greatest cover-ups in history – and the “biggest US intelligence failure since 9/11”.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology – a high-security lab specializing in coronaviruses – has for years been the focus of questions as to whether COVID could have escaped from its lab.

Both China and the lab have denied any allegations – but evidence of a lab leak has been piling up over the last two years as scientists, researchers and governments hunt for answers and step forward with evidence.

According to the UK’s Sun newspaper, which was provided with early access to the book, dozens of experts have suggested COVID could have escaped from the Wuhan lab through an infected researcher, improper disposal of waste, or potential breaches in the security at the site.

Even the head of the World Health Organisation reportedly believes COVID did leak from the lab after a “catastrophic accident”.

In his new book – The Truth About Wuhan – Huff claims the pandemic was the result of the US government’s funding of dangerous genetic engineering of coronaviruses in China.

The epidemiologist said China’s gain-of-function experiments – carried out with shoddy biosecurity – led to a lab leak at the US-funded Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Sun reported.

“EcoHealth Alliance and foreign laboratories did not have the adequate control measures in place for ensuring proper biosafety, biosecurity, and risk management, ultimately resulting in the lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” he said in his book.

EcoHealth Alliance, of which Huff was former vice president, had been studying different coronaviruses in bats for more than ten years with funding from the National Institutes of Health – and developed close working ties with the Wuhan lab.

Huff, who worked at EcoHealth Alliance from 2014 to 2016 and served as vice president from 2015, worked on the classified side of the research program as a US government scientist.

The army veteran, from Michigan, said the organization taught the Wuhan lab the “best existing methods to engineer bat coronaviruses to attack other species” for many years, the Sun reported.

“The US government is to blame for the transfer of dangerous biotechnology to the Chinese,” he said.

Speaking to The Sun Huff added: “I was terrified by what I saw. We were just handing them bioweapon technology.”

In his book, the emerging infectious diseases expert claims “greedy scientists killed millions of people globally” – and goes as far as to claim the US government covered it up, the Sun reported.

Huff said: “Nobody should be surprised that the Chinese lied about the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and then went to extraordinary lengths to make it appear as if the disease naturally emerged.

“The shocking part of all of this is how the United States government lied to all of us.”

Although he pointed out he has seen no evidence China deliberately released the virus.

According to the Sun, Huff believes the US-funded project was “mostly a global fishing expedition for coronaviruses” to carry out a gain of function work or for intelligence collection – rather than preventing future pandemics.

“At the time, I felt like the project seemed more like intelligence collection than scientific research and development,” he said in his book.

He alleges the US was using the project to assess the bioweapon capabilities of foreign labs – including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Huff said US government officials issued warnings in January 2018 about the Wuhan lab – including the major shortage of experts needed to safely manage research on deadly coronaviruses.

As he began to unravel the alleged extensive cover-up by the US government, he said the authorities launched a massive campaign of harassment against him.

He claimed military-grade drones would often appear at his home, he was stalked at the supermarket, and he was followed by unknown vehicles.

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