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Lack of data stirs anxiety about the pandemic in Africa

Inside Telecom Staff

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Lack of data stirs anxiety about the pandemic in Africa

When the pandemic in Africa hit Tanzania in mid-April, President John Magufuli announced three days of national prayer to seek God’s protection from the pandemic. Nearly a month later, he claimed victory over the disease and encouraged tourists to visit his nation. The rush to reopen came despite concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) over almost total lack of information on the actual spread of the virus in a country with a population of 55 million, and with one of the weakest healthcare systems in the region.

This shortage of reliable data affects several African nations, with some governments reluctant to even acknowledge the pandemic in Africa, afraid to expose their poor health systems to outer scrutiny. There are other nations that simply cannot carry out significant testing due to poverty and political instability. Sharing information is critical to tackling the pandemic in Africa, both for planning the response and mobilizing donor funding. As things currently are, it is nearly impossible to scale the full impact of the contagion across Africa.

Latest data collected by Reuters indicates that the pandemic in Africa has 493,000 cases and 11,600 deaths with a total population of 1.3 billion people. Meanwhile Latin America, had 2.9 million cases and 129,000 deaths with roughly half the population. The numbers make it look as though the virus has skirted much of Africa, but the reality is certainly worse, with WHO special envoy Samba Sow warning of a potential silent epidemic if testing isn’t prioritized. Interviews with several health workers, diplomats and local officials has revealed not only a scarcity of reliable testing in most countries, but also the certain measures governments have went through to prevent news of infection rates from emerging, even if that means they missed out on donor funding.

While some countries will not share their information, others simply can’t. Due to their health systems being too underdeveloped to carry out large scale testing, contact tracing or surveillance.

South Africa, Africa’s most advanced economy is one of the few to have rolled out mass testing. However, it experienced a backlog of 63,000 unprocessed specimens as of June 10th and that is because global suppliers were unable to meet the demand for laboratory kits, according to the health ministry.

With the absence of comprehensive testing data in other parts of the world, researchers are looking for different methods to judge the prevalence of the virus. Including studying the number of deaths that exceed the average for the relative time of year. However, even that isn’t possible in many countries in Africa because of missing/patchy data sets from previous years.

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MedTech

Hospital Data System to Guide Precision Lockdowns

Adnan Kayyali

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Hospital Data System to guide precision lockdowns

Governments, leaders, and officials need a method to enable countries to keep on living with the virus for an extended period of time.

Many predict that nations will be moving in and out of lockdown until a vaccine is introduced, which may take many more months. In the meantime, communities will need clear guidelines to proceed with absolute caution.

A new method has been devised by researchers at Northwestern University and the University at Austin. The framework published by the two universities describe a hospital data system that helps deal with these situations in a more efficient, precise and timely way.

The paper released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), outlined the new hospital data system.

The system enables, policy makers, leaders and officials to have clear and early indication of when cases are about to rise above a certain threshold. With this data, they can make informed decisions on when to implement short-term lockdowns, and minimize economic and socioeconomic fallout, as well as easing burdens on the thinly spread healthcare systems.

 “Communities need to act long before hospital surges become dangerous. Hospital admissions data give an early indication of rapid pandemic growth, and tracking that data will ensure that hospitals maintain sufficient capacity,” said David Morton, research lead, professor and department chair at Northwestern University.

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MedTech

COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment helps nursing homes

Adnan Kayyali

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COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment helps nursing homes

The pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company is hard at work to deliver the second best thing to a vaccine we can hope for to nursing homes across the US. The company is going around elderly homes testing patients and staff for COVID-19, and administering their COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment, as well as extracting antibodies from those who have already healed from the virus for further research.

The Company is doing this in a rather unconventional way. The company is bringing the lab to the nursing homes by driving around in RVs kitted out as makeshift testing labs.

Elder care facilities are linked to 40% of COVID-19 related deaths, and so it would make perfect sense to start using this temporary boost where people are most vulnerable.

The drug itself is made of natural antibodies that have been produced by the body after being exposed to the coronavirus. The antibodies for this particular drug are extracted from early survivors of the virus, and manufactured on a large scale. It does not give long-term protection, but researchers know that their COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment does boost the body’s immune response for a time after injection.

“We wanted to see if we could help people in nursing homes because the disease has been so devastating,” said Chief Scientific Officer of Eli Lilly, Dr. Dan Skovronsky on CNBC’s “The Exchange.”

Antibodies have proven to be viable lifesaving treatments for diseases like Ebola in the past, and may prove so again until an actual vaccine hits the shelves. In the meantime, it could prove lifesaving for vulnerable people and those on the front lines of the pandemic like necessary workers and healthcare professionals.

The goal here is to make the treatment preventative. Currently it is only useful after a patient has taken ill with the virus. The next stage of testing involves 2,400 volunteers to see if the COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment can be used as an auxiliary protective measure that is both more available and easier to produce than a vaccine currently.

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MedTech

Living with COVID-19: How long will this last?

Adnan Kayyali

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Living with COVID-19: How long will this last?

COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere for a while. Researchers warn that we may have to start getting used to living with COVID-19 well into 2021 and possibly 2022. A UN report as well as interviews with several university professors and researchers sheds some light onto our situation, and the way out.

Promising leads on vaccines are in the works and making progress. Some institutions and partnered efforts promise a protective vaccine by as early as September. The World Health organization projects that there will be around 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of next year. That is however, a long way away, and still leaves another 4 billion people living with COVID-19 as it rises and spreads.

A UN report measuring the effective response and coping mechanism of each country to the pandemic specifies that we are still in the early stages, and very much at risk.

Countries that are doing pretty well right now like South Korea, China, New Zealand and Taiwan, have been warned that they are still at risk of infection clusters popping up as seen in China a couple of months ago.

This leaves countries at risk of another wave, and a new list of economic disruptions and pitfalls. Despite this, countries need to find a way to cope and keep their economies flowing to some extent until a vaccine is made available, which may need longer than anticipated.

A study conducted by John Hopkins warns that to loosen social safety precautions may correlate with a spike in cases. Increasingly, we are relying on the individual’s assessment of risk and their precautions to determine the severity of the spike. The trouble is, countries will face challenges keeping cases down at this stage.

Researchers and professionals cast a somewhat bleak picture on the near future. Some estimate the death toll to reach up to a million by 2021, while others make even more concerning projections. “We’ll go well over a million,” says Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, Eric Topol. “I wouldn’t be surprised by 2022 if we go into a couple million or more, knowing that there are so many people out there who are vulnerable.”

The reason for this is because COVID-19 is a “stealthy” virus. Asymptomatic transmission comprises up to 30% of total infection cases, and so we are hunting a black cat at night when it comes to finding and isolating infected clusters.

A new approach to the virus is advised. One that requires individuals to take absolute responsibility over the risks and precautions they are taking. People may have to accept living with COVID-19, and the new changes in their life, and everyone needs to contend with the fact that it’s not over yet, and won’t be for a while longer.

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