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Panel suggests WHO should have more power to stop pandemics

Associated Press

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A panel of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic says the U.N. health agency should be granted “guaranteed rights of access” in countries to investigate emerging outbreaks, a contentious idea that would give it more powers and require member states to give up some of theirs.

In a report released Wednesday, the panel faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to COVID-19, saying most waited to see how the virus was spreading until it was too late to contain it, leading to catastrophic results. The group also slammed the lack of global leadership and restrictive international health laws that “hindered” WHO’s response to the pandemic.

Some experts criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions during COVID-19, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”

Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University said the panel “fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over frankness, transparency and accountability.”

The panel was led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who were tapped by WHO last year to examine the U.N. agency’s response to COVID-19 after bowing to a request from member countries.

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” Johnson Sirleaf said.

Beyond the call to boost WHO’s ability to investigate outbreaks, the panel made an array of recommendations, such as urging the health agency and the World Trade Organization to convene a meeting of vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to quickly reach deals about voluntary licensing and technology transfer, in an effort to boost the world’s global supply of coronavirus shots.

The panel also suggested that WHO’s director-general — currently Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia — should be limited to a single seven-year term. As it stands, the WHO chief is elected to a five-year term that can be renewed once.

The suggestion to limit the tenure of WHO’s top leader appeared in part designed to ease the intense political pressure that WHO director-generals can face. Last year, the Trump administration repeatedly inveighed against the agency’s handling of the pandemic — taking aim at WHO’s alleged collusion with China.

An Associated Press investigation in June found WHO repeatedly lauded China in public while officials privately complained that Chinese officials stalled on sharing critical epidemic information with them, including the new virus’ genetic sequence.

Clark said the global diseases surveillance system needed to be overhauled — with WHO’s role strengthened.

“WHO should have the powers necessary to investigate outbreaks of concern, speedily guaranteed rights of access, and with the ability to publish information without waiting for member state approval,” she said.

Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, said the panel’s recommendations were unlikely to be entirely welcomed by WHO’s member countries, and thus, unlikely to be implemented.

“Which states would actually allow WHO in to investigate an outbreak without their permission?” she asked.

Many doctors fatigued after treating COVID-19 patients said any reform of WHO should include an evaluation of its ability to properly assess the science of an emerging health threat.

David Tomlinson, a British physician who has been campaigning for health workers during the pandemic in the U.K., said WHO “failed on the most fundamental aspect” in its scientific leadership of COVID-19. He said WHO’s failure to acknowledge that much coronavirus transmission happens in the air has “amplified the pandemic.”

WHO has said coronavirus spread can happen in limited circumstances in the air but recommended against mask-wearing for the general public until last June.

Clare Wenham, a professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said the report overall was good, but questioned its support for the U.N.-backed program for coronavirus vaccines called COVAX, which relies on a “donation” model. Of the millions of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, developing countries have received just 7%, WHO said this week.

“(COVAX) is not addressing one of the main problems, which is we need to rapidly ramp up production of the vaccines and distribution of vaccines,” she said. “And it’s still working on the model of a finite number that’s only able be produced by a certain few manufacturing locations.”

Overall, she suggested politicians needed to budge more than technical institutions like WHO.

“The problems aren’t technical. The problems are political. The problems are about like: How do you get governments to behave and think about things beyond their own borders?” Wenham said. “I don’t think that has been resolved.”


GENEVA (AP) — By MARIA CHENG and JAMEY KEATEN Associated Press.

AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from London.

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MedTech

AI cancer diagnosis platform receives FDA Designation

Karim Husami

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AI cancer diagnosis

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Breakthrough Device Designation to Ibex Medical Analytics, a specialist in AI-powered cancer diagnostics, which will help fast track the clinical review and regulatory approval of its platform.

Granting such approval is given to technologies that have the potential to provide more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening diseases.

The designation enables close collaboration with, and expedited review by the FDA, and provides formal acknowledgement of the Galen platform’s utility and potential benefit as well as the robustness of Ibex’s clinical program.

Oncology treatments

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 39.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2015–2017 data).

“In 2020, an estimated 16,850 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,730 will die of the disease,” the institute noted.

An estimated 1,806,590 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2020, it noted, and 606,520 people will die from the disease.

“Oncology treatments have made great strides, but to save more lives it is also essential to see technological advances in cancer diagnostics. Enhancing the accuracy of cancer diagnosis and improving the efficiency for the pathologist is paramount to improving quality and affordability of cancer care,” David Shulkin, MD, advisor to Ibex Medical Analytics said.

AI cancer diagnosis platform role

“Ibex’s AI platform has demonstrated success in helping pathologists worldwide improve care for patients with cancer. This FDA designation is an important step forward in making this technology broadly available in the United States,” David added.

That said, pathologists play an important role in the detection and diagnosis of disease, with their assessment being vital for correct treatment decisions in cancer care.

However, a rise in cancer prevalence and advances in personalized medicine have resulted in growing diagnostic complexity that significantly increases pathologists’ workloads.

As such, Ibex’s Galen platform uses Strong AI algorithms to help pathologists improve the quality of cancer diagnosis, implement real-time quality control, reduce diagnosis time, and boost productivity. It has already demonstrated outstanding outcomes in clinical studies and is deployed in labs worldwide where it is used as part of everyday clinical practice.

Joseph Mossel, chief executive officer and co-founder of Ibex Medical Analytics, said: “We are honored to have been granted the Breakthrough Device Designation. Ibex is committed to providing world class tools for pathologists to ensure every patient receives a timely and correct diagnosis, while supporting pathology labs and health systems to increase efficiency and accuracy. Our Strong AI technology is already in clinical use globally, making a real impact on patient care. We are proud to work closely with the FDA and look forward to continuing to collaborate with the agency as we accelerate our clinical program in the United States.”

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Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine shows 94% efficacy in Bahrain

Inside Telecom Staff

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Sputnik-V

Controversy has been the main headline stuck to Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, with many countries either doubting its efficacy levels or brushing it off due to political tensions between western countries and Russia.

In parallel, Russia hasn’t done a good job marketing the drug since it was named after the Soviet Union’s and the world’s first artificial satellite launched into space back in 1957.

But still the Russian vaccine persisted and remains to be administered to people all around the world as we speak.

With that in mind, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announced on Thursday data of the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Bahrain on the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine confirming its safety and high efficacy during the vaccination campaign in the country.

The efficacy study was conducted in Bahrain in accordance with WHO guidelines involving more than 5,000 subjects. Overall efficacy beyond 14 days after administering the second dose was estimated at 94.3 percent.

Analysis is based on the data collected between February and early May 2021.

“Sputnik V has demonstrated efficacy of 94.3 percent and high safety confirming the data collected in a number of other countries where it is used to protect the population against coronavirus. The Russian vaccine is an important part of Bahrain’s diversified national portfolio. Use of Sputnik V is making a significant contribution in mitigating the spread of coronavirus, resuming normal life and economic activity,” Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said in a statement.

The data of the Ministry of Health also demonstrates that 98.6 percent of all COVID-19 cases 14 days after receiving the second dose were mild among those vaccinated with Sputnik V.

Vaccination data indicates high safety of Sputnik V:

  • No serious adverse events associated with vaccination;
  • No deaths related to the vaccination;
  • No cerebral vein thrombosis (CVT) cases after vaccination.

“Our data has confirmed the high efficacy and safety of Sputnik V during its use in Bahrain. This vaccine is one of a number of approved vaccines made available free of charge to citizens and residents in the Kingdom. Sputnik V continues to play an important role in the Kingdom’s ongoing and successful vaccination campaign, with 81 percent of the eligible population vaccinated so far,” Faeqa Saeed Al-Saleh, Bahrain’s Minister of Health, highlighted. 

Sputnik V has a number of key advantages:

  • Efficacy of Sputnik V is 97.6 percent based on the analysis of data on the coronavirus infection rate among those in Russia vaccinated with both components of Sputnik V from December 5, 2020, to March 31, 2021;
  • The vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years.
  • Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots.
  • The safety, efficacy, and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades.
  • There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V.
  • The storage temperature of Sputnik V at +2+8 C means it can be stored in a conventional refrigerator without any need to invest in additional cold-chain infrastructure.
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MedTech

Orange, AXA acquire majority stake in Moroccan HealthTech company

Inside Telecom Staff

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HealthTech

Orange Middle East and Africa and AXA CIMA entities led by AXA Assurance Maroc announced on Monday a joint agreement to acquire a majority stake in DabaDoc, the Moroccan HealthTech company digitalizing access to healthcare in Africa, alongside the company’s founders.

DabaDoc – which was founded by Zineb Drissi-Kaitouni and Driss Drissi-Kaitouni earlier in 2014 – has developed solutions that are used by thousands of healthcare professionals in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

The agreement will allow both French companies to accelerate DabaDoc’s growth using their vast investment portfolios and network, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa; the transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021.

“As a responsible operator on the continent, we want to contribute to this major social challenge, especially during a pandemic. The deployment of this type of solution in the countries where we are present will greatly facilitate populations’ access to healthcare services, which is essential to the continent’s development,” Alioune Ndiaye, CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa, said in a joint statement.

With this acquisition, the French telco confirms its ambition of leading the line in multi-services digital operator in the region. Through its partnership with DabaDoc and relying on AXA’s globally recognized expertise in healthcare, Orange is positioned as a key player in HealthTech.

In parallel, this acquisition wouldn’t be the first investment AXA Assurance has placed in DabaDoc – with the first being in 2018 – but rather sends a message that the insurance company is looking to consolidate its partnership with the company to accelerate the digitalization and integration of its customers’ healthcare journey.

AXA will also aim to facilitate its policyholders’ interactions with healthcare professionals, notably via DabaDoc’s appointment booking and remote consultation infrastructure and network.

“This is one of the Group’s strategic priorities as part of the Driving Progress 2023 plan. This ambition is even stronger as we are facing an unprecedented health crisis. Through this partnership, we therefore aim to enable patients to access a better healthcare journey in Morocco and to support DabaDoc through its development in the CIMA countries as well,” Meryem Chami, CEO of AXA Assurance Maroc and AXA CIMA, highlighted.

In cementing this tri-party partnership, DabaDoc will benefit from the broad experience of AXA, one of the global leaders in health insurance, and Orange’s technological expertise and payment solutions to enable digital solutions to be developed that rapidly scale and benefit patients and the entire African healthcare ecosystem.

“Orange’s investment in DabaDoc and AXA’s renewed investment will strengthen DabaDoc’s growth ambitions through Orange and AXA’s presence in Africa and the Middle East. The pandemic has strengthened our belief that the digitalization of healthcare services is essential and inevitable,” Zineb Drissi-Kaitouni, co-founder and CEO of DabaDoc, noted in the statement.

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