Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

The coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown that followed brought organ transplants in India to a complete standstill.

But as cities begin to unlock in phases and hospitals gradually steer the focus to other chronic ailments and lifesaving procedures undermined by Covid-19, organ donations and transplants are slowly resuming.

On Aug. 17, the family of a 31-year-old man from Kolkata in West Bengal consented to donate his organs after he was declared brain dead as a result of severe injuries he suffered in a road accident. The noble gesture marked Kolkata’s first organ donation  during the pandemic and third this year. The two others occurred in January.

In a similar gesture on Aug. 15, the family of a deceased 39-year-old woman from Pune saved the lives of five patients suffering from end-stage organ failure. The donor had suffered a brain hemorrhage and her family consented to donating her heart, liver, lungs, kidney and cornea after doctors declared her brain death. Two of her organs were flown to south India; the heart was sent to MGM Healthcare in Chennai; and the lungs were sent to KIMS Heart and Lung Transplant Institute in Hyderabad. The remaining organs were transplanted to patients in Pune.

“This was only the second heart transplant that we carried out in our center since the country went under lockdown,” said cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care specialist Dr. Suresh Rao.

 

Rao was part of the heart transplant team in Chennai’s MGM Healthcare. “Usually, we carry out anywhere between eight to 10 heart transplants in a month. But since the lockdown in mid-March, we have carried out only two,” he said.

Before Covid-19, the number of transplants done annually in India was about 5,ooo kidneys, 1,000 livers and 50 hearts, according to the Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on Jan. 30. A nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 24 as the number of cases began to soar. The country has now crossed 2.7 million cases and recorded more than 50000 deaths.

“The state governments advised to stop the transplant procedures due to the concern about the outcome if patients get infected with Covid-19,” said Rao. “The Tamil Nadu government lifted this clause last month and allowed hospitals to restart transplants if organs were available within their centers. Now the government has allowed inter-city transplants too, thus enabling us to fly the organs from other states.”

However, the process remains challenging due to the low number of domestic commercial flights operating in the country.

“We had to arrange a chartered flight with help from a charitable trust to bring the heart from Pune to Chennai,” Rao said, referring to the organ donation on Aug. 15.

In Western India, the State of Maharashtra recorded 160 organ donations in 2019. So far this year, the state has recorded 50. Maharashtra currently has over 5,500 patients waiting for kidney transplants, nearly 1,100 waiting for liver transplants, 74 waiting for heart transplants, and 16 in line for lung transplants. While patients with kidney failure are sustained on dialysis, those in need of other organs have little interventions other than transplants.

The living donor organ transplants, where a close relative is allowed to donate the organ, also took a back seat during the pandemic. In some cases, organ donors and recipients feared contracting the infection and delayed the procedure, while in other cases hospitals they had registered with had halted the program.

“It is logical to presume that patients on the waiting list who did not get transplants in time may have succumbed. But we currently don’t have any data on this,” said Dr. Vasanthi Ramesh, director of the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation. “Hospitals are still busy with Covid-19 and the health systems are stretched. We will collate the data from centers in the coming days”.

Some transplant centers have calculated the mortality based on their own waiting list. Chennai’s MGM Healthcare has lost nearly 30 percent of its patients on the waiting list for heart transplants.

“Patients in need of heart transplants have to wait anywhere between one to three months to get the organ. However, this year, the waiting period had crossed six months for most patients,” said Rao.

Doctors say that ensuring a COVID-free pathway before and after the transplant is most challenging. This fear is probably keeping most hospitals away from restarting their transplant programs, even as it is not economically viable for them to sustain.

“In Mumbai, we have 39 recognized transplant centers but only one-third have agreed to restart the procedures,” said Dr. SK Mathur, president of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre, Mumbai. A similar trend in reduction in the number of transplant procedures has been recorded in the United States and France.

Gradually though, states have devised standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Tamil Nadu government, for instance, has insisted that not just the donor and the recipient, but also close family members of the recipient be tested for Covid-19. In Maharashtra, patients and healthcare workers must be screened and followed up for up to 28 days.

Doctors believe the number of transplants will increase in coming days after speedier test results for Covid-19 tests and increased public awareness of safety measures to control spread of the virus.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Burning Fuse on India’s Devastating Smoking Cancer Time Bomb

Burning Fuse on India’s Devastating Smoking Cancer Time Bomb

With tobacco consumption contributing significantly to the rising number of cancer cases in India, doctors and others are urging the government to step up its tobacco control measures.

Cancer cases in the country are likely to jump from 1.39 million in 2020 to 1.57 million, or 12.9 percent, in 2025, according to a recent report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The report was based on information collated from 28 population-based and 58 hospital-based cancer registries across the country. It states that nearly 370,000 cancer cases this year alone will be caused by tobacco consumption, including cancer of the lip, tongue, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, lungs and  bladder.

While India is reported to have a very high level of tobacco use in both smokeless and smoking forms, it also has measures in place to help curb use, according to the World Health Organization.

“The MPOWER measure that India is implementing at the highest level of achievement is conducting national mass-media campaigns to warn people about the dangers of tobacco use,” the WHO report states. MPOWER is the organization’s tobacco-free initiative.

 

Still the numbers continue to rise.

The study found that East Khasi Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya had the highest relative proportion of cancers associated with the use of tobacco — 70.4 percent in males and 46.5 percent in females.  Among men, lung cancer was most common in eastern India, while cancer of the mouth was highest in the central part of the country.

In women, mouth cancer was high in central states, while esophageal cancer was common in northern India.

“Nearly half of the cancers in men are tobacco-related,” said Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Centre hospital in Mumbai, India’s largest cancer center.

Chaturvedi, one of the most prominent anti-tobacco crusaders in the country, said, “The government has initiated many measures over the past several years, including pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, display of warnings in films and television serials, advertisements in cinemas, starting a quit-line for people who want to fight the habit, and most recently banning e-cigarettes. All of these measures tackle the demand side. But what is being ignored is the supply side of the massive tobacco industry.”

A 2019 study by Thought Arbitrage, an independent think tank,  and ASSOCHAM, an organization affiliated with chambers of commerce, said nearly 45.7 million people in India depend on the tobacco sector for their livelihood. This includes 6 million farmers; 20 million farm laborers; 4 million leaf-pluckers; 8.5 million working in processing, manufacturing and exports; and 7.2 million workings in retailing and trading.

“There is enough data that India is a leading tobacco exporter with exports of leaf tobacco and tobacco products contributing around INR 6,000 crore ($808 million) annually in terms of foreign exchange to the government,” the study said.  “Of the total net exports, the un-manufactured tobacco has a significant share amounting to INR 4,173 crore ($562 million). The rest includes tobacco products such as cigars, cheroots, cigarillos and cigarettes.”

The report also said India produces tobaccos of different grades and types for various users, providing a one-stop-shop for different styles, qualities and price ranges. Flue-Cured Virginia tobacco is the main exportable tobacco produced in India, with around 70 percent of that crop being exported.

“India has a 5 percent value share of the $12 billion global tobacco leaf export trade.  The diversity of Indian tobacco has enabled the country to export tobacco to over 100 countries across the globe,” the study said.

“To deal with this supply of tobacco, the Indian government has to show commitment by stopping tobacco cultivation and offering alternative crops and income sources to the farmers and other workers deeply rooted in the industry,” said Chaturvedi. “The government should also withdraw its share from the country’s leading cigarette company. Controlling tobacco is the responsibility of multiple ministries such as Home, Health, Education, Labor, Finance, Women and Child, Agriculture, Environment, Commerce and Industry, etc., and it has been a challenge to get them all on the same table. It is crucial for these ministries to work together.”

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey shows that consumption of tobacco in India dropped from 34 percent to 28 percent between 2010 and 2016. However, experts said the growth in population during that period has not been accounted for.

“The recent projections made by the Indian Council of Medical Research are alarming,” said Dr. A C Kataki, director of the Dr. B Borooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati, in the northeastern state of Assam. “The government has to give a strong push to tobacco control if it intends to reduce the cancer burden in the country. It is also the responsibility of the society and citizens to demand such laws and ensure that they are stringently implemented.”

Experts said that the smokeless form of tobacco is more common in rural India.

“The raw, chewable form of tobacco is easily available and culturally accepted in rural India,” said Rajashree Kadam, vice-president of the nonprofit Salaam Bombay Foundation that works in this sector. “There is little awareness of its harmful effects.

“Tobacco companies typically target youth with surrogate advertisements. Their lobby is very strong in the country and it is time the government stands up against it.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Stalled by Pandemic, Organ Transplants Slowly Resume in India

Stalled by Pandemic, Organ Transplants Slowly Resume in India

The coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown that followed brought organ transplants in India to a complete standstill.

But as cities begin to unlock in phases and hospitals gradually steer the focus to other chronic ailments and lifesaving procedures undermined by Covid-19, organ donations and transplants are slowly resuming.

On Aug. 17, the family of a 31-year-old man from Kolkata in West Bengal consented to donate his organs after he was declared brain dead as a result of severe injuries he suffered in a road accident. The noble gesture marked Kolkata’s first organ donation  during the pandemic and third this year. The two others occurred in January.

In a similar gesture on Aug. 15, the family of a deceased 39-year-old woman from Pune saved the lives of five patients suffering from end-stage organ failure. The donor had suffered a brain hemorrhage and her family consented to donating her heart, liver, lungs, kidney and cornea after doctors declared her brain death. Two of her organs were flown to south India; the heart was sent to MGM Healthcare in Chennai; and the lungs were sent to KIMS Heart and Lung Transplant Institute in Hyderabad. The remaining organs were transplanted to patients in Pune.

“This was only the second heart transplant that we carried out in our center since the country went under lockdown,” said cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care specialist Dr. Suresh Rao.

 

Rao was part of the heart transplant team in Chennai’s MGM Healthcare. “Usually, we carry out anywhere between eight to 10 heart transplants in a month. But since the lockdown in mid-March, we have carried out only two,” he said.

Before Covid-19, the number of transplants done annually in India was about 5,ooo kidneys, 1,000 livers and 50 hearts, according to the Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on Jan. 30. A nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 24 as the number of cases began to soar. The country has now crossed 2.7 million cases and recorded more than 50000 deaths.

“The state governments advised to stop the transplant procedures due to the concern about the outcome if patients get infected with Covid-19,” said Rao. “The Tamil Nadu government lifted this clause last month and allowed hospitals to restart transplants if organs were available within their centers. Now the government has allowed inter-city transplants too, thus enabling us to fly the organs from other states.”

However, the process remains challenging due to the low number of domestic commercial flights operating in the country.

“We had to arrange a chartered flight with help from a charitable trust to bring the heart from Pune to Chennai,” Rao said, referring to the organ donation on Aug. 15.

In Western India, the State of Maharashtra recorded 160 organ donations in 2019. So far this year, the state has recorded 50. Maharashtra currently has over 5,500 patients waiting for kidney transplants, nearly 1,100 waiting for liver transplants, 74 waiting for heart transplants, and 16 in line for lung transplants. While patients with kidney failure are sustained on dialysis, those in need of other organs have little interventions other than transplants.

The living donor organ transplants, where a close relative is allowed to donate the organ, also took a back seat during the pandemic. In some cases, organ donors and recipients feared contracting the infection and delayed the procedure, while in other cases hospitals they had registered with had halted the program.

“It is logical to presume that patients on the waiting list who did not get transplants in time may have succumbed. But we currently don’t have any data on this,” said Dr. Vasanthi Ramesh, director of the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation. “Hospitals are still busy with Covid-19 and the health systems are stretched. We will collate the data from centers in the coming days”.

Some transplant centers have calculated the mortality based on their own waiting list. Chennai’s MGM Healthcare has lost nearly 30 percent of its patients on the waiting list for heart transplants.

“Patients in need of heart transplants have to wait anywhere between one to three months to get the organ. However, this year, the waiting period had crossed six months for most patients,” said Rao.

Doctors say that ensuring a COVID-free pathway before and after the transplant is most challenging. This fear is probably keeping most hospitals away from restarting their transplant programs, even as it is not economically viable for them to sustain.

“In Mumbai, we have 39 recognized transplant centers but only one-third have agreed to restart the procedures,” said Dr. SK Mathur, president of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre, Mumbai. A similar trend in reduction in the number of transplant procedures has been recorded in the United States and France.

Gradually though, states have devised standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Tamil Nadu government, for instance, has insisted that not just the donor and the recipient, but also close family members of the recipient be tested for Covid-19. In Maharashtra, patients and healthcare workers must be screened and followed up for up to 28 days.

Doctors believe the number of transplants will increase in coming days after speedier test results for Covid-19 tests and increased public awareness of safety measures to control spread of the virus.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



The post Stalled by Pandemic, Organ Transplants Slowly Resume in India appeared first on Zenger News.

Greater Tobacco Controls Urged as Cancer Cases Spike in India

Greater Tobacco Controls Urged as Cancer Cases Spike in India

With tobacco consumption contributing significantly to the rising number of cancer cases in India, doctors and others are urging the government to step up its tobacco control measures.

Cancer cases in the country are likely to jump from 1.39 million in 2020 to 1.57 million, or 12.9 percent, in 2025, according to a recent report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The report was based on information collated from 28 population-based and 58 hospital-based cancer registries across the country. It states that nearly 370,000 cancer cases this year alone will be caused by tobacco consumption, including cancer of the lip, tongue, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, lungs and  bladder.

While India is reported to have a very high level of tobacco use in both smokeless and smoking forms, it also has measures in place to help curb use, according to the World Health Organization.

“The MPOWER measure that India is implementing at the highest level of achievement is conducting national mass-media campaigns to warn people about the dangers of tobacco use,” the WHO report states. MPOWER is the organization’s tobacco-free initiative.

 

Still the numbers continue to rise.

The study found that East Khasi Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya had the highest relative proportion of cancers associated with the use of tobacco — 70.4 percent in males and 46.5 percent in females.  Among men, lung cancer was most common in eastern India, while cancer of the mouth was highest in the central part of the country.

In women, mouth cancer was high in central states, while esophageal cancer was common in northern India.

“Nearly half of the cancers in men are tobacco-related,” said Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Centre hospital in Mumbai, India’s largest cancer center.

Chaturvedi, one of the most prominent anti-tobacco crusaders in the country, said, “The government has initiated many measures over the past several years, including pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, display of warnings in films and television serials, advertisements in cinemas, starting a quit-line for people who want to fight the habit, and most recently banning e-cigarettes. All of these measures tackle the demand side. But what is being ignored is the supply side of the massive tobacco industry.”

A 2019 study by Thought Arbitrage, an independent think tank,  and ASSOCHAM, an organization affiliated with chambers of commerce, said nearly 45.7 million people in India depend on the tobacco sector for their livelihood. This includes 6 million farmers; 20 million farm laborers; 4 million leaf-pluckers; 8.5 million working in processing, manufacturing and exports; and 7.2 million workings in retailing and trading.

“There is enough data that India is a leading tobacco exporter with exports of leaf tobacco and tobacco products contributing around INR 6,000 crore ($808 million) annually in terms of foreign exchange to the government,” the study said.  “Of the total net exports, the un-manufactured tobacco has a significant share amounting to INR 4,173 crore ($562 million). The rest includes tobacco products such as cigars, cheroots, cigarillos and cigarettes.”

The report also said India produces tobaccos of different grades and types for various users, providing a one-stop-shop for different styles, qualities and price ranges. Flue-Cured Virginia tobacco is the main exportable tobacco produced in India, with around 70 percent of that crop being exported.

“India has a 5 percent value share of the $12 billion global tobacco leaf export trade.  The diversity of Indian tobacco has enabled the country to export tobacco to over 100 countries across the globe,” the study said.

“To deal with this supply of tobacco, the Indian government has to show commitment by stopping tobacco cultivation and offering alternative crops and income sources to the farmers and other workers deeply rooted in the industry,” said Chaturvedi. “The government should also withdraw its share from the country’s leading cigarette company. Controlling tobacco is the responsibility of multiple ministries such as Home, Health, Education, Labor, Finance, Women and Child, Agriculture, Environment, Commerce and Industry, etc., and it has been a challenge to get them all on the same table. It is crucial for these ministries to work together.”

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey shows that consumption of tobacco in India dropped from 34 percent to 28 percent between 2010 and 2016. However, experts said the growth in population during that period has not been accounted for.

“The recent projections made by the Indian Council of Medical Research are alarming,” said Dr. A C Kataki, director of the Dr. B Borooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati, in the northeastern state of Assam. “The government has to give a strong push to tobacco control if it intends to reduce the cancer burden in the country. It is also the responsibility of the society and citizens to demand such laws and ensure that they are stringently implemented.”

Experts said that the smokeless form of tobacco is more common in rural India.

“The raw, chewable form of tobacco is easily available and culturally accepted in rural India,” said Rajashree Kadam, vice-president of the nonprofit Salaam Bombay Foundation that works in this sector. “There is little awareness of its harmful effects.

“Tobacco companies typically target youth with surrogate advertisements. Their lobby is very strong in the country and it is time the government stands up against it.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



The post Greater Tobacco Controls Urged as Cancer Cases Spike in India appeared first on Zenger News.

Covid-19 Miracle of Tiny Indian State Shows Nation the Way

Covid-19 Miracle of Tiny Indian State Shows Nation the Way

GUWAHATI, India—A small state in India’s troubled northeast has managed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic much better than some of the larger states with more resources.

Mizoram is tucked away between Myanmar and Bangladesh, about 1,500 miles from New Delhi. It registered its first case on March 24—the day on which the country went into lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Since then, the number of cases in Mizoram has risen to 918 cases as of Aug. 24, but there have been no deaths.

This is a miracle of sorts in India, where the number of Covid-19 cases was reported at 3.1 million on Aug. 24, with 57,542 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. The country is third after the United States and Brazil.

Credit for this goes to the community efforts of the people in Mizoram, population 1.1 million.

The first Covid-19 patient in state was a 50-year-old pastor who had returned from the Netherlands. He was treated at Zoram Medical College, the only tertiary hospital in Mizoram, on the outskirts of state capital Aizawl.

The hospital was barely prepared. Of its 300 beds, just 14 were in the intensive care unit. And, “Seven of these were damaged because of water seepage,” said Dr. H. C. Laldina, its medical superintendent.

The government of the state, led by Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga, decided to take immediate action as the pandemic started. A former militant leader, he enlisted the help of community organizations such as the Central Young Mizo Association and church leaders. About 85 percent of the state’s population is Christian and such organizations play an important role.

Every village and locality in urban areas has a local task force to deal with Covid-19. They coordinate with district-level teams, who in turn report to a state-level team.

On Aug. 9, when a paramilitary officer from the Chaltlang Lily Veng area of Aizawl tested positive for Covid-19, the local task force took charge. They declared a lockdown in the locality. Volunteers managed to trace 136 people who had met the officer. Thirteen of them tested positive.

In neighboring states such as Assam, contact tracing has almost ceased because of the overwhelming number of cases.

Lalduhawma, the general secretary of the local branch of the association, and his team are connected to about 700 households in the locality through WhatsApp groups.

“We use them to relay messages on awareness,” said Lalduhawma. “A lot of curious residents ask us about who has tested positive. CYMA is usually the first responder to any situation in Mizoram.”

The association has more than 400,000 members and 800 branches spread across the state. It has been the backbone of the state’s response team, checking movement on the borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as internal borders with Indian states such as Assam, Tripura and Manipur.

By the time residents of Mizoram started to return from other parts of the country, the state was ready with extensive quarantine facilities. Churches offered to serve as community quarantine centers, managed by the local task forces.

“The community support has been more than helpful,” said Pachuau Lalmalsawma, the state’s Covid-19 nodal officer. He said there had never been a money crunch, with support pouring in from the church and the local community.

Lalmalsamwa said 29,115 samples had been tested as of Aug. 17.

Even as India moves to end the lockdown, Mizoram has decided to continue with it for the time being. Authorities became more cautious after they were unable to trace the source of infection for at least three new cases.

Other states in the region test people on arrival. Mizoram tests people after a few days in quarantine, relying instead on strict entry restrictions. People arriving in the state are required to quarantine for two weeks and are advised two more weeks of self-monitoring.

Of the state’s Covid-19 cases, most are paramilitary personnel or truck drivers. More than half belong to the Indian army’s Assam Rifles and the Border Security Force deployed on the borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Zoramthanga has banned the entry of new paramilitary personnel. In a statement on Aug. 20, Assam Rifles said this was a violation of the Union government’s orders and had serious implication for national security.

The state government, however, is in no mood to relax its vigilance. “Entry restrictions and testing new arrivals is a very effective strategy,” said Lalmalsawma.

Mizoram’s strategy—and success—has been praised by health sector experts.

“The state utilized the time of the lockdown in coordinating effectively among various departments, such as health, home, and disaster management, and the community organizations,” said Priscilla C. Ngaihte, an adviser with Public Health Foundation of India. “They also prioritized strengthening their health infrastructure over other things.”

At the Mizoram hospital, a designated Covid-19 facility, there are now 60 ICUs. There are two more at Champai, a district that borders Myanmar.

Laldina, the hospital’s medical superintendent, said the number of patients who need critical care is low. As of Aug. 17, only one patient was in the ICU.

Health sector experts advise caution.

“One tertiary care hospital is not enough,” said Ngaihte, adding that the state’s calculations could go haywire if the numbers shoot up.

For the moment, however, the state is satisfied with its approach.

“Compared to the rest of the country, we are comfortable,” said Lalmalsawma.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy, Fern Siegel and Judith Isacoff.)



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With Memories of AIDS Crisis Still Fresh, South Africa Wades Into Covid-19 Vaccine Trials

With Memories of AIDS Crisis Still Fresh, South Africa Wades Into Covid-19 Vaccine Trials

Ravaged by an AIDS epidemic that began more than three decades ago, South Africa has joined the effort to combat a different virus: the global cornavirus pandemic. The Jenner Institute at Oxford University selected the country to participate in a vaccine trial amid a life-or-death race to find a cure for Covid-19.

South Africa had nearly 610,000 confirmed cases and more than 13,000 deaths as of Aug. 23, more than double and triple those numbers, respectively, from July, according to South Africa’s Department of Health. The first participants in the study were set to be inoculated at the end of June.

The South Africa Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial aims to find a confirmed, reliable vaccine to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, said professor Shabir Madhi, director of the South Africa Medical Research Council Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit.

The Russian government on Aug. 11 announced that it had approved its own vaccine for use beginning in September, which has been met with skepticism by international health experts because it has not undergone critical phase three clinical trials that involved thousands of people.

“It’s a race to get a vaccine …we are very excited to be doing this in Africa because as we know, we often get overseen and get left behind when it comes to lifesaving treatments,” said Dr. Anthonet Koen, principal investigator for the vaccine trial at the Johannesburg-based Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

“If you think about HIV, we were last in line to get access to antiretrovirals, and we don’t want that to happen” again, she said, adding that the South African trial will last for one year.

The trial will initially use volunteers, Koen said, enrolling 2,000 healthy adults but also 50 adults with HIV deemed as medically under control.

“So they have to be virally suppressed. Anybody newly diagnosed with HIV is not enrolled,” Koen said.

Participants will be given an electronic diary to record any symptoms experienced for seven days after receiving the coronavirus test vaccine, and for an additional three weeks if they feel unwell.

“Realistically, we are looking at four to five months until we can have some data,” Koen said, adding that the South African team is also looking at data from vaccine trials already underway in Britain, Brazil and the United States.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address at a virtual conference in late June on the Covid-19 pandemic that Africa must collaborate to develop and provide open access to a vaccine, including through significant local manufacturing across the continent.

“We need to support the contribution of African scientists and health care professionals. We need to act with urgency,” said Ramaphosa, the current chairman of the African Union.

The conference led to a new initiative by the African Union Commission, the “Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Consortium for the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial.”

Globally, there are nearly 150 potential Covid-19 vaccines, and currently 19 are in clinical trials, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There are more than 23 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 800,000 deaths globally, according to the university.

The World Health Organization has been closely monitoring vaccine development in Africa – as well as its infection rates.

In Africa, the number of confirmed cases more than doubled between July and August to more than one million, due to governments easing lockdowns and physical distancing measures.

“So it’s important now more than ever that the public health and prevention measures be scaled up, and that the response is done in a locally shifted way,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, during a recent press briefing. “We can expect this virus to be circulating until a vaccine is made available to people across the world, including people in Africa.”

(Edited by Ali Hussain and Joe Cochrane.)



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