Article by Lalita Panicker, Consulting Editor, Views and Editor, Insight, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern about bird flu on February 24 after the father of an 11-year-old Cambodian girl who died from the disease also tested positive, raising fears of human-to-human transmission. However, officials say the father is asymptomatic. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/who-concerned-about-bird-flu-cases-in-humans-after-girls-death-in-cambodia/article66551833.ece
The WHO said it was in close contact with the Cambodian authorities about the situation, including regarding the test results of the girl’s other contacts.
Humans rarely get bird flu, but when they do it is usually from coming in direct contact with infected birds. Investigators in Cambodia are working to establish whether the girl and father were exposed to infected birds.
Officials are also waiting for test results from several dead wild birds found near the girl’s remote village in the eastern Prey Veng province.
“So far, it is too early to know if it’s human-to-human transmission or exposure to the same environmental conditions,” Sylvie Briand, WHO epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention director, told a virtual press conference.
Earlier this month, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the risk of bird flu to humans was low, and Briand emphasised that this assessment had not changed.
But she added that the UN agency was reviewing the available information to see if this risk assessment needs to be updated.
Since late 2021, one of the worst global avian influenza outbreaks on record has seen tens of millions of poultry culled, mass wild bird die-offs and a rising number of infections among mammals.
“The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the widespread of the virus in birds around the world, and the increasing reports of cases in mammals including humans,” Ms. Briand said.
“WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urges heightened vigilance from all countries,” she added.
So far, cases of bird flu in humans had been “sporadic”, Ms. Briand said.
“But when you see that there are a number of potential cases surrounding this initial case, you always wonder what has happened: is it because maybe the initial case has transmitted the disease to other humans?
“So, we are really concerned about the potential human-to-human transmission coming from this initial spill over from animals.”
If bird flu transmission is confirmed to have taken place between humans, the WHO said a series of measures could be put in place fairly quickly.
For example, there are nearly 20 H5 bird flu vaccines licensed for pandemic use, the WHO said.
But Richard Webby, head of the WHO’s centre for studying influenza in animals, estimated it could take five or six months to update and produce such a vaccine for the currently circulating strain of H5N1.
Earlier this week, the WHO’s incoming chief scientist Jeremy Farrar called on governments around the world to invest in H5N1 vaccines in preparation for a potential outbreak in humans.
Eli Lilly will cut prices for some older insulins later this year and immediately give more patients access to a cap on the costs they pay to fill prescriptions. https://apnews.com/article/insulin-diabetes-humalog-humulin-prescription-drugs-eli-lilly-lantus-419db92bfe554894bdc9c7463f2f3183
The moves announced last Wednesday promise critical relief to some people with diabetes who can face thousands of dollars in annual costs for the insulin they need in order to live. Lilly’s changes also come as lawmakers and patient advocates pressure drugmakers to do something about soaring prices.
Lilly said it will cut the list prices for its most commonly prescribed insulin, Humalog, and for another insulin, Humulin, by 70% or more in the fourth quarter, which starts in October.
List prices are what a drugmaker initially sets for a product and what people who have no insurance or plans with high deductibles are sometimes stuck paying.
A Lilly spokeswoman said the current list price for a 10-milliliter vial of the fast-acting, mealtime insulin Humalog is $274.70. That will fall to $66.40.
Likewise, she said the same amount of Humulin currently lists at $148.70. That will change to $44.61.
More than half of the world’s population will be overweight or obese by 2035 without significant action, according to a new report.
The World Obesity Federation’s 2023 atlas predicts that 51% of the world, or more than 4 billion people, will be obese or overweight within the next 12 years. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/more-than-half-world-will-be-overweight-or-obese-by-2035-report-2023-03-02/
Rates of obesity are rising particularly quickly among children and in lower income countries, the report found.
Describing the data as a “clear warning”, Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation, said that policymakers needed to act now to prevent the situation worsening.
The report found that childhood obesity could more than double from 2020 levels, to 208 million boys and 175 million girls by 2035.
The cost to society is significant as a result of the health conditions linked to being overweight, the federation said: more than $4 trillion annually by 2035, or 3% of global GDP.
However, the authors said they were not blaming individuals, but calling for a focus on the societal, environmental and biological factors involved in the conditions.
The report uses body mass index (BMI) for its assessments, a number calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. In line with the WHO’s guidelines, a BMI score over 25 is overweight and over 30 is obese.
In 2020, 2.6 billion people fell into these categories, or 38% of the world’s population.
The report also found that almost all of the countries expected to see the greatest increases in obesity in the coming years are low or middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.
For the first time, WHO is asking donors for help fight the outbreaks, he said.
Right now, 22 countries across the world are fighting outbreaks of the acute diarrhoeal infection caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Cholera cases climbed in 2022, following years of falling numbers of cases, and the trend is expected to continue into this year, he said.
Poverty, disasters, conflict and climate change consequences continue to be driving factors alongside a lack of access to safe water and sanitation, Dr Barboza said.
“An unprecedented situation requires an unprecedented response,” he said, drawing attention to the limited availability of vaccines, medicines, and testing kits.
Only 37 million doses are available in 2023, he said. More doses are expected to be available by next year.
As a result of the current global surge, WHO is, for the first time ever, appealing to donors to support a $25 million fund to help to address cholera outbreaks and save lives, he said.
Prevention is key, he said, noting that nearly half of the world lacks access to safely managed sanitation.
“Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are internationally recognized human rights,” he said. “Making these rights a reality will also end cholera.”
An exponential rise in the number of cholera cases in Africa includes an outbreak in Mozambique, which is also grappling with severe storms brought on by cyclone Freddy. The first case of cholera in the current outbreak was reported to the Ministry of Health and WHO from Lago district in Niassa province in September.
As of 19 February, Mozambique reported a cumulative total of 5,237 suspected cases and 37 deaths. All six cholera-affected provinces are flood-prone areas, and WHO anticipates that more will be affected as the rainy season continues.
Considering the frequency of cross-border movement and the history of cross-border spread of cholera during this outbreak, WHO considers the risk of further disease spread as very high at national and regional levels.
An estimated 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported as of 29 January 2023 in 10 African countries facing outbreaks since the beginning of the year, WHO said. In 2022, nearly 80,000 cases and 1,863 deaths were recorded from 15 affected countries.
Neighbouring Malawi is facing the deadliest cholera outbreak in two decades, and cases are being reported in other countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, WHO reported.
The UN health agency said challenges include climate change, which has led to drought or flooding in parts of Africa, resulting in increased population displacement and reduced access to clean water.
Worldwide, people in Haiti, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Syria, among others, are also affected by outbreaks.
Cholera remains a global threat to public health, WHO said. In 2017, affected countries, donors, and partners of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control launched a renewed global cholera control strategy, Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030. It aims at reducing cholera deaths by 90 per cent over the next decade.
While the number of cases had been declining, WHO remains concerned about the current surge. Researchers estimate that every year, there are between 1.3 and 4 million cases and 21,000 to 143,000 deaths worldwide due to the infection.