Uganda Approves Herbal Treatment for COVID-19 

The World Health Organization has expressed concern about Uganda’s approval of a locally made herbal treatment for COVID-19 amid a third wave of cases. The WHO has not approved the substance for COVID-19 treatment, but Ugandan pharmacists say they have little choice because drugs authorized for emergency use in developed countries are not available.Uganda’s drug authority said Tuesday that it had approved the herbal medicine, Covidex.Dr. David Nahamya, executive director of Uganda’s drug authority, said the approval followed a two-week scientific evaluation of the medicine’s safety and efficacy.“Covidex has been notified to be sold in licensed drug outlets for supportive treatment in management of viral infections but not as a cure of COVID-19,” Nahamya said.The WHO consulted researchers from nine African countries, including Uganda, in March about the use of traditional medicine to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.Dr. Solome Okware of the WHO’s Uganda office said Covidex wasn’t among the traditional medicines that were evaluated.“WHO has not received any information about this product,” Okware said.Bases for approvalNahamya reassured Ugandans that the manufacturer, Jena Herbals Uganda, had increased production and that the herb would be available for all who needed it, under medical supervision.FILE – People wait in the stands to receive coronavirus vaccinations at the Kololo airstrip in Kampala, Uganda, May 31, 2021.He added that the approval was based on initial assessments, published literature and safety studies conducted by the innovator.“The product has been formulated from herbal plants that have been traditionally used to alleviate symptoms of several …

US CDC Director Says Wearing Masks Up to Local Discretion

U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday her agency is standing by its recommendation that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside, even as some U.S. areas — and the World Health Organization — recently said otherwise.During televised interviews with U.S. television networks, Walensky was asked about officials in Los Angeles County and Illinois recommending that even vaccinated people wear masks to help spread the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The WHO also recently recommended vaccinated people wear masks.Regarding the WHO, Walenksy told interviewers the organization has to address its policies and safety recommendations to the entire world, where fewer than 15% of the total population has received one dose or more of the vaccine.She said in the United States, two thirds of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and the CDC continues to say fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks.But Walensky added the CDC has always said in areas where vaccination rates are low and new cases continue at a high rate — especially involving the Delta variant — then local officials should decide their own rules regarding mask use or other precautions.New lockdowns abroadElsewhere, officials in Bangladesh are preparing to implement the strictest lockdown measures since the pandemic began after a recent surge of new COVID-19 cases.Beginning Thursday, all residents will be confined to their homes, permitted to leave for emergencies only. Announcements that all public transportation will be shut down has prompted thousands …

Microsoft Exec Says Targeting of Americans’ Records ‘Routine’

Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.”Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Trump-era Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.Since then, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.” Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, has said the Justice Department will abandon its practice of seizing reporter records and will formalize that stance soon.Burt is …

Sinovac Vaccine Falls Short of Expectations, But Options Limited

“Better than nothing.” That’s one infectious disease expert’s assessment of Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine, following reports that hundreds of Indonesian health care workers who had received the vaccine caught the disease anyway.  At least 10 doctors have died despite having been fully vaccinated with two doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine, according to the Indonesian Medical Association. It’s unclear how widespread these “breakthrough” infections are. It’s also not clear how severe most of the infections are. Little peer-reviewed data on the vaccine are available. What information is available suggests that the vaccine is less potent than others, especially against the highly contagious delta variant that was first detected in India.  However, access to more effective vaccines is limited in much of the world, experts note. Indonesia is one of dozens of countries where the Chinese company’s vaccine makes up a substantial part of the available doses.  While the shortage of published peer-reviewed data makes it hard to evaluate the vaccine, a few available studies provide a glimpse.  The government of Uruguay FILE – Empty vials to be filled with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are seen at a production facility in Reinbek, near Hamburg, Germany, April 30, 2021.Pfizer-BioNTech The Pfizer-BioNTech shot performed better against infections in general in the study, lowering rates by 78%. But hospitalizations and deaths were about the same.  It’s not clear what the dominant variant was during the study, however.  A key measure of vaccine potency is the level of neutralizing antibodies — the proteins the immune system produces that prevent the virus from infecting cells.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produce very high levels of these antibodies, which help maintain protection against variants, said Peter Hotez, …

Australia Locks Down Fourth City Amid Clash Over COVID Vaccine Eligibility

Another major Australian city is under a coronavirus lockdown as local officials clash with the federal government over which age group should be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. The city of Alice Springs entered a three-day lockdown effective Tuesday after an infected gold mine worker spent several hours in the city’s airport before flying from the Northern Territory state to his home in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia state, where he tested positive after his arrival.   A transit worker is seen wearing a face mask inside a mostly empty city center train station during a lockdown in Sydney, Australia, June 29, 2021.Alice Springs joins Sydney, Darwin, Brisbane and Perth on the list of cities who have imposed lockdowns to blunt the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19.  The latest outbreak has been traced to a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews.  Australia has been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, posting just 30,602 total confirmed cases and 910 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  But it has proved vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to a slow rollout of its vaccination campaign and confusing requirements involving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the dominant vaccine in its stockpile.  FILE – People wait in line outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021.Health officials had limited AstraZeneca to all adults under 60 years old due to …

Recent Climate-related Disasters Highlight Need for New Thinking About Future 

Last week, a 12-story apartment building suddenly collapsed in a Miami, Florida, suburb, killing at least 11 people and leaving some 150 others missing. While the cause of the disaster is unclear, rising sea levels that flood parts of the Miami area with salt water and regularly left standing water in the underground garage of the Champlain Towers suggest that climate change played a role.   Meanwhile, more than 4,000 kilometers away, residents of Seattle, Portland, and the rest of the U.S. Pacific Northwest endured a fourth consecutive day of a record-setting heatwave.While Portland reached a record temperature of over 110 degrees, June 27, 2021 people gathered at Salmon Street Springs water fountain in Portland to cool off. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)Roadways are buckling as asphalt melts and separates from the ground, making them impassable. Rubberized coatings that protect electrical wiring on mass transit systems are melting, forcing authorities to shut them down until repairs are made.   In the United States, people generally take it for granted that buildings will maintain their structural integrity, roadways don’t turn to molten sludge and mass transit systems keep functioning. For many, recent events may shake those assumptions.   Nobody is ready It is becoming increasingly clear that how Americans expect society to function within different ecosystems is changing — sometimes dramatically. In the Northeastern U.S., what used to be considered “100-yearFILE – Residents of the Crescent at Lakeshore apartment complex are rescued by Homewood Fire and Rescue as severe weather produced torrential rainfall flooding several apartment buildings, May …

WHO Certifies China Malaria-Free

The World Health Organization has certified China, the most populous country in the world, as malaria-free. It has taken China seven decades to reach this milestone. The country has gone from 30 million cases of malaria in the 1940s to zero cases today. Director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Program Pedro Alonso tells VOA the achievement should act as an inspiration to other malaria endemic countries around the world. “China, that at one point had 30 million cases of malaria every year and I would place that country among the top two burdened countries in the world can actually drive down malaria and get rid of this scourge of mankind,” Alonso said.China is the first country in the WHO Western Pacific Region to be awarded a malaria-free certification in more than three decades. Other countries in the region that have achieved that status include Australia, Singapore, and Brunei. Globally, 40 countries and territories have been declared malaria-free. The most recent include El Salvador, Algeria, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uzbekistan. Eliminating malaria is a long, complex process involving many factors. Alonso says economic development, improvement in peoples’ living conditions and the implementation of measures aimed at preventing, controlling, and treating malaria are critical for success. “Vector control mostly through insecticide-treated bed nets will for the years to come remain the backbone of our prevention efforts. Artemisinin combination therapies will remain the backbone of our treatment efforts,” Alonso said.The WHO estimates there are still 229 million new cases of malaria annually, leading to more than 400,000 deaths. Africa is home to 94 percent of those cases and deaths. Alonso says the mosquito …

Biden, Western Governors to Discuss Wildfire Response

U.S. President Joe Biden is holding talks Wednesday with a group of governors from eight Western states about wildfire preparedness as much of the region deals with drought. Biden and other administration officials will be speaking from the White House with the governors joining by video. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week the meeting will “focus on how the federal government can improve wildfire preparedness and response efforts, protect public safety, and deliver assistance to our people in times of urgent need.” Those attending include Democratic governors Gavin Newsom of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, along with Republican governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Mark Gordon of Wyoming. Not among the group are three other Republican governors from the region: Doug Ducey of Arizona, Brad Little of Idaho and Greg Gianforte of Montana. Gianforte tweeted Friday that he was “disappointed to learn in news stories” that the president “didn’t offer a seat at the table to Montana and other states facing a severe wildfire season.” The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates the mobilization of resources to battle wildfires in the United States, has warned that many Western states are facing a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildfires will occur in the next few months. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports wide areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.  …

Rolling Blackouts, Multiple Deaths in Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

Cities in the Pacific Northwest of North America reported power outages Tuesday, both from failures of utility companies and rolling blackouts due to heavy power demand. Seattle and Portland temperatures were expected to fall Tuesday, below Monday’s record highs, but inland, the city of Spokane, Washington, continued to record high temperatures and experience rolling blackouts in the city. Lytton, British Columbia, set Canada’s all-time high temperature Sunday with 46.6 degrees Celsius, only to see it broken less than 24 hours later, hitting 47.9 C Monday. Officials said Tuesday that several deaths in Portland and Seattle were tied to the extreme heat. In Vancouver, British Columbia, first responders have said that as many as two dozen deaths may be attributed to the high temperatures. On Tuesday, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization called the heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States “exceptional and dangerous” and says it could last at least another five days.Guests at Sunriver resort near Bend, Oregon line up to get into the pool on June 29, 2021 as temperatures were predicted to hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit.Speaking to reporters from Geneva, a WMO spokeswoman said while records have fallen in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, western Canada has seen extreme heat as well. The official said the temperatures for this time of year and location are shocking. “It’s in the province of British Columbia, it’s to the Rocky Mountains, the Glacier National Park, and yet we’re seeing temperatures which are more typical of the Middle East or North Africa.” In an area used to temperatures 20 to 30 degrees cooler, the WMO said, the extreme heat poses major health threats to residents as well as agriculture and …