US Communities Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis

A year into the coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately ravaging African American lives both physically and economically, efforts are underway to target racism as a public health crisis that shortens lives and costs millions of dollars.“Systemic racism defines the Black experience in our nation,” said Virginia Democratic State Delegate Lashrecse Aird, who co-sponsored a resolution approved by lawmakers in February that makes Virginia the first state in the South to declare racism a public health crisis.“It provides the framework for all of us to formally and finally reckon with those injustices so we can build a more equitable and just society for all,” Aird said in a statement to VOA.The Virginia resolution cites more than 100 studies that link racism to negative health outcomes. The research indicates the cumulative experience of racism throughout a person’s life can induce chronic stress and health conditions that may lead to otherwise preventable deaths. Overall life expectancy for African Americans is nearly 3 ½ years shorter than for white people.“Virginians of color, especially Black Virginians, deserve no further delay of the Commonwealth’s public recognition of this centuries-old crisis,” Robert Barnette Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, told VOA in a virtual news conference.“We know systemic racism manifests itself as a determinant to public health through persistent racial disparities in all areas of our lives,” he said.The Virginia resolution would create a watchdog agency to promote policies that address systemic racism and its impact on public health. It requires state elected officials, their …

Wealthy Nations Accused of Blocking Access of Lower-income Nations to COVID-19 Vaccines

The United States and other wealthy countries are standing in the way of low- and middle-income countries seeking better access to COVID-19 vaccines, health-equity advocates say.South Africa and India have led an effort at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive drug companies’ exclusive rights to manufacture their vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic.Countries with major pharmaceutical industries, including the United States, several European countries and Japan, have opposed the waiver. WTO, the global trade regulating body, operates by consensus, so the proposal fails without unanimous support.“It is shameful that U.S. policy is prioritizing profits over life, and doing so in the name of the American people,” Emily Sanderson, senior grassroots advocacy coordinator for the activist group Health GAP, said in a statement.The pharmaceutical industry says patents are not the biggest barriers, however. Supplies and expertise are the major limitations, executives say. But the industry says novel partnerships already in place will meet the demand for vaccines.Vaccine rollout has been highly unequal so far. While deliveries are accelerating in many higher-income countries, “there’s over 100 countries where not a single (dose of) vaccine has been delivered,” said Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Georgetown University Global Health Policy & Politics Initiative.U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans Thursday to vaccinate enough Americans by July 4 to get life nearly back to normal.Meanwhile, A healthcare worker receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on Feb. 18, …

UN Says Ebola in Guinea May be Linked to a Survivor of 2014 Outbreak

A top official at the World Health Organization said that a genetic analysis of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Guinea suggests it may have been sparked by a survivor of the devastating West Africa epidemic that ended five years ago.At a press briefing in Geneva, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan described the results of the genetic sequencing of the virus in Guinea as “quite remarkable.”Scientists in Africa and Germany posted their results on a virology website on Friday, concluding that the current Ebola virus sickening people in Guinea is extremely similar to the virus that sparked the widespread West Africa outbreak that began in 2014.”More studies are going to be needed,” Ryan said. But he added that based on the available genetic sequencing data, the current outbreak was unlikely to be linked to an animal, which is how nearly all previous Ebola epidemics have begun. “[This] is much more likely to be linked to a persistence [of virus] or latency of infection in a human.” Ryan said that would probably be the longest period that a virus has ever persisted between outbreaks.  Scientists have previously documented Ebola survivors who inadvertently infected others long after they had recovered, but such rare cases have not prompted outbreaks. In 2018, doctors published a study about a Liberian woman who probably caught Ebola in 2014 but then infected three relatives about a year later.  Health officials have also warned that men can sometimes infect others via sexual activity long after they seem to …

Report: 2020 Record Year for Discovering Asteroids

A new report says 2020 was a record year for discovering new asteroids, particularly those with near-Earth orbits in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down a number of observatories.The report, published Thursday in the science journal Nature, says astronomers registered 2,958 previously unknown near-Earth asteroids over the course of the year, the most since 1998, the year the U.S. space agency, NASA, began tracking such objects.More than half of the asteroids and other objects recorded came from the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, which uses its three telescopes to hunt for potentially threatening space rocks. Astronomers there discovered 1,548 near-Earth objects, even with the center closed briefly last spring because of the pandemic, and a longer closure in June, due to a wildfire in the area.Among the Catalina 2020 discoveries was a rare “minimoon” named 2020 CD3, a tiny asteroid less than 3 meters in diameter that had been temporarily captured by Earth’s gravity. The minimoon broke away from Earth’s pull last April.The report says another 1,152 discoveries came from the Pan-STARRS survey telescopes in Hawaii. One of the objects discovered there was not a space rock at all, but a leftover rocket booster that had been looping around in space since 1966 when it helped to launch a NASA spacecraft to the Moon.The report says at least 107 of the objects discovered last year came closer to Earth than the distance between the planet and the Moon.Among last year’s near-misses was the tiny asteroid 2020 QG, which skimmed …

How the Philippines Finally Got its COVID-19 Caseload Under Control

The Philippines has gotten a measure of control over its once-runaway COVID-19 outbreak through strict lockdowns and a year of school closures, coupled with widespread use of face protectors, experts and citizens on the ground say.The Southeast Asian country known for its migratory population — Filipinos work throughout the developed world — has reported fewer than 2,000 new cases per day most of the time since October, down from as much as 6,275 cases previously. Daily counts fell below 1,000 at the start of January.Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, only Indonesia struggled last year with the same level of  daily COVID-19 caseload surges. Most countries around Northeast Asia, including the coronavirus’s apparent source, China, recovered early last year, despite isolated flare-ups.Border closures that remain in effect and enforced stay-home orders in the nation of 109 million’s larger cities get the most credit for bringing cases down, residents and a United Nations official say.Meanwhile, medical personnel are better equipped now to do tests for the virus and trace the contacts of the sick than they were a year ago, according to Aaron Rabena, research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation in the Philippines’ Quezon City.Adding support, ordinary Filipinos have accepted the use of face masks and face shields in public.Public school classes have not met in person for a year, said Behzad Noubary, Philippine deputy UNICEF representative.“These are the aspects that have contributed to [caseload declines] — the international closure, which has lasted a long time, and a really, really …

US, Japanese Astronauts Take Spacewalk to Complete ISS Repairs, Upgrades

A U.S. and a Japanese astronaut ventured out of the International Space Station (ISS) Friday, in the second of two spacewalks conducted this week to complete upgrades and repairs to the orbiting outpost.   NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, have a number of tasks on their agenda, including venting ammonia from the Early Ammonia System and complete installing support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels, a project begun during a spacewalk Sunday.   Friday’s spacewalk is the fourth for both Rubins and Noguchi in their astronaut careers, and the 236th in the ISS’s 20-year history.   …

WHO to Release Mid-March Report on China COVID-19 Inspection

Investigators who conducted an inspection in China to determine origins of the COVID-19 virus will release a report on their findings in mid-March, a World Health Organization official said Friday.Peter Ben Embarek, who led the mission, clarified at a regular coronavirus news briefing in Geneva that an interim report would not be released as previously reported.”To clarify, there was never a plan for an interim report, first of all,” Embarek said. “It was hoped we would get a summary report out,” but “the director-general [Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] will receive that report from the team in the near future and we will discuss the recommendations.”The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the WHO team decided not to release its interim account “amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington.” Another international group of scientists has called for the WHO to conduct a new inquiry into COVID-19’s origins. The scientists calling for a new probe said in an open letter Thursday that the WHO team “did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation.”The scientists also noted in their letter that the WHO investigators in China were joined by their Chinese counterparts.The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.Throughout his term, former U.S. President Donald Trump strongly suggested, without evidence, the coronavirus had leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.A global team of inspectors began its four-week investigation in Wuhan in January and finished it last month.Meanwhile, a report in The …

Effort to Curb Ebola in Guinea, DR Congo Gathering Steam

The World Health Organization says it is using every measure it has to curb the spread of parallel Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the biggest lessons learned from the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa — the largest in history — is the critical importance of acting quickly to contain the deadly disease.  World health officials began marshaling staff and working on a strategy to combat the disease as soon as the first cases of the Ebola virus were detected in Guinea on February 14. A rapid assessment conducted by the WHO in the country and in the region found the risk level to be very high. WHO Representative in Guinea, Georges Alfred Ki-Zerbo, said the WHO and partners have been stepping up efforts to implement Guinea’s Strategic response plan. FILE – Health workers from the Guinean Ministry of Health prepare forms to register medical staff ahead of their anti-Ebola vaccines at the N’zerekore Hospital, Feb. 24, 2021.That, he said, involves increased surveillance on the ground, accelerating preparedness measures in neighboring countries, and working closely with communities to interrupt the outbreak as soon as possible. “In doing so, we are engaging traditional healers, including also traditional practitioners, and we are going into communities to discuss with them, to listen to them and see what is the understanding of the disease, what is the fears and the preoccupation of the communities so that we can increase the success of our interventions,” Ki-Zerbo said. To date, the WHO reports 18 …

Rwanda Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations

The east-central African nation of Rwanda began its COVID-19 vaccination program Friday, using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the first African nation to administer the drug. The nation received 102,960 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and 240,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the international vaccine cooperative, COVAX facility earlier this week. Rwandan health authorities began transporting both shots around the hilly nation of 12 million people using helicopters to reach far-flung areas.  Earlier this week, Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije said the nation’s vaccination plan would prioritize high-risk groups first, including the sick and the elderly, as well as front-line medical workers. He said the government’s goal was to vaccinate 30% of Rwandans by the end of 2021, and 60% by the end of 2022. The government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, which prides itself on efficiency and technological prowess but is often criticized as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the recommended -80 to -60 Celsius. Last week, after examining research conducted by its manufacturers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, when transported and stored at conventional refrigerator temperatures, can still be effective for up to two weeks.    …

WHO Cancels Interim Report on Origins of COVID in China

A Wall Street Journal report says World Health Organization investigators who recently visited China to determine the origins of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus will not release a promised interim report of their findings.The Journal account, published Thursday, said the WHO team decided not to release its interim account “amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington.” Another international group of scientists has called for the WHO to conduct a new inquiry into COVID’s origins.The scientists calling for a new probe said in an open letter Thursday that the WHO team “did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation.”The scientists also noted in their letter that the WHO investigators in China were joined by their Chinese counterparts.A report in The Guardian says hospitals in Papua New Guinea have run out of money and are “shutting their doors” because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The country had registered 124 new coronavirus cases in all of February but had 108 new infections by March 4.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public warning Thursday about thermal imaging devices or scanners used by many businesses to measure elevated temperature, a COVID symptom.The FDA alert said, “improper use of the systems may provide inaccurate temperature readings due to a variety of factors.” The agency also said it has sent “several Warning Letters” to companies that are “offering unapproved, uncleared, and unauthorized thermal imaging systems for sale.Auckland, New Zealand, is set to …