“…wars and rumours of wars… for all these things must come to pass. Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom… famines and pestilences and earthquakes in unusual places…” Matt. 24:6-7
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Week of October 18 – 25, 2020
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COVID-19: ‘Little or no’ benefit from trials of anti-virals
Latest results from a UN-coordinated international trial on four COVID-19 therapeutic drugs, indicate that they have “little or no” positive impact on preventing deaths in patients infected with the new coronavirus.
The Solidarity Therapeutics Trial, overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows that medications Remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon, repurposed to treat new coronavirus infections, “appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients”, WHO said in a statement on Friday.
The study, which began in March and spans more than 30 countries, looked at the effects of these treatments on overall mortality, initiation of ventilation, and duration of hospital stay in hospitalized individuals.
Other uses of the drugs, for example in treatment of patients in the community or for prevention, would have to be examined using different trials, the WHO explained.
Associated blood pressure risks
In a related announcement, the UN health agency said that COVID-19 had also highlighted the increased vulnerability of people with high blood pressure to the coronavirus.
The warning is based on data from more than 120 countries showing significant COVID-related disruption to treatment for people suffering from chronic health conditions, with findings showing these patients make up 50 to 60 per cent of all deaths from COVID.
Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Director of WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, said that more than 1.13 billion people around the world suffer from hypertension.
Of this number, 745,800,000 live in low and middle-income countries and 80 per cent of these nations have fewer than 50 per cent of people on treatment.
Many unaware they are sick
On average, one in four men suffer from the condition, compared with one in five women, according to WHO data. In addition, two in five people are not aware that they even have hypertension.
“When it comes to COVID-19 and hypertension, the 122 countries that have reported tells us that in over 50 per cent of the countries their health care services is disrupted fully or partially…In addition, we see a high number of fatalities”, Dr. Mikkelsen told journalists in Geneva.
Noting that global figures have yet to be calculated, she added that for those countries where data was available, “we see in the range of 50, 60 per cent of the people that are severely ill and die in hospitals from COVID have hypertension, diabetes”, and other non-communicable diseases.
Highlighting how the pandemic has made a resurgence in many countries across all continents after the easing of restrictions, and the additional health threat posed by the impending influenza season in the global north, the WHO official appealed to governments everywhere to address hypertension urgently.
She also cited growing evidence that poor and salty diets along with rising inactivity, have contributed to worsening hypertension rates globally.
To coincide with World Hypertension Day on 16 October, Dr Mikkelsen unveiled a series of recommendations and products developed by the WHO to promote action on hypertension “during and beyond the pandemic”.
By doing so, health authorities can help people to keep their blood pressure under control and prevent stroke, heart attack, and kidney damage, the WHO believes.
The new protocols are based on successful patient blood pressure management in 18 countries involving more three million people.
Today, only 20 per cent of the world’s nations are on track to reduce hypertension by 25 per cent by 2025, a global target set by the World Health Assembly in 2013, according to the UN health agency.
COVID-19 rise in Europe a great concern
COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death in Europe, where nearly 700,000 cases were reported this week: the highest weekly incidence since the pandemic began in March, the regional head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists on Thursday.
Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said the tightening up of restrictions by governments is “absolutely necessary” as the disease continues to surge, with “exponential increases” in cases and deaths.
“The evolving epidemiological situation in Europe raises great concern: daily numbers of cases are up, hospital admissions are up, COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death and the bar of 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached,” he reported.
Cases reach record highs
Dr. Kluge said overall, Europe has recorded more than seven million cases of COVID-19, with the jump from six million taking just 10 days.
This past weekend, daily case totals surpassed 120,000 for the first time, and on both Saturday and Sunday, reaching new records.
However, he stressed that the region has not returned to the early days of the pandemic.
“Although we record two to three times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe five times fewer deaths. The doubling time in hospital admissions is still two to three times longer,” he said, adding “in the meantime, the virus has not changed; it has not become more nor less dangerous.”
Potential worsening a reality
Dr. Kluge explained that one reason for the higher case rates is increased COVID-19 testing, including among younger people. This population also partly accounts for the decreased mortality rates.
“These figures say that the epidemiological curve rebound is so far higher, but the slope is lower and less fatal for now. But it has the realistic potential to worsen drastically if the disease spreads back into older age cohorts after more indoor social contacts across generations,” he warned.
Looking ahead, Dr. Kluge admitted that projections are “not optimistic”.
Reliable epidemiological models indicate that prolonged relaxing of policies could result in mortality levels four to five times higher than in April, with results visible by January 2021.
He stressed the importance of maintaining simple measures already in place, as the modelling shows how wearing masks, coupled with strict control of social gathering, may save up to 281,000 lives across the region by February.
This assumes a 95 per cent rate for mask use, up from the current rate, which is less than 60 per cent.
Restrictions ‘absolutely necessary’
“Under proportionately more stringent scenarios, the model is reliably much more optimistic, still with slightly higher levels of morbidity and mortality than in the first wave, but with a lower slope – as if we should rather expect a higher and longer swell instead of a sharp peak, giving us more reaction time,” said Dr. Kluge.
“These projections do nothing but confirm what we always said: the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own, but we will.”
The WHO bureau chief underlined the importance of targeted national responses to contain COVID-19 spread.
“Measures are tightening up in many countries in Europe, and this is good because they are absolutely necessary,” he said. “They are appropriate and necessary responses to what the data is telling us: transmission and sources of contamination occur in homes and indoor public places, and within communities poorly complying with self-protection measures.”