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WHO supporting South African consortium to establish first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub
Geneva/Johannesburg/Paris: The World Health Organization (WHO) and its COVAX partners are working with a South African consortium comprising Biovac, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.
The move follows WHO’s global call for Expression of Interest (EOI) on 16 April 2021 to establish COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hubs to scale up production and access to COVID vaccines. Over the coming weeks, the partners will negotiate details with the Government of South Africa and public and private partners inside the country and from around the world.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security. This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self determination. South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort.”
“This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.”
The announcement follows the recent visit to South Africa by the President of France, Mr Emmanuel Macron, who said his country was committed to supporting efforts in Africa to scale up local manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical solutions.
“Today is a great day for Africa. It is also a great day for all those who work towards a more equitable access to health products. I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years,” said President Macron. “This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”
Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology. WHO and partners will bring in the production know-how, quality control and necessary licenses to a single entity to facilitate a broad and rapid technology transfer to multiple recipients.
The technology transfer hub will benefit from the Medicines Patent Pool’s (MPP’s) vast experience of intellectual property (IP) management and issuing of IP licenses. MPP is also assisting WHO to negotiate with technical partners and supporting in the governance of the hubs.
Biovac is a bio-pharmaceutical company that is the result of a partnership formed with the South African government in 2003 to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability for the provision of vaccines for national health management and security.
Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is a biotechnology company focuses on product development, bulk adjuvant manufacturing and supply and distribution of key biologicals to address unmet healthcare needs.
The organizations complement one another, and can each take on different roles within the proposed collaboration: Afrigen will act as developer, Biovac as manufacturer and a consortium of universities as academic supporters providing mRNA know-how, and Africa CDC for technical and regional support.
The South African consortium benefits from having existing operating facilities that have spare capacity and because it has experience in technology transfers. It is also a global hub that can start training technology recipients immediately.
Other hubs in the pipeline
WHO’s April call for expressions of interest has so far generated 28 offers to either provide technology for mRNA vaccines or to host a technology hub or both. There have been 25 expressions of interest from low- and middle-income country respondents who could receive the technology to produce mRNA vaccines.
Over the coming weeks, WHO will continue the rolling evaluation of other proposals and identify additional hubs, as needed, to contribute to health security and equity in all regions.
Through the COVAX partnership, WHO will continue its assessment of potential mRNA technology donors and will launch subsequent calls for other technologies, such as viral vectors and proteins, in coming months.
WHO is also hosting the Local production forum this week, to identify strategies to expand pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries for COVID-19 and other priority diseases.
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United Nations statement on the renewal of humanitarian lifeline to millions of people in north-west Syria
Millions of people are pressed up against the border in an active war zone in north-west Syria and remain in need of humanitarian aid to survive. The United Nations (UN) needs cross-border and cross-line access to reach those most in need.
We call for the renewal of Security Council authorization for cross-border operations from Turkey to north-west Syria. A failure to do so would immediately stop UN delivery of food, COVID-19 vaccines, critical medical supplies, shelter, protection, clean water and sanitation, and other life-saving assistance to 3.4 million people, including 1 million children.
The UN continues engagement with all concerned parties to also allow cross-line convoys into the north-west. They are critical for the expansion of the overall response, but even if deployed regularly they could not replicate the size and scope of the cross-border operation. There is simply no alternative.
A large-scale UN cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in north-west Syria.
Mr Mark Lowcock, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mr. António Vitorino, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Mr David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP)
Mr Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Ms Henrietta H Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
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Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, according to WHO’s latest estimates, published today in “Suicide worldwide in 2019”. Every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer ̶ or war and homicide. In 2019, more than 700 000 people died by suicide: one in every 100 deaths, prompting WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.
“We cannot – and must not – ignore suicide,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Each one is a tragedy. Our attention to suicide prevention is even more important now, after many months living with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide ̶ job loss, financial stress and social isolation – still very much present. The new guidance that WHO is releasing today provides a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts.”
Among young people aged 15-29, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.
Rates vary, between countries, regions, and between males and females.
More than twice as many males die due to suicide as females (12.6 per 100 000 males compared with 5.4 per 100 000 females). Suicide rates among men are generally higher in high-income countries (16.5 per 100 000). For females, the highest suicide rates are found in lower-middle-income countries (7.1 per 100 000).
Suicide rates in the WHO African (11.2 per 100 000), European (10.5 per 100 000) and South-East Asia (10.2 per 100 000) regions were higher than the global average (9.0 per 100 000) in 2019. The lowest suicide rate was in the Eastern Mediterranean region (6.4 per 100 000).
Globally, the suicide rate is decreasing; in the Americas it is going up
Suicide rates fell in the 20 years between 2000 and 2019, with the global rate decreasing by 36%, with decreases ranging from 17% in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to 47% in the European Region and 49% in the Western Pacific.
But in the Americas Region, rates increased by 17% in the same time period.
Although some countries have placed suicide prevention high on their agendas, too many countries remain uncommitted. Currently only 38 countries are known to have a national suicide prevention strategy. A significant acceleration in the reduction of suicides is needed to meet the SDG target of a one-third reduction in the global suicide rate by 2030.
To support countries in their efforts, WHO is today releasing comprehensive guidance for implementing its LIVE LIFE approach to suicide prevention. The four strategies of this approach are:
- limiting access to the means of suicide, such as highly hazardous pesticides and firearms;
- educating the media on responsible reporting of suicide;
- fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents; and
- early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of anyone affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
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Given that pesticide poisoning is estimated to cause 20% of all suicides, and national bans of acutely toxic, highly hazardous pesticides have shown to be cost-effective, such bans are recommended by WHO. Other measures include restricting access to firearms, reducing the size of medication packages, and installing barriers at jump sites.
Responsible reporting by the media
The guide highlights the role the media plays in relation to suicide. Media reports of suicide can lead to a rise in suicide due to imitation (or copycat suicides) – especially if the report is about a celebrity or describes the method of suicide.
The new guide advises monitoring of the reporting of suicide and suggests that media counteract reports of suicide with stories of successful recovery from mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts. It also recommends working with social media companies to increase their awareness and improve their protocols for identifying and removing harmful content.
Support for adolescents
Adolescence (10-19 years of age) is a critical period for acquiring socio-emotional skills, particularly since half of mental health conditions appear before 14 years of age. The LIVE LIFE guidance encourages actions including mental health promotion and anti-bullying programmes, links to support services and clear protocols for people working in schools and universities when suicide risk is identified.
Early identification and follow-up of people at risk
Early identification, assessment, management and follow-up applies to people who have attempted suicide or are perceived to be at risk. A previous suicide attempt is one of the most important risk factors for a future suicide.
Health-care workers should be trained in early identification, assessment, management and follow-up. Survivors’ groups of people bereaved by suicide can complement support provided by health services. Crisis services should also be available to provide immediate support to individuals in acute distress.
The new guidance, which includes examples of suicide prevention interventions that have been implemented across the world, in countries such as Australia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the USA, can be used by anyone who is in interested in implementing suicide prevention activities, whether at national or local level, and in the governmental and nongovernmental sectors alike.
“While a comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy should be the ultimate goal for all governments,” said Dr Alexandra Fleischmann, suicide prevention expert at the World Health Organization, “starting suicide prevention with LIVE LIFE interventions can save lives and prevent the heartbreak that follows for those left behind.”