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Nigeria marks polio-free year, raising global eradication hopes

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Nigeria marks polio-free year, raising global eradication hopes
Phuket Gazette


PHUKET: Nigeria marked its first year without a single case of polio on Friday, reaching a milestone
many experts had thought would elude it as internal conflict hampered the battle against the crippling disease.

It means the country could come off the list of countries where polio is endemic in a few weeks, once the World Health Organization (WHO) can confirm that the last few samples taken from people in previously affected areas are free of the virus.

This achievement turns up the pressure on Pakistan, where most of the few polio cases in the world remain, to follow suit.

Nigeria’s polio-free period, dating from July 24, 2014, is the longest it has gone without recording a case. The hope is that next month the entire African continent will have gone a full year without a polio infection, with the last case recorded in Somalia on Aug. 11, 2014.

All this brings tantalizingly closer the prospect that polio will soon become only the second human infectious disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated.

“It’s an extraordinary achievement. It really shows the value of government leadership and taking ownership of the program,” said Carol Pandak, the director of RotaryInternational’s polio program.

A disease that until the 1950s crippled thousands of people a year in rich and poor nations alike, the poliomyelitis virus attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

It often spreads among young children and in areas with poor sanitation – a factor that gives it freedom in areas of conflict and unrest. But it can be halted with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination.

Nigeria had struggled to contain polio since some northern states imposed a year-long vaccine ban in mid-2003. Some state governors and religious leaders in the predominantly Islamic north alleged the vaccines were contaminated by Western powers to spread sterility and HIV/AIDS among Muslims.

Traditional leaders throughout the country pledged in January 2009 to support immunization campaigns and push parents to have their children vaccinated. But at about the same time Boko Haram militants began a bloody insurgency to carve out an Islamist state in the northeast.

DRIVING THE PROJECT

In 2012, Nigeria still seemed to be losing the battle against polio, recording more than half of all the world’s cases.

But Oyewale Tomori, Nigeria’s chairman of the Expert Review Committee on Polio Eradication, says Abuja’s prioritization of the polio fight, including establishing emergency operations centers to coordinate vaccination campaigns and reach children in previously inaccessible areas, helped drive the project on.

Tactics such as engaging the traditional and religious leaders, and polio survivors, in immunization campaigns and using thousands of voluntary workers to build trust, were also vital, as will be the continuation of high levels of vaccine coverage to keep the virus at bay.

“We’re well on the way,” Tomori told Reuters. “It’s a time of great happiness, but we don’t want to celebrate prematurely.”

Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, there has been more than a 99 percent reduction in polio cases worldwide.

Back then, the disease was endemic in 125 countries and caused paralysis in nearly 1,000 children a day. By contrast, so far in 2015, there were only 33 new cases worldwide – 28 of them in Pakistan, with the rest in Afghanistan.

Nigeria still has two more years before it, along with the whole of Africa, can be certified officially polio-free by WHO, but health experts say its achievement bodes well for wiping the disease out. Global health experts still hold out hope for an end to polio worldwide by 2018.

Pandak says it’s now Islamabad’s turn to feel the huge international pressure Abuja came under to commit itself to finding every last polio case and vaccinating every last child.

“When you’re the last country in a region to still have polio, there’s a lot of pressure from the global community and from your neighbors,” she said.

“Everybody spurs you on, polio gets talked about at the highest levels of government, and that pressure is something Pakistan is acutely politically aware of.”

While Pakistan has more polio cases than anywhere else this year – neighboring Afghanistan has recorded five – it is doing better, with 70 percent fewer cases this year than last.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week

Caitlin Ashworth

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week | The Thaiger

The United Kingdom approved the new Covid-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech for emergency use and will start injections next week. The UK became the first country in the world to license the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which Pfizer says marks a historic moment in the fight against the coronavirus.

The UK purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine and 800,000 doses will be available next week, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. He says the most vulnerable people will get the first jabs. 50 hospitals are ready to receive the vaccine, he says.

“From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country… It’s very good news.”

The new Covid-19 vaccine was authorised for emergency use by the private Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says the company applauds the agency for conducting a careful, yet timely, assessment of the vaccine.

“As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world.”

The vaccine has been shown to have a 95% efficacy in its final trials. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson says the approval of the vaccine follows months of rigorous clinical trials and experts have concluded that the vaccine meets strict safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

SOURCES: Reuters | Guardian

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon | The Thaiger

The Chinese, like the rest of us, are mostly prohibited from travelling at the moment, but it hasn’t stopped them travelling to the Moon. A Chinese space probe has landed on the surface of the Moon to bring back the first lunar samples in nearly 5 decades. Since the US dropped its Apollo missions to the Moon in 1972, the Earth’s only natural satellite has been a bit lonely.

The Chinese space program has poured billions into its space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon to establish an ongoing lunar base. No Chinese have been participating in the International Space Station.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft adds to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program. Chang’e is the name for the mythical Chinese moon goddess. The probe touched down on the near side of the Moon yesterday. It will spend a total of 48 hours on the surface of the moon before re-uniting with it’s mother-ship which will then bring the lunar probe back to Earth.

The unmanned Chang’e-5 probe will collect lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity, the first such collections since the 1970s when an unmanned Russian lunar probe conducted a similar mission. The probe is the latest venture by a Chinese space program that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

If Chang’e-5 returns to Earth successfully, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The probe was launched from China’s southern tropical island of Hainan last week and entered lunar orbit aver the weekend after a 112 hour journey. The probe will collect 2 kilograms of material in a previously unexplored area known as “Ocean of Storms”, a vast lava plain of grey rocks and dust.

The probe will collect samples from the surface and drill a 2 metre deep hole to gather soil and rock samples from beneath the lunar surface as well.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA official from the mission directorate, says the mission was no easy task.

“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community. Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5.”

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the Moon’s lesser-explored far side which is perpetually facing away from the Earth.

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General

Caitlin Ashworth

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikimedia

After repeated claims on voter fraud from United States President Donald Trump, and refusal to concede his loss to president-elect Joe Biden, the US Justice Department says they have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud “that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election”, according to US Attorney General William Barr.

President Trump has repeatedly posted on Twitter with comments such as “fake election results”, “impossible result” and “rigged election.” His posts are often flagged on Twitter with a warning saying “This claim about election fraud is disputed”, linking to a page with information from various news outlets.

US attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up on complaints and information on voter fraud, but nothing they uncovered impact the outcome of the election, Barr told the Associated Press.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome on the election.”

Before the election, Barr, who is considered to be one of Trump’s most loyal allies, said mail-in votes could be vulnerable to fraud this year since many Americans would rather vote from home rather than going to the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With some states flipping from red to blue once all the mail-in ballots were counted, the Trump campaign has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to count illegal ballots and rig the election. The Trump campaign has been calling out problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks. But local courts have repeatedly thrown out the lawsuits saying the claims have not been backed up with any evidence.

AG Barr says government agencies have also looked into claims that machines were programmed to skew election results and says that, so far, there is no evidence to back the claim.

In response to Barr’s statements, Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis wrote a statement saying the opinion doesn’t seem to be backed by their investigation into the matters.

“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation … with the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.”

SOURCE: Aljazeera

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