Following the detection of a new strain of the novel coronavirus, data put out by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows an 80 per cent rise in Covid-19 cases around the world. https://indianexpress.com/article/world/who-global-covid-19-cases-rise-updates-8889491/
The variant, known as EG.5 or “Eris”, is related to an Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.9.2, and is growing in prevalence globally, with countries including the UK, China and US among those affected.
In its weekly update, the WHO said that nations reported nearly 1.5 million new cases from July 10 to August 6, an 80 per cent increase compared to the previous 28 days. However, the number of deaths fell by 57 per cent to 2,500.
The WHO warned that the reported number of cases and deaths do not reflect the true numbers, in part because countries are not testing and monitoring as much as was done during earlier stages of the pandemic. Many of the new cases are in the Western Pacific region, which saw infections jump by 137 per cent, the WHO said. Several countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France and Japan have seen a summer uptick in cases in recent weeks.
According to WHO’s data, the highest numbers of new cases reported were from Korea, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and Italy. The highest numbers of deaths were reported from Brazil, Korea, Russia, Peru, and Australia
“Although the public health emergency of international concern for Covid-19 was declared over on 5 May 2023, it remains a major threat. WHO continues to urge Member States to maintain, not dismantle, their established Covid-19 infrastructure,” the health agency said in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is responding to more than 200 cases of what initially seemed like viral haemorrhagic fever in a remote area of South Sudan. www.science.org/content/article/news-glance-win-obesity-drugs-new-infectious-disease-head-mexican-fireflies-threat?
The illnesses, first reported in June and linked to 29 deaths so far, include symptoms such as fever, red eyes, and bloody vomiting and stool. Many patient samples tested positive for measles, malaria, or both. But tests for Ebola and other haemorrhagic fever–associated viruses came back negative, as did broader molecular tests for other pathogens, says Patrick Otim, a health emergency officer with WHO. Cases appear to be due to measles infections in a largely unvaccinated population, exacerbated by malnutrition, poor access to basic health care, and in some cases malaria coinfection. WHO is now focused on improving health care access in the region.
The weight-loss drug semaglutide, marketed as Wegovy, decreased risk of cardiovascular problems by 20% in a highly anticipated clinical trial, its maker, Novo Nordisk, announced in a press release this week. www.science.org/content/article/news-glance-win-obesity-drugs-new-infectious-disease-head-mexican-fireflies-threat?
The 5-year, randomized study included more than 17,500 people ages 45 and older who were overweight or obese and had cardiovascular disease. Participants were given weekly injections of either a placebo or semaglutide, which activates the receptor for the hormone GLP-1 to slow stomach emptying and reduce appetite. The reported reduction in heart attack, stroke, or death because of heart problems is likely to boost interest in semaglutide and other GLP-1 receptor agonists, first approved to treat diabetes but increasingly prescribed for obesity. Novo Nordisk says it will release detailed trial results later this year.
The first news outside China about the COVID-19 pandemic came not from a government or a scientific publication, but in an email from a disease-alert system called ProMED. This fateful missive in December 2019 about a few cases of a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan, China, is just one example of how physicians and public health experts around the world have used the nearly 30-year-old, free service to share real-time information about local disease outbreaks with tens of thousands of subscribers.
But ProMED is now on life support. Much of its work came to a screeching halt earlier this month when 21 of its 38 paid editors and moderators went on strike. They issued a letter suggesting the service find a new home because of a lack of attention and support from ProMED’s parent organization and sponsor, the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID). Three more have since signed on. www.science.org/content/article/long-running-promed-email-service-alerting-world-disease-outbreaks-trouble?
Weeks earlier, the society acknowledged that ProMED faced a financial crisis and had begun to take actions it hoped would keep the service alive, such as making its 20,000 subscribers pay to access its emails or website.
Some scientists see the potential loss of ProMED, whose dispatches have slowed to a trickle, as a blow to researchers and health workers in developing countries who rely on its announcements. “The fibre of ProMED has always been open source and it serves a very broad international community,” says Harvard University epidemiologist John Brownstein. “It provides a real global public health service.” In a statement, ISID CEO Linda MacKinnon said ProMED would continue to operate “in a limited capacity” while ISID worked with the letter’s signatories. “We also know that we could have communicated changes more clearly to the community and apologize for any confusion and distress caused,” she added.
ProMED was founded in 1994, the early days of the internet, as a simple listserv whose emails collected disease news from around the world. It was run by three volunteers before ISID took it over in 1999. In addition to being the first to alert the world to COVID-19, it relayed news of the first cases of other coronavirus diseases, severe acute respiratory syndrome in China in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The site now averages eight to 10 alerts per day, conveyed in emails or on its website, with many more during the 2014 Ebola epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, ProMED has struggled to maintain a funding stream, particularly after its long-time editor-in-chief, Lawrence Madoff, was forced out by ISID leadership in 2021, according to Madoff and several others close to ProMED. Madoff, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, says he kept the alert system afloat during his tenure by soliciting foundation grants for projects, such as establishing a Russian-language branch and modernizing its informatics. But donors tend to balk at supporting staff salaries and infrastructure, he says.
In October 2022, ISID turned to soliciting donations from ProMED’s members to raise the $1 million needed annually to run the service. But it collected only $20,000, according to a 14 July email to ProMED members from ISID.
“ProMED is in dire financial straits,” the letter said. Despite increased attention to public health during COVID-19, the service “has been unable to capitalize on the unprecedented amounts of money that were infused into [the pandemic] space.” So ISID said it was instituting a subscription model that would require users to pay as-yet-unspecified amounts for different levels of information and the ability to search ProMED’s post archive, which until now has been open to the public. The same day as the email, ISID announced that ProMED staff’s stipends would be delayed.
The July letter was signed “ProMED Team.” But the 3 August letter from ProMED staff said ISID had failed to consult with or even inform them about the subscription plan or that the archive was being closed. “They were completely blindsided by it,” Madoff says.
The ProMED staff also said ISID hadn’t discussed other recent decisions, such as ousting Madoff, and its new fundraising strategies. “It is therefore with great sadness and regret that we, the undersigned, are hereby suspending our work for ProMED,” they wrote.
ISID’s delay in paying the staff is also an issue. “I think people don’t realize how much work goes into these reports,” says Martin Hugh-Jones, a veterinary ProMED moderator who covers anthrax. The moderators and editors read dozens of emails per day, confirm reports in various languages, and use their expertise as physicians, veterinarians, and scientists to evaluate the outbreaks and government responses.
And Hugh-Jones, who is retired, says that although stipends are modest—he only makes about $7,000 per year working at least 4 hours per day—some moderators depend on that income. ISID said in its statement that payment timing has always fluctuated and that the society had accommodated requests from moderators who asked to be paid sooner.
In addition to losing the real-time outbreak reports, Madoff says the loss of free access to ProMED’s archive could hinder research such as his own 2012 Nature paper using its data to show an increase in fungal outbreaks. ISID said in its 14 July letter that the move was to prevent data scraping by governments and corporations that have been “unwilling or unable to help ensure our financial viability.”
Leo Liu, an infectious disease physician and one of ProMED’s “top mods” who signed the letter, says he is not against a subscription model—at least not one that has tiered pricing that would let members in lower income countries afford ProMED. But ISID went about it in a clumsy way, he says. “They don’t have resources, didn’t do even the most basic market research,” he says. The ideal outcome, he says, would be for ISID to partner with a university or foundation with money and infrastructure to support the listserv, with ISID potentially retaining the ProMED archive.
Establishing such a partnership is among three demands made in the letter, in addition to ProMED representation on ISID’s executive committee and editorial independence regarding content and subscriptions. “We cannot be expected to continue working on good will alone,” the letter says.
The staff added that they are happy to resume work once ISID addresses their demands. “It’s really about having a voice and really pleading for overseers to take an active role,” Liu says.
MacKinnon’s statement said the organization has not received any proposals for partnerships or revenue sharing. “ISID has been covering the costs for ProMED since 1999, and piecing together small funding amounts is not feasible any longer,” she wrote. “We are working tirelessly on all fronts for unrestricted grants, and are exploring and open to strategic partnerships.” But in the meantime, “The only viable path forward is to move to a subscription-based model.”
Lalita Panicker is Consulting Editor, Views and Editor, Insight, Hindustan Times, New Delhi