Former UK PM Gordon Brown now WHO ambassador for global health financing – CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT NEWS

Brown had warned that 100 million COVID-19 vaccines would go waste unless global leaders shared surplus supplies with the poorest countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) September 20, 2021, announced the appointment of Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, as its ambassador for Global Health Financing.

Brown, according to the WHO, has played an instrumental role in trying to get rich countries as well as the private sector to ensure equitable distribution of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

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The former UK PM had on September 19 said “the failure of Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and European Union leaders to agree on a plan to distribute the spare doses meant the world was facing a vaccine waste disaster,” The Guardian reported.

He warned that more than 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were due to expire and be “thrown away” unless global leaders urgently shared surplus supplies with the world’s poorest countries.

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Brown served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Tony Blair government from 1997 to 2007.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said:

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In this role, he will elevate and support WHO’s work to raise awareness internationally on the great need for sustained global health financing, particularly from G20 and G7 countries. As a longtime friend of Gordon’s, I know that he will bring his sharp intellect, firm commitment and deep sense of justice to this Ambassadorship.

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The former Prime Minister’s leadership qualities have been credited as a force that averted the global financial crisis of 2008. He mobilised world leaders to commit an additional $1.1 trillion to restore credit, growth and jobs to help the world economy through the global financial crisis.

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Brown said: “I am delighted to be able to help his and WHO’s work raising global finance to ensure everyone has access to health. Our immediate task is to work together to finance the vaccination of the whole world and protect the poorest countries from the terrible effects of COVID-19 and other diseases.”

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Odisha stops Ashirbad scheme for children citing COVID-19 downward trend

All cases covered under the Ashirbad scheme shall continue to get benefits till they attain 18 years of age or till adoption

The Odisha government has stopped its ‘Ashirbad’ scheme, started in June to support children who lost their parents during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had announced the Ashirbad scheme June 20, 2021. Children who had lost their parents on or after April 1, 2020 were supposed to be provided with monetary assistance ranging between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500 per month under the scheme, besides other benefits.

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However, on September 13, 2021, Aravind Agrawal, the state’s director for Integrated Child Development Services and Social Welfare, asked district collectors not to cover children whose parent (s) / primary breadwinners died after September 15 under the Ashirbad scheme.

Instead, they would be covered under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme of the state government, he said in a letter to the collectors.

Agrawal cited the ‘declining trend’ in COVID-19 cases behind the closure of the Ashirbad scheme. However, he said: “All cases covered under the Ashirbad scheme shall continue to get the benefits mentioned in the scheme guidelines till they attain 18 years of age or till adoption, as specified in the guidelines.”

According to the guidelines for the Ashirbad scheme, a child who has lost both or one parent is entitled to Rs 2,500 per month while a child who has lost a parent who was also the breadwinner for the family is entitled to Rs 1,500 per month.

The financial assistance of Rs 2,500 is transferred to the bank account of the relative taking care of the child who has lost both parents.

In cases where one of the parents is alive, Rs 1,500 is transferred to the account of the father or mother. The district child protection units are supposed to be in regular touch with the relatives of such children to monitor their wellbeing.

Besides, if any child stays in a childcare institution instead of staying with a relative, an amount of Rs 1,000 is deposited in a bank account in his / her name as recurring deposit till s / he doesn’t attain the age of 18. His / her needs like food, education and health are taken care of by the institution.

After the launch of the Ashirbad scheme, the identification of orphans was done through the district child protection units, block committees, panchayat level committees, frontline workers and civil society groups.

According to officials involved in the process, over 31,000 children have been identified to have lost either one or both parents to COVID-19.

Over 10,000 of them had already been covered under the scheme so far while the rest of them were in the process of being covered, officials said.

Child rights activists, however, are of the opinion that the Ashirbad scheme should be extended for some more time because the spectre of COVID-19 is not yet over.

“The Ashirbad scheme is unique in the entire country because it covers all children who became orphans during the pandemic, irrespective of their social status or financial background. Besides, it is meant to address the problems of children specifically during the pandemic,” Ghasiram Panda, an activist, said.

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme, on the other hand, is a general scheme of the government that includes foster care, kinship, sponsorship support and adoption of orphan children.

It also has the provision to keep such children in child care units. At least 0.25 million such children have been identified in Odisha since 2019.

Everyone DOESN’T need booster jabs of COVID-19 vaccines: Lancet study (but are the rich countries reading?)

Access to vaccination has been vastly inequal; Booster doses in developed countries will further squeeze out low, mid-income countries

Everyone does not need a ‘booster’ dose of vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a group of scientists from across the world have concurred.

Booster shots are additional doses of a vaccine after the usual ones are administered. They are usually aimed at increasing immunity to a level enough to provide protection against a particular antigen.

The efficacy of recommended doses of respective vaccines even for severe COVID-19, however, has been high enough to not warrant any such extra doses, the experts said after a review. This holds true even for the dreaded Delta variant that has been much in focus in India since the second wave of the pandemic in the country.

The review has been published in the Lancet journal Monday, September 13, 2021. Only Friday (September 10), Sarah Gilbert — who has led the development of the COVID-19 vaccine by Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca plc — said something similar to the British media.

The same vaccine is administered in India as Covishield.

Immunity was lasting well among those vaccinated, she said in an interview to the Daily Telegraph. This effectively was a thumbs-down to the Boris Johnson government’s plan to widely roll out a booster dose round among British citizens.

In the United States too, the Joe Biden administration has been talking of rolling out booster doses this month itself. There reportedly have been tension within the American establishment in this regard.

The use of such booster doses has been a global hot button. The Lancet’s press note quoted WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan, also a co-author of the review report:

Although the idea of further reducing the number of COVID-19 cases by enhancing immunity in vaccinated people is appealing, any decision to do so should be evidence-based and consider the benefits and risks for individuals and society.

Boosters may be needed in the future, but there has been no convincing data yet to show all countries and populations need boosters, said virologist Gagandeep Kang.

Public health expert and epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya too stressed on the lack of evidence for any requirement of booster doses for those already fully inoculated.

A question of conscience

The recent report helps in curbing the craze for booster doses. Whether it would or not is a different question. Immunologist Vineeta Bal put it down to social conscience, saying life of individuals in developed countries is considered more valuable than those from low- and medium-income countries (LMIC).

That may trigger an individualist ‘want’ to get increased protection for oneself. But “having enough immunity all across the world is a better idea,” said Bal while pointing out how the planet is interconnected now and how people need to travel long distances — something that helped spread the virus in the first place.

Lahariya found the call for booster doses in developed countries “inexplicable” even as the majority of the planet was yet to start their vaccination journey. “It is a moral and ethical question,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly urged rich countries to share extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines with those who have not been able to procure much (or any at all).

It has categorically said booster doses were unnecessary at a time when most of the global population was nowhere close to being immunised.

The WHO-backed COVAX [COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access] programme, which had planned to make two billion doses available this year to countries in need, last week said it would fall short by a quarter. Bal called the performance of the multilateral platform “suboptimal”.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week urged the Group of 20 partnership, which includes India, to fulfil their pledge of sharing vaccines.

Fast development of vaccines against COVID-19 was a ray of hope amid loss of lives and economic wreckage. But only about 30 per cent of the world population has been fully vaccinated yet. Another 12 per cent has been partially immunised, according to Our World In Data.

That figure too hides huge differences in range: Developed economies like the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom have reported double the global rate; the US too has already covered over half its population. All this has been a shot in the arm for pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson Pvt Ltd.

On the other hand, sub-Saharan Africa has been struggling as is evident in the data for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (0.03 per cent), Cameroon (0.3 per cent), Nigeria (0.8 per cent), etc. In Asia, Yemen is at 0.05 per cent, Syria and Afghanistan at 1.1 per cent and Myanmar at 3.3 per cent. Pakistan is yet to fully vaccinate a tenth of its sizeable population. In Latin America, Haiti is at 0.12 per cent while even relatively developed Venezuela is below 12 per cent. The challenge is apparent for Oceania’s island countries too.

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