A significant East-West divide and people over 50 years old are revealed as contributory factors as undiagnosed cases of HIV climb throughout the European Region as a whole, according to a report published Thursday by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (WHO Europe).
"More than 136,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2019," said a joint press release of the WHO Europe and ECDC.
However, it is the statistical revelation that every second HIV diagnosis (53 percent) is being made during the latter stage of the infection when the immune system is already beginning to fail which draws most concern from the report's compilers.
Significantly, the report reveals that new diagnoses across the more prosperous European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) countries also declined by 9 percent during the same period.
"Despite the focus on COVID-19 right now, we must not lose sight of other public health issues like HIV. Earlier diagnosis of HIV is an urgent priority," said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.
The report maintains that the importance of early diagnosis is that it allows people to start HIV treatment sooner, which increases their chances of survival and prevents the possibility of further transmission.
A surprising takeaway from the HIV/AIDS surveillance data for 2019 revealed that those who diagnosed with HIV late increases at a higher proportion with age.
Across the whole 53-member Region, 67 percent of people aged 50 and older were diagnosed late in the course of their HIV infection, one in five of new HIV diagnoses.
"The reasons for this are not yet fully understood. It may be that older adults themselves, or the health-care workers looking after them, underestimate the risk of infection," said the report.
The new report was released on the eve of World AIDS Day observed annually on Dec. 1. World AIDS Day was introduced by WHO in 1988 to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic caused by HIV infection.
The coronavirus testing numbers that have guided much of the nation’s response to the pandemic are likely to be erratic over the next week or so, experts said Friday, as fewer people get tested during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and testing sites observe shorter hours.
The result could be potential dips in reported infections that offer the illusion that the spread of the virus is easing when, in fact, the numbers say little about where the nation stands in fighting COVID-19. The number of Americans who have tested positive passed 13 million Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University and an emergency physician.
A similar pattern unfolds on many weekends. Because some testing centers, labs and state offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, COVID case numbers often drop each Sunday and Monday, only to peak on Tuesday.
Dr. Mark Rupp, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said the effect of Thanksgiving is likely to be a magnified version of the weekend figures. The Thursday holiday will exacerbate the record-keeping discrepancies over the long weekend, artificially depressing the reported numbers for four or five days before spiking as test results catch up.
Johns Hopkins University reported a high of more than 2 million tests a few days before Thanksgiving as people prepared to travel, but that number had dropped to less than 1.2 million tests on Thanksgiving Day. The latter number, as well as positive case numbers, which had dropped by about a third Friday, could be adjusted as more results are returned.
In several state and cities, officials reported sharp drops in testing Friday and reminded people not to read improvements into them. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the drop means that residents might not know for weeks how much their efforts to slow the spread affected the state’s rate of positive tests.
While testing was down Thursday and Friday, health officials said they anecdotally saw a jump in people getting tested before deciding to travel or gather for Thanksgiving meals. They warned that the tests are often a snapshot, not a complete assurance that someone has not been exposed to the virus.
“I think it can be kind of a false sense of security for some people,” Rupp said, predicting that the holiday will be followed within weeks by another surge “because people have continued to travel, they’ve continued to have gatherings outside their immediate family.”
Experts worry how people might interpret the situation after the long weekend, especially if it takes a few weeks for Thanksgiving exposures to show up in testing data.
Cities and states generally use hospitalization and intensive care numbers, which lag behind virus case reporting, to determine when to increase or ease public health restrictions and recommendations. But the public is more likely to look at testing numbers or case counts, which might be misleading, Wen said, and waiting until hospitals are overwhelmed is risky.
“Where we are now is a completely unsustainable place. I think it’s extremely frustrating to those of us in health care to see our calls are not being heeded,” Wen said. “And the level of alarm that we have is not reflected in individuals’ behavior.”
Also read: Global Covid-19 cases cross 61 million
Developers of Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday called on British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to try combining its experimental shot with the Russian one to boost efficacy.
"Current full dose AstraZeneca regimen resulted in 62% efficacy. If they go for a new clinical trial, we suggest trying a regimen of combining the AZ shot with the Sputnik V human adenoviral vector shot to boost efficacy," the developers tweeted.
"Combining vaccine may prove important for revaccinations."
AstraZeneca is going to run more trials to assess the efficacy of its vaccine after questions were raised over the results from its late-stage study, the company’s chief executive officer Pascal Soriot said.
Clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine were conducted on 20,000 volunteers from the UK and Brazil. Preliminary results showed that the average vaccine efficacy was 70%.
During the trials, it was found that when two equally large doses of the vaccine were administered with a difference in a month, the level of protection against infection was 62%.
It increased to 90% when the subjects first received a small dose, and then, with a second injection, a bigger dose of the medicine, reports TASS.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 170 projects in the world now to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.
On August 11, Russia was the first in the world to register a Covid-19 vaccine called Sputnik V.
According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the efficacy of the vaccine is 95%.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Hetero, one of India’s leading generic pharmaceutical companies, have agreed to produce over 100 million doses per year of Sputnik V, the world’s first registered vaccine against coronavirus, in India.
A press release from Sputnik V said the parties intend to start the production of the vaccine at the beginning of next year.
The Gamaleya Center and RDIF announced on November 24 positive results obtained during the second interim data analysis of the largest double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled Phase III clinical trials in Russia’s history involving 40,000 volunteers.
Interim trial results have once again confirmed the high efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine, based on a well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors.
Evaluation of efficacy was carried out among volunteers 28 days after receiving the first dose (7 days after the second dose) of the vaccine or placebo upon reaching the second control point of the trial in compliance with the clinical trial protocol, the press release said.
The analysis demonstrated a 91.4 percent efficacy rate for the Sputnik V vaccine.
The uniqueness of the Russian vaccine lies in the use of two different vectors based on the human adenovirus, which allows for a stronger and longer-term immune response as compared to vaccines using one and the same vector for two doses.
Preliminary data on volunteers on the 42nd day after the first dose (equivalent to 21 days after the second dose), when they have already formed a stable immune response, indicates the efficacy rate of the vaccine is above 95 percent, according to the official website of Sputnik V vaccine.
Currently, Phase III clinical trials are approved and are ongoing in Belarus, the UAE, Venezuela and other countries, as well as Phase II-III in India.
Requests for more than 1.2 billion doses of Sputnik V vaccine came from more than 50 countries. The vaccine supplies for the global market will be produced by RDIF’s international partners in India, Brazil, China, South Korea and other countries, it said.
The safety of vaccines based on human adenoviruses has been confirmed in more than 75 international publications and more than 250 clinical trials conducted during the past two decades, the press release said.
“We are delighted to announce the agreement between RDIF and Hetero that will pave the way to production of the safe and highly effective Sputnik V vaccine on Indian soil,” said
Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
“The vaccine’s interim clinical trial results show 95 percent efficacy on the 42nd day after the first dose. I am confident that Sputnik V should become an integral part of the national vaccine portfolio of every country willing to protect its population from the coronavirus,” Dmitriev said.
He hoped that with the cooperation of Hetero, they will be able to significantly increase production capacity and provide people of India with an efficient solution.
Murali Krishna Reddy, Director of International Marketing at Hetero Labs, said they are pleased to collaborate with RDIF as a manufacturing partner for the most anticipated Sputnik V vaccine for the treatment of Covid-19.
“While we look forward to the clinical trial results in India, we believe that manufacturing the product locally is crucial to enable swift access to patients. This collaboration is another step towards our commitment in the battle against Covid-19 and realizing the objective of ‘Make-in-India’ campaign as envisioned by our Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,” he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged the international community to pay attention to the needs of women and girls suffering from violence and discrimination.
Although much progress has been made in highlighting the pressing issue of violence against women and girls, the UN Chief is pushing the world to go further towards ending what he has characterized as a blight on all societies, reports UN News.
The UN chief issued the call for action during an online event held on Wednesday to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and to launch the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign, headed up by UN Women.
“Millions of women are being pushed further into poverty by the COVID-19 crisis, and all forms of violence against them are rising”, he said. “In this context, the global community must continue to build on the momentum we have created to prioritize the voices, experiences and needs of women and girls.”
Appeal to nations
Back in April, the Secretary-General urged governments to make prevention and redress of violence a key part of their national responses to the pandemic. More than 140 countries have responded.
Mr. Guterres relaunched the appeal on Thursday to show how greater efforts are needed, for example, for funding and ensuring access to essential services, but also to reduce the risk of violence occurring in the first place.
“This includes providing financial and material support to women and households; encouraging positive messaging around gender equality, stereotypes and norms; supporting access to mental health services; and engaging key stakeholders, including women and girls, men and boys, and traditional and faith-based leaders”, he said.
The ‘shadow pandemic’
Prior to COVID-19, violence against women was already one of the most widespread violations of human rights, according to UN Women, which supports countries in achieving gender equality.
It can take many forms: from rape and domestic violence, to sexual harassment and cyber bullying, but also harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. One in three women worldwide has been affected.
UN Women said there has been an alarming upsurge in incidents during COVID-19, a veritable “shadow pandemic”, with some countries reporting a five-fold rise in calls to helplines in the first weeks of coronavirus outbreak.
Projections further show that for every three months of lockdown, an additional 15 million women are expected to be affected.
"Our collective and accelerated response to the Secretary-General’s call to make prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of national responses to COVID-19 will lead us to a safer, more equal and violence-free world for all women and girls," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women's Executive Director.
"Together, we must uphold our commitment to: fund women’s rights organizations; respond by strengthening and adapting services to survivors and integrating responses to violence against women into COVID-19 response and recovery plans; prevent violence against women and girls through social mobilization and social protection measures; and collect data to inform policies and programmes."
‘We must do better’
For the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Natalia Kanem, there is only one word for these violations: Enough.
“We must do better,” she said. “It is time to stand up and say enough to violence not just on one day, but 365 days a year. We must prevent violence. And until we end it, we must provide everything women and girls need to survive and recover, from physical and mental health care to legal aid and support for regaining livelihoods.”
Support can also come from ordinary citizens working to raise awareness around violence against women and girls, Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman told the virtual gathering.
As a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, she has travelled the world to meet with survivors and hear their stories, which are sometimes heartbreaking and horrifying.
Everyone has a role
“The women themselves would remind us, and me, that this is a problem with a solution. But the solution can only exist if we provide help,” she said in a video message.
“To play your role in ending violence against women, we need you to learn about the issue, make your friends and your community aware of services and resources, ensure that you know who to call if someone was is in danger, volunteer your time if you can, or if you have the means, donate.”
In the lead-up to the Gender Equality Forum next year, UN Women has launched its 16 Days of Activism global mobilization campaign to demand that the post-pandemic reset leads to a “new normal”, where violence against women and girls is relegated to history.
Governments, civil society, young people, influencers and others will be raising their voices during the campaign, which runs through 10 December.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed is also turning over her Twitter account during this period to feature advocates, activists and everyday citizens working on the issue.