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From corruption to the ‘mark of the beast’ – why countries like Malawi are struggling against Covid | Madalitso Wills Kateta



In January 2021, the Malawian rights activist Paul Msoma wrote that he was in Kamuzu central hospital, struggling to breathe. The hospital had oxygen cylinders but no flowmeters – the necessary instrument to connect him to them. I was left wondering where the funds that had been released for the country’s Covid-19 response were going. “My situation is getting bad and l desperately need oxygen,” Msoma wrote on Facebook. “Anyone who can urgently help out there please help by donating this very gadget.”

Kamuzu central hospital is one of the biggest referral hospitals in Malawi and it did not seem right for such a big hospital not to have oxygen flowmeters, which are very basic medical equipment costing around £18 a piece. This was at a time when the government had released more than £5.6m for the Covid-19 response effort.

Tragically, Msoma died a few days later. His call for help opened a can of worms and caused many to realise that these funds were being abused. Influential Malawians organised a citizen-led Covid-19 response and the government was brought to its senses, opening an inquiry into Covid-19 spending.

An eventual report by the country’s office of the ombudsman following Nsoma’s comments indicated that 79.8% of the funds were misused, including money spent on non-Covid items like allowances for government officers. A later audit by the country’s auditor general confirmed the extensive abuse.

But, to date, none of the officers involved in the abuse of the funds have been charged, despite the president, Lazarus Chakwera, promising that all those abusing these funds would face the law. The common belief on the street is that some of the people who misused the funds were politically connected government officials who could have been sharing the spoils with politicians.

Meanwhile, as people were learning how the previous funds were used, Chakwera ordered another £15.8mmostly from the Global Fund Covid-19 response mechanism and the IMF’s Rapid Credit Facility to help address the effects of the coronavirus – to be released.

As it stands, people are still dying and the country doesn’t have vaccines to give its entire population. Malawi had, as of 2 January of this year, a total of 1,494,459 (7.6%) people with at least one vaccination, while just 712,848 (3.6%) have been fully vaccinated. Cumulatively the country has recorded 76,295 Covid-19 cases and 2,378 deaths, a 3.1% case fatality rate.

The Covid response in Malawi has been greatly affected by rampant corruption. This affected not just procurement of vital items, but also areas like public awareness and outreach. Vaccine hesitancy is a massive problem. Currently, almost every major government hospital in Malawi including those in hard-to-reach areas has some vaccines but there are fears that even the current supply might not be fully utilised because of hesitancy. In May 2021 the country destroyed close to 20,000 doses of expired Covid-19 vaccines. This could have been better managed if funds for the epidemic response were properly used in the early stages of the disease’s spread.

Much of the vaccine hesitancy in Malawi is being driven by religious beliefs, with some religious leaders telling followers the vaccines are prophesised in the Bible and are the starting stages of the branding of a “666” mark – the mark of the beast. They say every global citizen shall be required to have a mark in order to engage in any business. There is another myth that has been taking turns, where many women believe that the vaccines will make them infertile. It is difficult to reach and counter local misinformation, as 82.57% of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas, and about 65.8% of the population is literate.

There currently seems to be more commitment by the country’s leadership to get the population vaccinated. The government, with support from different health organisations, has embarked on a nationwide campaign where people are being reached with mobile clinics within their communities and the result has been an uptick in vaccination.

The country’s health minister also recently announced that Covid-19 vaccination will become mandatory for some public servants such as police officers, health workers, teachers and journalists. But this has not gone down well with some rights groups, including the Malawi Human Rights Commission, which has argued against mandatory status on the grounds that vaccination should be a personal choice.

The recent rise in vaccination is welcome and overdue. But there is still a need for active citizen participation to hold leaders accountable on how every penny of the country’s Covid response fund is being used, and to educate others on the dangers of the virus. This, however, isn’t going to be attainable until the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau is adequately empowered, and Chakwera commits to full transparency for all Covid spending.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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