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COVID-19

Time to plan transport of COVID-19 vaccines is now: IATA

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(Last Updated On: September 10, 2020)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments around the world to start planning for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines once approved and available. 

IATA said in a statement that air cargo plays a key role in the distribution of vaccines under normal circumstances and that this will be critical to efficient transport and distribution of a vaccine when the time comes. 

However, governments will need to plan accordingly well in advance and with industry stakeholders. 

“Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. 

“We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead,” he said. 

“Delivering billions of doses of vaccine to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain. We look forward to working together with government, vaccine manufacturers and logistical partners to ensure an efficient global roll-out of a safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

IATA stated that vaccines must be handled and transported in line with international regulatory requirements, at controlled temperatures and without delay to ensure the quality of the product.

The association stated that while there are still many unknowns (number of doses, temperature sensitivities, manufacturing locations, etc.), it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, that cold chain facilities will be required and that delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed. 

Security is also of paramount importance, stated IATA. Vaccines will be highly valuable commodities. Arrangements must be in place to ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft.

“Processes are in place to keep cargo shipments secure, but the potential volume of vaccine shipments will need early planning to ensure that they are scalable,” IATA stated. 

IATA also warned governments to take into consideration the diminished cargo capacity in the air transport sector after passenger traffic has downsized and networks have moth-balled many aircraft.

The potential size of the delivery is enormous. Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft, IATA stated.

“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever. In planning their vaccine programs, particularly in the developing world, governments must take very careful consideration of the limited air cargo capacity that is available at the moment. If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised,” said de Juniac.

COVID-19

India’s COVID-19 infection rate continues to surge, over 5 million cases reported

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

India reported another record jump in daily coronavirus cases on Thursday with 97,894 new infections in the last 24 hours, after its caseload surged past the five million mark a day earlier, data from the health ministry showed. 

Deaths also increased, with the country recording more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.

Coronavirus infections in India surged past five million on Wednesday, with one million active cases reported. 

India’s caseload is closing in on the US, which has reported more than 6.6 million cases and with the infection rate continuing as it is, health officials have warned that it could take just weeks for India to surpass the US. 

In the initial stages of Covid-19, India imposed a strict lockdown, but the virus then hit cities like Mumbai and the capital, Delhi, before surging in smaller cities and rural areas.

Despite the increase, the Indian government has eased restrictions to help the economy recover from the March to June lockdown. 

But as India opened up and people returned to work, the caseload increased drastically. 

In one week alone – last week – 600,000 new cases were added. 

India’s reported number of cases is now more than 5,020,359.

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Korea pledges $1m to help Afghanistan tackle pandemic

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2020)

The  South Korean embassy in Kabul signed a US$1 million grant with the World Health Organization (WHO) this week to assist in efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan. 

According to WHO, the organization will receive funding to implement the “Strengthening access to quality health care in the most vulnerable population in Afghanistan” project, over a six-month period.

In a joint statement issued by the organizations, WHO said the project is expected to bolster efforts to increase COVID-19 testing across the country through the provision of specimen collection kits for 15 rapid response teams (RRTs), which will enable sample collection from 40,500 people; provision of diagnostic kits to the Ministry of Public Health to cover testing for 50,000 people, and provision of testing consumables for RRTs and laboratory technicians across the country to cover testing needs for at least 10,520 people. 

“The project will also play a critical role in improving awareness about COVID-19 through community-based engagement, targeting 314,900 people across priority regions of the country and building field teams’ capacity to better engage and communicate with communities.” the statement read.

The grant arrangement was signed by the Korean ambassador Zha Hyoung Rhee, and Dr Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for Afghanistan.

Both parties to the agreement emphasized the importance of continued support from the international community to help Afghanistan in its fight against COVID-19.

“While the pandemic does not respect borders when it comes to its negative impacts, there is no denying that those countries which lack in medical infrastructure are more vulnerable,” said Rhee. 

“Considering Korea’s experiences, 3Ts, i.e., testing, tracking, and treatment constitute the major components of an effective response to the pandemic. I sincerely hope that the support from Korea, especially regarding the earliest stage of those response activities, will help mitigate, to a considerable extent, the impact of the pandemic which has been inflicting enormous damage not only on the already dire humanitarian situation but also on the essential socio-economic fabric of Afghanistan,” Rhee added.

More than six months since the onset of the COVID-19 emergency in Afghanistan, cases continue to rise but severe testing restrictions have plagued the country, which already has a fragile health care system. 

As of Monday, 38,772 confirmed cases and 1,425 deaths had been reported. 

Peeperkorn in turn said: “The crisis is far from over.”

He noted the country had gone through a substantial first wave but that everyone needs to be prepared for secondary spikes. 

While Afghanistan’s official COVID-19 toll stands at close to 40,000, the Afghan Health Ministry and WHO stated early last month that they estimate nearly a third of the population – about 10 million people – had already been infected. 

Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters on August 5 that a survey had been carried out and had been based on antibody tests.

The survey estimated that about 31.5 percent of the population of 32 million had contracted the virus, with the highest infection rate in the capital, Kabul where more than half of the city’s five million people are believed to have been infected.

Afghanistan, which has poor health infrastructure and has been wracked by decades of war, has only limited testing capacity.

But the new “Strengthening access to quality health care in the most vulnerable population in Afghanistan” project is a part of the COVID-19 ONE UN Health Response Plan and is aligned with the overall support that WHO is providing to Afghanistan to address needs related to COVID-19.

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COVID-19 hits Afghan children hard, deprives millions of an education

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(Last Updated On: September 14, 2020)

COVID-19 lockdown in Afghanistan has had a devastating impact on children with eight out of ten saying they learned little or nothing during the pandemic, a Save the Children survey found. 

The survey found that two-thirds (64 percent) of the children surveyed had no contact with teachers at all during lockdown.

Eight in ten children believed they had learned little or nothing since schools closed and less than one in every 20 children (4.6 percent) had at least one daily check-in with a teacher.

Three in every 10 (30 percent) children reported some violence at home during COVD-19 and one in three households in rural areas had difficulties accessing learning materials compared to one in five households in the urban areas.

Speaking to Afghan children and their families, Save the Children reported that the pandemic has only made life harder and more dangerous for families who have lived through conflict for decades. 

Meena, an 11-year-old girl in Nangarhar province said: “COVID-19 has changed my life. I am again not able to go to school. I had gotten a chance to go to school for the first time and then COVID-19 changed everything.

“The impact of COVID-19 is huge in our life, we live under a tough situation. There is no proper food and medicine to survive. Since the outbreak, we haven’t had three meals in a day because my father can’t make enough money to provide us with enough food. Whenever we get sick we can’t visit doctors due to poverty.”

The organization stated that education had already suffered greatly in Afghanistan due to conflict and while some progress has been made in recent years, such as the passing of a new law last year which guarantees children equal access to education, many challenges remain. 

Their report stated that before COVID-19, 3.7 million children in Afghanistan were already out-of-school and when schools closed due to the pandemic, nearly 10 million more lost access to education. 

Christopher Nyamandi, Save the Children’s Afghanistan Country Director, said: “To protect an entire generation of children from losing out on a healthy and stable future, the world needs to urgently step up with support for Afghanistan. Without education, Afghan children will be denied the opportunity to help rebuild their country.

“The needs of children and their opinions need to be at the center of any plans to build back what Afghanistan has lost over the past months, to ensure they don’t pay the heaviest price.”

Save the Children’s research also found that across six Afghan provinces, just 28.6 percent of children can access distance learning programs through TV, 13.8 percent through radio programming, and 0.2 percent through the internet.

Girls have been more heavily impacted than boys by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 3.7 million children that were already out-of-school, 60 percent are girls.

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