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Weekly News

IHRM provides a summary of the healthcare related articles in the press on a weekly basis to help you stay updated. 

10 May 2021

New Covid-19 variant arrives in SA as third wave starts to stir

Business Day 09 May 2021 - There is no need for panic, says Zweli Mkhize

SA has detected its first cases of a coronavirus variant initially identified in India, adding a highly infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus just when some parts of the country are picking up early signs of a third wave of infections. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said at the weekend that four cases of the variant — two from Gauteng and two from KwaZulu-Natal — have been found in individuals with a recent travel history to India. 

Suspending vaccine patents will not be enough, groups say

Business Day 09 May 2021 - Medecins Sans Frontieres says US support for the waiver is narrow, focusing only on preventive Covid-19 vaccines

The US government’s decision to support a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines is a step in the right direction but will not be enough to curb the health crisis, an international civil society group warned at the weekend. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), a medical humanitarian organisation, said the temporary waiver referred to preventive Covid-19 vaccines only, yet developing countries including SA and India have been calling for the exclusion to cover a host of medical tools needed to tackle Covid-19, including diagnostics [such as laboratory test kits] and treatments. In a surprise move last week, the US government announced that it would support waiving some patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, which could ramp up production and help poorer countries to get more doses.

China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine given WHO emergency approval

Business Day 07 May 2021 - A WHO emergency listing allows the shot to be included in Covax, the global programme to provide vaccines mainly to poor countries

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Friday it had approved a Covid-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drugmaker, Sinopharm, for emergency use. The vaccine, one of two main Chinese shots that collectively have already been given to hundreds of millions of people in China and abroad, becomes the first Covid-19 shot developed by a non-Western country to win the WHO’s backing.

PODCAST | The future of healthcare in a digital world

Business Day 07 May 2021 - Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Ryan Noach, the CEO of Discovery Health

Given the large and scope of JSE-listed Discovery’s operation, Noach starts by explaining his unit’s function and responsibility in the group. He says Discovery Health is a medical scheme administrator, managing the group’s scheme, as well as 18 other employer based schemes. Noach then talks about Discovery’s investment in, and use of, technology before and after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. He says the pandemic has drastically shifted people’s behaviour. For example, Discovery Health has been operating a telehealth platform since 2017. Before the pandemic forced social distancing on the world, Noach says they were seeing an average of 300 consultations being done online each month. Regulations were different back then and people generally chose to go in person to seek healthcare services. Since lockdowns were implemented, Discovery Health has seen a huge spike, with the platform now having 300 consultations in a day. Noach also speaks about the importance of data analytics in improving health outcomes in SA. 

Talks on Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver at WTO could still take months

Business Day 06 May 2021 - Ten WTO meetings in seven months have failed to produce a breakthrough, with 60 proposal sponsors from emerging economies

US President Joe Biden threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines in a sharp US reversal, but it could take months for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to hammer out any deal. Before Biden’s announcement on Wednesday, India and SA confirmed their intention to draft a new waiver proposal at a WTO General Council meeting, prompting the body's new director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to express hope for “a pragmatic solution”. The two countries want to ease rules of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (Trips) agreement. WTO decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members must agree. 

Angela Merkel rejects push to waive Covid-19 vaccine patent protections

Business Day 06 May 2021 - The plan will create ‘severe complications’, says German government

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in against a proposal to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, backed by the US, casting doubt on whether the idea has enough international support to become a reality. The plan would create “severe complications” for the production of vaccines, a German government spokesperson said Thursday in an e-mail. Without the incentive of profits from research & development spending, drug-makers might not move as aggressively to make vaccines in the future, the industry has argued.  

Older Western Cape residents slow off the mark in registering for Covid-19 shots

Business Day 06 May 2021 The province will initially administer only Pfizer’s double-dose shots, due to delays in dispatching J&J’s jab over safety concerns at a US contractor

With less than a fortnight to go until the Western Cape begins dispensing Covid-19 vaccines to people over the age of 60, less than a quarter of the target population has signed up on the government’s registration system, a senior health official said on Thursday. The government’s electronic vaccine data system (EVDS) is not only a mandatory requirement for anyone seeking a vaccine, but is also vital for ensuring people’s appointments are matched with the availability of stock. The vaccination programme is due to be launched on May 17, but as of May 5, only 182,382 Western Cape residents aged over 60 had registered on the portal, representing 24% of the target population, according to head of health Keith Cloete. 

Reluctance to sign indemnity clauses hampers African vaccine drive

Business Day 06 May 2021 - A preference for Pfizer vaccines and a lack of preparedness to distribute the inoculations also hinder rollout

A drive to get Africans vaccinated against the coronavirus is being hamstrung by governments’ reluctance to sign indemnity clauses, a preference for Pfizer vaccines over other more readily available shots and a lack of preparedness to distribute the inoculations. Delays in vaccinating the continent’s more than 1.3-billion people is likely to lead to additional resurgences of the virus, may result in mutations that will potentially be more transmissible and could lead to economic damage associated with strict lockdowns. Fewer than 20-million people have been inoculated in Africa, with almost half of those living in Morocco, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.

Medicines regulator appeals to Treasury for more funding

Business Day 05 May 2021 - After a cut in Treasury allocation of 8%, authority tells MPs that understaffing affects the speed and efficacy with which it can make regulatory decisions

The medicines regulator has appealed to the Treasury for a bigger budget, warning that it cannot do its job effectively unless key vacancies are filled. The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) shot to public prominence during the coronavirus pandemic as it plays a pivotal role in approving new diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. It is one of the most stringent medicine regulators on the African continent and responsible for overseeing the safety and efficacy of human and animal medicines, medical devices and clinical trials. While it derives a significant portion of its revenue from registration fees, it also relies heavily on Treasury funding. Like many statutory bodies, Sahpra’s budget allocation has been cut over the medium-term expenditure framework, as part of government’s efforts to stabilise its finances. 

SIU finds legal practitioner corruption in negligence claims; Mkhize wants ‘no-fault’ fund

Medical Brief 05 May 2021 - An updated Special Investigating Unit report confirms the role of some corrupt attorneys and advocates in Eastern Cape Health’s R37bn medical-negligence headache.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says a national fund similar to the newly-formed No-Fault Compensation Fund for COVID-19 vaccinations would be set up for medical litigation claims. The SIU found 14 cases where there was no evidence that the claimants had presented themselves at medical institutions at any time. The SIU report highlights claims against various unnamed private advocates and attorneys in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. One advocate, a member of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA), who the report confirms “withdrew as a candidate to be a judge”, allegedly secured duplicate payments and made charges totalling R2.4m which could not be justified. 

Lowering BP significantly reduces CV risk even at normal levels

Medical Brief 05 May 2021 - Even in those with normal or only mildly elevated blood pressure (BP), anti-hypertensive medication lowering of BP protects against future cardiovascular (CV) events.

A 5 mm Hg reduction of systolic blood pressure reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events by about 10%, irrespective of previous diagnoses of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and even at normal or high–normal blood pressure values. “The take-home message is that pharmacological blood pressure lowering should be considered as a tool for cardiovascular risk management even when blood pressure is normal or mildly elevated, for primary and secondary prevention of CVD,” said lead investigator Dr Kazem Rahimi, University of Oxford