COVID’s family effect, fusion chief and drug equality

The Quick Start consortium will distribute 100,000 courses of the antiviral drug Paxlovid in ten countries.Credit: BJ Warnick/Yonhap/Newcom/Alamy

COVID medicines donated to poor countries

A program to bring COVID-19 oral antivirals to low- and middle-income countries has launched with an initial donation of 100,000 courses of treatmentwhich will be distributed in 9 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Laos.

By the end of September, the COVID Treatment Fast Start Consortium aims to begin treating people in these countries with Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir–ritonavir), an antiviral drug developed by Pfizer in New York City. The program is supported by nonprofit organizations such as the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Americares, and the COVID Collaborative, along with Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and other partners.

Donation size is dwarfed by need in these ten countries: limited supplies and high costs have restricted the flow of COVID-19 antivirals to low- and middle-income regions. “It’s a diabolically horrible situation in terms of equitable access to therapies,” says Rachel Cohen, regional executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The consortium will establish pilot projects to explore how best to implement test-and-treat programs in areas with limited healthcare infrastructure. Over time, the consortium plans to expand the program to more countries and transition to lower-cost generic versions of Paxlovid.

Wide angle view down into a meeting room at ITER where a vacuum vessel sector is being built

The ITER fusion reactor is currently under construction in France.Credit: ITER Organization

World’s largest fusion experiment names new boss

Pietro Barabaschi, an electrical engineer who has devoted his entire career to fusion research, has been selected to lead ITERthe largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world.

Barabaschi is currently Acting Director of Fusion for Energy, the body responsible for ITER’s contribution in Europe, and will take up the role of ITER Director General in October.

ITER, based in the south of France, aims to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power, the energy source behind the Sun that promises almost unlimited clean energy. The $22 billion project, a collaboration between China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States, has faced a series of management problems, delays and spiraling costs. Although ITER is currently scheduled to begin operations in 2025, that date is likely to be pushed back following a revision to its schedule that will take into account delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Barabaschi pledged to make it a priority as Director General to improve the integration of the ITER Central Organization with the agencies that provide each member’s contribution.

COVID deaths: More than ten million children lost a parent or caregiver

About 10.5 million children worldwide have a parent or caregiver who has died from COVID-19, a modeling study finds. The figure is a dramatic increase on previous estimates. India, Indonesia and Egypt were the most affected nations; other regions of Africa and Southeast Asia were also severely affected (S. Hillis and others. JAMA Pediatrics. https://doi.org/gqr2w3; 2022).

The study is the third update on the number of children orphaned by the pandemic. Previous studies estimated that around 1.5 million children under the age of 18 had lost a primary or secondary caregiver during the first 14 months of the pandemic. A year later, the estimates are an order of magnitude higher, says co-author Susan Hillis, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, UK.

“I really appreciate the effort of this team in trying to keep the issue of COVID-related orphans in front of the research and policy communities,” says Michael Goodman, an applied social epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Galveston. “We as a society are not exempt from responsibility for these children.”

The authors took into account data on excess deaths from the World Health Organization, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, Washington, and the newspaper The Economist, along with fertility rates, which gave them an idea of ​​how many children were affected by each death in a given country. Excess deaths is the difference between anticipated and observed deaths in a given period, in this case from January 1, 2020 to May 1, 2022.

The model suggests that 7.5 million children lost one or both parents, and 10.5 million children lost a parent or caregiver. Hillis says the estimates increased as more COVID-19 tests became available and as more low- and middle-income countries reported data during the pandemic.

Losing a parent or caregiver can have lifelong consequences. Affected children are more likely than others to experience mental health problems, abuse, and chronic illness.

CHILDREN WHO LOST A CAREGIVER.  Geographic distribution of the 10 million children who lost a parent/caregiver during the pandemic.

Source: S. Hillis and others.

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