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Cameroon Says COVID Worsens Diabetes Burden

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON – This year’s U.N. World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14 was observed in Cameroon with medical staff all over the central African state encouraging those with the disease to return to hospitals for treatment.

Health workers say patients scared of COVID-19 stopped going to hospitals for control of their glucose levels. Although the disease is spreading rapidly due to Cameroonians’ sedentary lifestyles, experts say, health workers complain that 80% of patients do not know they have diabetes.

A medical doctor told scores of people at the General Hospital in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, to go to the nearest hospital if they get tired and thirsty regularly, drink water and urinate frequently. She said while at any hospital, such people should immediately ask for their blood sugar levels to be measured.

Diabetes educator Agnes Koki said the campaign is part of World Diabetes Day activities. She said medical staff members want to encourage people to find out whether they have diabetes.

“There were so many people out there without the knowledge of diabetes,” she said. “We educate them on what diabetes is all about, how to feed and so many other things. We do free consultation, free screening.”

Sixty-year-old carpenter Hilary Lingalia said he was diagnosed with diabetes after his wife forced him to go to the hospital. He said the African traditional healers he counted on for treatment from nerve pain, a diabetes-related condition, instead told him that he had been bewitched.

“It was a strange sickness to me because my father did not have diabetes nor my mother,” he said. “In 2014, I had this complication on my leg until it was amputated. To face the reality, I accepted it.”

3 million cases

Cameroon’s National Diabetes and Hypertension Program reports that the prevalence of diabetes has increased from fewer than 1 million cases in 2010 to more than 3 million in 2020. The report says 80% of people living with diabetes are currently undiagnosed. Cameroon also blames sedentary lifestyles for the increase in the disease.

Solange Essunge leads an association of diabetic patients in Yaoundé. She says many people fear being screened for diabetes because they believe the disease kills slowly and cannot be treated.

She said the Association of Diabetic Patients she heads wants the government to immediately provide free treatment to everyone whose sugar level is very high. She said the government and donor agencies should show more commitment to the well-being of patients by making treatment available in all hospitals and supplying all patients with blood glucose meters so they will always be able to measure their blood sugar levels.

Essunge said that since Cameroon reported the first cases of the coronavirus in March, many diabetic patients have avoided going to the hospital for fear of contamination. She said a majority of the more than 500 people who have died of COVID-19 in Cameroon were diabetic patients.

Vincent de Paul Djientcheu, director of the General Hospital in Yaoundé and official of Cameroon’s health ministry, said people should guard against diabetes by watching their diets and getting regular physical exercise.

He said Cameroonians should work harder toward preventing diabetes because the rapid spread of the disease has severe consequences for patients, their families and the community. He said diabetes drains family resources and makes people poorer. He urged patients to return to hospitals for routine checks and said patients should make sure they always respect COVID-19 prevention measures, such as wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and keeping 2 meters apart.

Djientcheu said people should stop considering diabetes a death sentence because they can live with the disease if they control their diet and take regular treatment.

The United Nations instituted World Diabetes Day in 2007 in recognition of the urgent need to improve human health, provide access to treatment and health care education.

The U.N. says globally, 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980, and that diabetes prevalence has risen faster in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

Source: Voice Of America

NASA, SpaceX Send Four Astronauts to International Space Station

Four astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station after a successful launch of SpaceX rocket Crew Dragon.

The three U.S. crew members and one from Japan are on NASA’s first crew rotation mission using a commercial spacecraft.

They are due to arrive at the International Space Station late Monday, joining two Russians and one American who flew there last month from Kazakhstan.

“By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” Commander Mike Hopkins said right before liftoff.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Florida to join NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to watch the launch Sunday.

“I didn’t start breathing until about a minute after it took off,” Pence said during a stop at SpaceX Launch Control to congratulate the workers.

During their time at the space station, the crew members will conduct a range of scientific experiments, including growing radishes and using microgravity to test leukemia drugs. They are also bringing a new, redesigned toilet that NASA says will help prepare for future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Source: Voice Of America

In COVID-19 Vaccine Race, Hungarian Village Firm Takes Global Role

SZIRAK, HUNGARY – In an unassuming house in rolling hills east of the Hungarian capital, a small family firm is helping oil the wheels of the world’s big pharmaceutical companies on the path to a coronavirus vaccine.

Biologist Noemi Lukacs, 71, retired to Szirak, her birth village, to establish English & Scientific Consulting (SciCons) and manufacture a genetic sensor so sensitive that a few grams can supply the entire global industry for a year.

“We produce monoclonal antibodies,” Lukacs told Reuters in the single-story house where she was born, now partly converted into a world-class laboratory. The white powder ships worldwide from here, micrograms at a time.

“These antibodies recognize double-stranded RNA [dsRNA],” she explained. DsRNA is a byproduct of viruses replicating, so its presence signals the presence of a live virus, long useful in virus-related research.

More importantly, dsRNA is also a byproduct of the process used by U.S. giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech to create their experimental COVID-19 vaccine which is more than 90% effective according to initial trial results last week.

And because dsRNA can be harmful to human cells, it must be filtered out from any vaccine to be used in humans. Several filtering methods exist, but the most widely used way to do quality control is to expose the vaccine to Lukacs’ antibodies.

Not only will the antibodies show if there is any dsRNA in the vaccine, they will also tell researchers how much of it is present. Only once completely freed from dsRNA can the vaccine be administered.

The result: a line of big pharma representatives outside her door.

The small company is growing rapidly, yet its revenue was only 124 million forints (just over $400,000) last year, with profits at 52 million forints. That feeds five employees and even leaves some for local charity projects in Szirak.

To Lukacs, that is just fine. The success of the RNA field, long frowned upon, is vindication enough.

Dog in the race

The former university professor followed the race to the vaccine closely and rooted especially for the contestants who look set to come first: those using modified RNA to train cells of the human body to recognize and kill the coronavirus. The RNA was her dog in the race.

The modified RNA, or mRNA, methodology is a whole new group of drugs, with the COVID vaccine the first product likely to get regulatory approval and go into mass production. But more applications are expected, which has Lukacs overjoyed.

“Once you get into the RNA field, it is an extremely exciting area,” she said, recalling decades of struggles when the rest of the scientific community did not share her excitement.

Or most of the rest, that is. Another Hungarian woman, Katalin Kariko, working across the Atlantic, patented the method that enables the use of RNA and promises to free the world not only of the coronavirus but scores of other diseases.

In the process, Kariko — now the Vice President of Germany’s BioNTech, which was first alongside U.S. giant Pfizer to break through with a vaccine earlier this month — became an early SciCons customer.

The COVID breakthrough and other RNA uses may necessitate more use of Lukacs’s antibodies as well, but they do not anticipate much of a boon.

“We would be happy to sell more of it,” said Johanna Symmons, her daughter and the small company’s chief executive. “We probably will too. But it’s not like we’ll get silly rich.”

Being part of the solution reaps its own rewards.

“We have cooperated with most vaccine manufacturers, and certainly almost all of the ones using the mRNA method,” she said with a hint of pride. “We have been a small screw in this large machine.”

Source: Voice Of America

Coronavirus Emerged in Italy Earlier Than Thought, Italian Study Shows

ROME – The new coronavirus was circulating in Italy in September 2019, a study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) of the Italian city of Milan shows, signaling that COVID-19 might have spread beyond China earlier than previously thought.

The World Health Organization has said the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, were unknown before the outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, in central China, in December.

Italy’s first COVID-19 patient was detected on Feb. 21 in a little town near Milan, in the northern region of Lombardy.

But the Italian researchers’ findings, published by the INT’s scientific magazine Tumori Journal, show that 11.6% of 959 healthy volunteers, enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020, had developed coronavirus antibodies well before February.

A further specific SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research titled, “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy.”

It showed that four cases dated back to the first week of October were also positive for antibodies neutralizing the virus, meaning the four people had been infected in September, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, told Reuters.

“This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but had also antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said.

“It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for long and with a low rate of lethality not because it is disappearing but only to surge again,” he added.

Italian researchers told Reuters in March that they reported a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu in Lombardy in the last quarter of 2019 in a sign that the new coronavirus might have circulated earlier than previously thought.

Source: Voice Of America