The world is racing towards a Covid-19 vaccine; and amidst the wait there has been so many twists and turns; albeit science clashing with politics in some instances. All the while scientists have been saved by their phlegmatic approach to issues hence neutralizing the somehow polemical politicians.
According to NBC News via their Covid-19 Vaccine Watch, by end of this week there were 139 vaccines in development; and 28 vaccines in human trials. The world is hoping and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment breakthroughs. These statistics are all in the backdrop of a Russian ‘breakthrough’ which has attracted criticism from rivals in the political and scientific world.
The world has already seen the twists and turns of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, favipiravir, and others. There was another potentially dangerous hypothesis that raised eyebrows and drew outright hostility in some quarters – that claimed nicotine could potentially play a role in treating COVID-19!
Back home in the capital Gaborone, the Acting Coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Team, Professor Mosepele Mosepele announced on national broadcaster, BTV that they have a new definition of ‘Recovery’ for Covid-19 patients. Patients who have been with the virus for over 10 days and are certified by a medical professional to be well shall be deemed a ‘Recovery’. This is in line with the latest WHO standards, he said.
Pliable as they are, to WHO protocols, Botswana’s Covid-19 Task Team has not been excited by the plethora of covid-19 remedies being brandished wishy washy style in the global arena. They were not inch moved by Madagascar’s herbal concoction hailed by that country’s president. In any case the hype around the concoction dissipated within a matter of days.
Meanwhile as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom assembled over 200 scientists on Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine research team and came up with an Oxford candidate vaccine, called AZD1222; the University of Botswana was also taking a shot at local herbal plants to see if they could not sum up a Covid-19 remedy. At Oxford, AZD1222 seems to have no serious side effects and triggered an immune response among over 1,000 people involved in the trials. However, there is still a long way to go before the vaccine can be declared ready for widespread usage.
AZD1222 is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Batswana are still waiting for the latest report from University of Botswana scientists as far as the research on Covid-19 remedy is concerned.
Scientists are using four platforms to generate monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: human antibody phage display; immunized human antibody transgenic mice; antibodies isolated from the blood of people who have recovered from infection; and computational structure-based antibody design.
In parallel to work on antibodies, scientists are using all of their expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical assets to find small molecule inhibitors. In some parts of the world they are screening their entire molecular library of more than one million compounds to identify those with potential activity to treat COVID-19.
They are using computational screening to speedily search this huge resource, starting with two priority viral targets: SARS-CoV-2 main protease and SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease. The expertise they have built in artificial intelligence-aided optimization of drug candidates will speed their path, they say.
Russia blows own BIG trumpet
Russia’s Vladmir Putin has been blowing his own trumpet lately. His social media platforms were pregnant with enthusiastically worded self-approvals of a vaccine that has been developed in Russia and was about to be released to the public. In fact his daughter has already received the first dosage of the vaccine.
Reports indicate that initial batches of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine will roll off production lines within as soon as two weeks. The plan is to immunize doctors before going to the general public, the country’s health minister said Wednesday. Vaccine production in Russia will be domestic-oriented, geared to covering internal demands, Mikhail Murashko said at a news conference in Moscow giving additional details about the much-anticipated vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Russian Fund of Direct Investment (RDIF) is negotiating the production of the vaccine abroad. Asked about safety, Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the pioneering vaccine – said the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform dating back decades.
“The platform has been in development for 25 years for the purpose of gene therapy, but at the end of 2014 it was used to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses,” he said. Meanwhile Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.
On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Trump trumpeted hydroxychloroquine
In late March and early April, American President, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or treat COVID-19. Reports from the USA show that within days, the number of prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed even though evidence it could safely prevent or treat the disease was at the time very weak.
“A casual remark by a president who is not in any way a medical expert somehow led thousands of U.S. physicians to write prescriptions for a drug that had never before been used to treat a viral illness.” On March 21 President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine – and its biochemical cousin, chloroquine – as potential “game changers” in the battle against COVID-19. Two months later, he announced on national television that he had been taking the drug himself as a preventative treatment.
Statistics shared from America indicate that during the 10-week period between Feb. 17 and April 27 doctors wrote approximately 483,000 more prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine than in the same time period in 2019. The week after President Trump mentioned the drug during a press conference, prescriptions were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.
“The vast majority of excess prescriptions were written between March 14 and April 4, but as news spread about shortages of the drug and the lack of evidence to support its use, prescribing returned quickly to normal,” reports one of the news hubs based in the USA.
“Research now shows that this once-promising drug likel isn’t effective for preventing or treating COVID 19, but the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily took medicine that can have dangerous side effects. Additionally, many people with an actual medical need to take hydroxychloroquine – like those living with lupus and related autoimmune diseases – found themselves unable to obtain the drugs they needed.” In Botswana, thanks to the sagacious Covid-19 Task Team, Batswana stayed away from the politically charged blanket prescription.
Amid all these twists and turns, Botswana has kept it simple, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains the template. This is notwithstanding the political gymnastics playing out here at home, occasionally giving accretion to social media misinformation; and acerbity in political speeches.
Former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Member of Parliament for Gaborone North, Haskins Nkaigwa has confirmed his departure from opposition fold to re-join the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
Nkaigwa said opposition is extremely divided and the leadership not in talking terms. “They are planning evil against each other. Nothing much will be achieved,” Nkaigwa told WeekendPost.
“I believe my time in the opposition has come to an end. It’s time to be of value to rebuilding our nation and economy of the country. Remember the BDP is where I started my political journey. It is home,” he said.
“Despite all challenges currently facing the world, President Masisi will be far with his promises to Batswana. A leader always have the interest of the people at heart despite how some decisions may look to be unpopular with the people.
“I have faith and full confidence in President Dr Masisi leadership. We shall overcome as party and nation the current challenges bedevilling nations. BDP will emerge stronger. President Masisi will always have my backing.”
Nkaigwa served as opposition legislator between 2014-2019 representing Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under UDC banner. He joined BMD in 2011 at the height public servant strike whilst Gaborone City Deputy Mayor. He eventually rose to become the mayor same year, after BDP lost majority in the GCC.
Nkaigwa had been a member of Botswana National Front (BNF), having joined from Alliance for Progressives (AP) in 2019.
Botswana has received assistance worth over P100 million from Japanese government since 2019, making the latter of the largest donors to Botswana in recent years.
The assistance include relatively large-scale grant aid programmes such as the COVID-19 programme (to provide medical equipment; P34 million), the digital terrestrial television programme (to distribute receivers to the underprivileged, P17 million), the agriculture promotion programme (to provide agricultural machinery and equipment, P53million).
“As 2020 was a particularly difficult year, where COVID-19 hit Botswana’s economy and society hard, Japan felt the need to assist Botswana as our friend,” said Japan’s new Ambassador to Botswana, Hoshiyama Takashi.
“It is for this reason that grants of over P100 million were awarded to Botswana for the above mentioned projects.”
Japan is now the world’s fourth highest ranking donor country in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA).
From 1991 to 2000, Japan continued as the top donor country in the world and contributed to Asia’s miracle economic development.
From 1993 onwards, the TICAD process commenced through Japan’s initiative as stated earlier. Japan’s main contribution has been in the form of Yen Loans, which are at a concessional rate, to suit large scale infrastructure construction.
“In Botswana, only a few projects have been implemented using the Yen Loan such as the Morupule “A” Power Station Rehabilitation and Pollution Abatement in 1986, the Railway Rolling Stock Increase Project in 1987, the Trans-Kalahari Road Construction Project in 1991, the North-South Carrier Water Project in 1995 and the Kazungula Bridge Construction Project in 2012,” said Ambassador Hoshiyama.
“In terms of grant aid and technical assistance, Japan has various aid schemes including development survey and master planning, expert dispatch to recipient countries, expert training in Japan, scholarships, small scale grass-roots program, culture-related assistance, aid through international organizations and so on.”
In 1993, Japan launched Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) to promote Africa’s development, peace and security, through the strengthening of relations in multilateral cooperation and partnership.
TICAD discuss development issues across Africa and, at the same time, present “aid menus” to African countries provided by Japan and the main aid-related international organizations, United Nations (UN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
“As TICAD provides vision and guidance, it is up to each African country to take ownership and to implement her own development following TICAD polices and make use of the programmes shown in the aid menus,” Ambassordor Hoshiyama noted.
“This would include using ODA loans for quality infrastructure, suited to the country’s own nation-building needs. It is my fervent hope that Botswana will take full advantage of the TICAD process.”
Since then, seven conferences where held, the latest, TICAD 7 being in 2019 at Yokohama. TICAD 7’s agenda on African development focused on three pillars, among them the first pillar being “Accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through innovation and private sector engagement”.
“Yes, private investment is very important, while public investment through ODA (Official Development Assistance) still plays an indispensable role in development,” the Japanese Ambassador said.
“For further economic development in Africa, Japan recognizes that strengthening regional connectivity and integration through investment in quality infrastructure is key.”
Japan has emphasized the following; effective implementation of economic corridors such as the East Africa Northern Corridor, Nacala Corridor and West Africa Growth Ring; Quality infrastructure investment in line with the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment should be promoted by co-financing or cooperation through the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japan.
Japan also emphasized the establishment of mechanisms to encourage private investment and to improve the business environment.
According to the statistics issued by Japan’s Finance Ministry, Japan invested approximately 10 billion US dollars in Africa after TICAD 7 (2019) to year end 2020, but Japanese investment through third countries are not included in this figure.
“With the other points factored in, the figure isn’t established yet,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
The next conference, TICAD 8 will be held in Tunisia in 2022. This will be the second TICAD summit to be held on the African continent after TICAD 6 which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016.
According to Ambassador Hoshiyama, in preparation for TICAD 8, the TICAD ministerial meeting will be held in Tokyo this year. The agenda to be discussed during TICAD 8 has not yet been fully deliberated on amongst TICAD Co-organizers (Japan, UN, UNDP, the World Bank and AU).
“Though not officially concluded, given the world situation caused by COVID-19, I believe that TICAD 8 will highlight health and medical issues including the promotion of a Universal Health Coverage (UHC),” said Hoshiyama.
“As the African economy has seriously taken a knock by COVID-19, economic issues, including debt, could be an item for serious discussion.”
The promotion of business is expected to be one of the most important topics. Japan and its partners, together with the business sector, will work closely to help revitalize private investment in Africa.
“All in all, the follow-up of the various programs that were committed by the Co-Organizers during the Yokohama Plan of Actions 2019 will also be reviewed as an important item of the agenda,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
“I believe that this TICAD follow-up mechanism has secured transparency and accountability as well as effective implementation of agreed actions by all parties. The guiding principle of TICAD is African ownership and international partnership.”
Directorate on Intelligence Services (DIS) Director General, Brigadier Peter Magosi is said to be hell-bent and pushing President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reshuffle his cabinet as a matter of urgency since a number of his ministers are conflicted.
The request by Magosi comes at a time when time is ticking on his contract which is awaiting renewal from Masisi.
This publication learns that Magosi is unshaken by the development and continues to wield power despite uncertainty hovering around his contractual renewal.