Health Highlights: May 3, 2021

Congo Ebola Outbreak Declared Over

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is over, according to the country’s health officials and the World Health Organization.

The declaration was made after 42 days with no new cases since the last survivor tested negative and was discharged from an Ebola treatment unit. The outbreak, DRC’s 12th, was first announced on February 7, 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“CDC commends the DRC Ministry of Health and partners whose work helped bring this outbreak to an end,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an agency news release.

“We are proud to have been part of the effort and remain committed to supporting the DRC’s efforts to assist outbreak survivors, prevent future outbreaks, and quickly detect and respond to any new cases of Ebola. Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones due to this deadly disease.”

U.S. Striving to Help India: White House Officials

The Biden administration says it’s doing all it can to help India cope with it’s COVID-19 crisis. The country is experiencing exploding case numbers, with more than 400,000 new cases added on Saturday alone.

In response to criticism that the United States should be taking quicker action — such as waiving patent rights on vaccines — White House officials appeared on several political shows Sunday to highlight aid the U.S. has already delivered to India, including sending the first planeloads of medical supplies and oxygen, and diverting raw materials for vaccines to India, the Washington Post reported.

“In a crisis of this speed and ferocity, we always wish we could move faster and do more. And we’re proud of what we’ve done so far,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on ABC‘s “This Week.”

President Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Monday and vowed to provide oxygen, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to the beleaguered country.

“We are continuing to work to source additional critical materials to move them as fast as we can, both directly from the United States and also galvanizing partners around the world,” Sullivan said, the Post reported.

But Modi and other world leaders have urged the United States to waive drug company patent protections on vaccines, because such a move would allow countries to speed up vaccine production.

“If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said on Twitter in March. “Solidarity is the only way out.”

The United States has said it will share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — not approved for use domestically — with other countries. But the doses are still on order, not yet produced.

“To be clear, there isn’t some huge warehouse filled with AstraZeneca vaccines that we can just release at a moment’s notice,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Biden said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “As soon as it is ready to be shared with the world, we plan to share it.”

Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the United States has an obligation to share vaccines with the rest of the world, particularly in poorer countries, more quickly.

“Not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self-interest because if this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another,” Sanders said.

“I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies, when millions of lives are at stake around the world, is, ‘Yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,’ ” Sanders said.

Strong Opposition in Japan to Olympics

The International Olympic Committee’s updated plans to hold the Summer Games in Japan haven’t quelled widespread criticism in the country about going ahead with the event.

The IOC said it has meticulous “playbooks” that promise to ensure the safety of both athletes and the Japanese public, the Washington Post reported.

The plans are based on the latest scientific expertise and considerable experience with holding global sporting events during the COVID-19 pandemic, IOC sports director Christophe Dubisaid at a news conference.

But most people in Japan don’t want the Games to proceed and don’t understand why they should be faced with risk of having more than 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of officials, coaches, media members and support staff arrive in Tokyo, the Post reported.

No overseas spectators will be allowed.

On April 23, Japan’s government declared a third COVID-19-related state of emergency for Tokyo and several other regions

Japanese nurses and doctors say their nation’s already overloaded health system can’t cope with the extra pressure the Games will bring without putting lives at risk.

“Most health workers say even thinking about the Olympics is just ridiculous,” said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious-disease expert and doctor at Kobe University Hospital, the Post reported.

“We are really fighting a life-and-death situation,” he said. “How the hell can you speak of a sports event gathering so many spectators, staff, volunteers, nurses and doctors? Who could enjoy the Games in this situation?”

Health minister Norihisa Tamura has warned Olympic organizers they would have to “secure their own” hospital beds for anyone who becomes ill at the Games because the government won’t release beds set aside for Japanese COVID-19 patients, the Post reported.

Shigeru Omi, the government’s chief medical adviser, said in Parliament that it was “now time to discuss and consider the potential strain the Olympics will have on the level of infection and Japan’s medical system.”