Jan 26, 2021

GHN News

A man wearing a face mask holds a portrait outside the Biandanshan cemetery in Wuhan. March 31, 2020. 
Image: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty

WHO’s in Charge?

After multiple delays and a 14-day quarantine, WHO investigators charged with uncovering the pandemic’s origins are finally set to begin work in China this week.
Families of Chinese COVID-19 victims want their story heard. They’re demanding accountability from a government they say downplayed the virus, dismissed families’ lawsuits, and disabled their chat groups before the WHO team arrived in Wuhan, AP reports.
And in recorded WHO meetings, officials privately lamented China’s lack of transparency even as it publicly praised Beijing’s leadership.
This disconnect has been fundamental to lingering questions about the agency's handling of the pandemic—and calls to reform WHO more generally.
With no enforcement power, there’s little WHO can do to force China’s hand.
And that’s true of all member states. When WHO rang its loudest global alarm bell in January by declaring a public health emergency of international concern, countries mostly ignored it, Nature’s Amy Maxmen reports. Reports from the WHO and an independent panel look into why.  
“The real question is, what would it take for people to do something when a declaration happens?” says Joanne Liu, a member of the independent panel.
That question is front and center at the WHO's executive board meeting, which closes out today.

'Everything broke': global health leaders on what went wrong in the pandemic. – NPR

Covid-19: Five days that shaped the outbreak – BBC

WHO in Wuhan is probing Covid's origins as politics hangs over mission – NBC News

Global Health Voices


The Latest

Global Numbers
  • 99,802,069 cases
  • 2,142,650 deaths
  • 55,165,102 recovered
Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Key Developments

Cumulative cigarette exposure was linked to a higher risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death, according to a new study that found heavy smokers were 2.25X more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and 1.89X times more likely to die after diagnosis, than never-smokers. JAMA
Unrest continued across the Netherlands in what police are calling the “worst rioting in 40 years,” as protesters against COVID-19 curfews clashed with police and threw fireworks. Deutsche Welle

The WHO has issued new clinical advice for treating COVID-19, including guidance for patients with persistent symptoms, recommendations on using low-dose anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots, and at-home use of pulse oximetry. Reuters
Retracted COVID papers at the center of research scandals continue to be cited: The 2 papers, in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, appear in more than half of the 200 most recent academic articles published in 2020. Science Thanks for the tip, Cecilia Meisner!


MSF: Only 2 percent of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine supply is going to COVAX Facility – MSF

When will kids be able to get the Covid-19 vaccines? – Vox

The Pandemic Is Finally Softening. Will That Last? – The Atlantic
As Virus Grows Stealthier, Vaccine Makers Reconsider Battle Plans – The New York Times
Undercounting of Covid-19 deaths is greatest in pro-Trump areas, analysis shows – STAT 

Dr. Fauci: Double-masking makes ‘common sense’ and is likely more effective – CNBC

MDH lab testing confirms nation’s first known COVID-19 case associated with Brazil P.1 variant – Minnesota Department of Health

Poverty, precarious work, and the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons from Bolivia – The Lancet Global Health
UN experts tell Sri Lanka to end anti-Islam forced cremation – Daily Sabah 

Neuroinvasion and Encephalitis Following Intranasal Inoculation of SARS-CoV-2 in K18-hACE2 Mice – Viruses  

Post-COVID lungs worse than the worst smokers' lungs, surgeon says – KTXS (ABC)

WHO officials: Olympic athletes should not receive COVID-19 vaccines before world's most vulnerable populations – USA Today

Gorilla treated with antibodies recovering from Covid, says US zoo – France24

COVID-19 Isn't Political; Its Response Shouldn't Be Politicized

A poster in Hanoi, Vietnam reminds people to take protective measures against COVID-19, April 1, 2020 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Image: Linh Pham/Getty
A year after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Wuhan, China, the few countries that have managed to contain the disease share few, if any, political similarities—from authoritarianism in China, to single-party socialism in Vietnam, to representative democracy in New Zealand.

The Common Thread: public unity and a depoliticized response, write physicians Dominique Vervoort, from Belgium, and Hloni Bookholane, from South Africa.

Some Western European democracies fared worse. Belgium’s hard lockdowns lost the public’s trust, and Sweden’s laissez-faire policies fell short of much hoped-for herd immunity. 

And in the Americas, the pandemic became bitterly politicized. In the US and Brazil, “The pandemic was an inconvenience to the political and personal agendas of these presidential pariahs,” Vervoort and Bookholane say. 

The Outcome: disturbingly high COVID per-capita death tolls.

As COVID-Zero, an ambitious goal to limit new infections, gains global momentum, adequate pandemic responses require depoliticization of public health measures, they write. 

That means that leaders and advisory committees need to put aside their political agendas, while citizens “should consider this an ultimate test of humanity and kindred spirit—no less so than during times of conflict, warfare, or natural disasters.”

Dominique Vervoort and Hloni Bookholane for Global Health NOW

The Pandemic Imperils Family Planning Progress

60 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries gained access to modern family planning methods in the FP2020 partnership’s 8-year run—but the pandemic imperils that progress, The Guardian reports.

320 million women and girls now use modern contraception in 69 focus countries, reveals the FP2020’s final progress report, published today.
  • Modern contraceptive users doubled in 13 countries—including Burkina Faso, Chad, DRC, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, since the effort launched in 2012—and grew 66% across Africa.

  • More than 121 million unintended pregnancies, 21 million unsafe abortions, and 125,000 maternal deaths were prevented in 2020 alone.

However, the pandemic has “unleashed a host of corollary effects: a global increase in gender-based violence and child marriage, a global drop in women’s workforce participation and girls’ school enrollment, and a global economic recession,” threatening family planning efforts for years.

Still, the number of women seeking modern contraceptives continues to climb—by ~15 million per year in the focus countries. Reaching them will drive the new partnership, which updates its name today: FP2030.

Hookworm in Alabama

There is precious little research about hookworm in the US these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not circulating.
Researchers who study the parasites—known to thrive with moist climates and poor sanitation—chiefly focus on Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
But in 2017, a fresh spate of research found that more than a third of the people in 1 Alabama county were infected with hookworm.
The solution is clear: adequate sanitation. 

Another challenge: The US go-to treatment can cost $500 a pill compared to pennies per patient in Argentina where hookworm is endemic.
NPR Goats and Soda

Global Health Voices


Next Gen Virus Hunters

The pandemic has made public education much harder, but some teachers are seizing the opportunity to inspire the next generation of virus hunters.
Working in the field is a welcome relief from Zoom classrooms. 

Bonus: It can foster a passion for epidemiology and virology.
In New York, the Virus Hunter program has sent teens to parks to collect goose droppings in the search for flu viruses that may jump from fowl to humans.
An outbreak simulation program in Sarasota, Florida, prompted a budding 8th grade epidemiologist to say: “The coronavirus is a wake-up call. We have to be ready for this kind of stuff.”
The New York Times

The Other Side to the Story

Thank you for regularly putting out what has become my favorite newsletter. However, in the latest newsletter, I noticed an unbalanced representation of a public health situation. 

You highlighted the high vaccine coverage in Israel [GHN’s Real-World Vaccine Performance Reviews summary, Jan. 25, 2021]. With up to 20% of its total population already vaccinated, this is indeed a success for Israel. 

But it is also a terrible example of health inequity. While millions of Israeli citizens have already been vaccinated, not one Palestinian living under Israeli occupation has. Even Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank are vaccinated while their neighbors are not—because of their ethnicity. 

The term “Vaccine Apartheid” is now circulating in the media in reference to the unequal access between poor and rich countries to the COVID-19 vaccine. But in Israel’s situation, this apartheid is happening within territories that it controls. Indeed, it’s a teachable example of how injustice drives public health problems.—Maha Aon, MHS '02, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Daily Diversion


Quick Hits

Air pollution linked to higher risk of irreversible sight loss – The Guardian
Global Health Security Act reintroduced to House to address U.S. global health needs – Homeland Preparedness News

CDC: One in five people in U.S. has a sexually transmitted infection – UPI
Stanford doctor and author fights medical misinformation in time of COVID-19 – Monterey Herald

What ‘Livability’ Looks Like for Black Women – Bloomberg CityLab Thanks for the tip, Holden Warren!

Are We Screening Too Much for Skin Cancer? It’s Complicated. – Undark
Issue No. 1750

Global Health NOW is an initiative of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Views and opinions expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect those of the Bloomberg School. Contributors include Brian W. Simpson, MPH, Dayna Kerecman Myers, Annalies Winny, Melissa Hartman, and Jackie Powder. Write us:, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GHN_News.

Please send the Global Health NOW free sign-up link to friends and colleagues:

Want to change how you receive these emails? You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.