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— A majority of World Health Organization member countries are likely to send a political signal to Russia today that war is not acceptable.
—Markets need to be proactively and collaboratively shaped to prioritize human and planetary health, says new WHO report.
— MEPs join forces to form an action group on the medical use of psychedelics.
Welcome to Wednesday’s Morning Health Care! Trying to eat less meat? Take a leaf out of this plant’s book. A rare species of vine found in West Africa is a part-time carnivore. Scientists have discovered it produces sticky nodules on its leaves to trap bugs —but only when nutrients in the soil are lacking.
DRIVING THE DAY
POLITICAL MOVE AT WHA: The Europe-backed resolution at the ongoing World Health Assembly (WHA) condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine and its devastating effect on health care is expected to be voted on today. While it won’t result in many concrete repercussions, it’s yet another political signal to Russia that its war is not accepted by many World Health Organization (WHO) members. Countries will also vote on Russia and Syria’s counter proposal, which Ukraine on Tuesday described as “a desperate attempt to put the aggressor on par with a victim and avoid responsibility for the attacks on the health system of Ukraine.”
‘War comes at a cost for the aggressor’: Calling on countries to vote down Russia’s resolution, Ukraine said this would “send a clear signal that provoking a health emergency of outstanding proportions and destruction of medical structures on a massive scale is not tolerated by this assembly and comes with a cost for the aggressor state.”
The cost of the war on health: The effect of the war on Ukraine’s health system has been devastating. Ukraine outlined the toll: Over 1,256 health facilities damaged, 177 reduced to rubble; about 237 health workers and patients dead and injured; and 21 percent of all ambulances damaged or destroyed.
New treaty text: Much of the discussion at the WHA on Tuesday was around health preparedness and the ongoing negotiations on both the pandemic treaty and the amendments to the International Health Regulations. There is now a new draft text, put together by the body coordinating the treaty negotiations. Morning Health has the full story (and the text) for you here. But the short version is that while the text is greatly streamlined, it still contains very disparate options for countries to negotiate — whether a middle ground can be found is an open question.
Today’s diary: It’s midweek at the WHA but there’s no sign of things slowing down. This morning, the Pandemic Action Network (PAN) and Spark Street Advisors are hosting a discussion on securing political leadership at the high-level meeting on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and pharma lobby IFPMA is hosting an event on strengthening clinical trials.
At lunchtime, the official WHO event will focus on the role of the health community in climate action, while Doctors Without Borders hosts a session on lessons learned from Ebola therapeutics R&D and access constraints.
In the evening, Sweden and the EU are hosting an event on renewed partnerships for Global Health, and Roche and Foreign Policy will be looking at diagnostics. There are also multiple other options, such as France, Unitaid and PATH’s event on medical oxygen, and a session hosted by DNDi, the Medicines Patent Pool and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation on medicines for kids. See everything on the side event agenda here.
ALSO AT WHA
ECONOMICS OF HEALTH FOR ALL: Also launched on the sidelines of the WHA on Tuesday evening, the final report from the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All, which WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus established in November 2020 in response to the pandemic. “In our final report, we call for new economic policy that is not about market fixing but about proactively and collaboratively shaping markets that prioritize human and planetary health,” said chair Mariana Mazzucato, of University College London.
New approach: The report focuses on valuing and measuring what matters through new economic metrics; how to finance health for all as a long-term investment, not a short-term cost; how to advance health innovation for the common good; and how to strengthen dynamic public sector capacity to achieve health for all. Find it here.
**A message from PPTA: Growth in EU plasma donations over the past 20 years, has been mainly due to the private sector, which contributes 46% of Europe‘s source plasma. This contribution comes from just four EU Member States (Austria, Czechia, Germany, Hungary), where the private and public sectors both operate.**
PSYCHEDELIC MEPs: You know something's important when an MEP action group is formed. And today sees the launch of such a group on the medical use of psychedelics. It comes as clinical trial data begins to amass on the potential benefits of some psychedelic compounds in treating certain mental health disorders. Co-chair of the group MEP Sara Cerdas said they will be “steering the institutional discussions on the therapeutic application of psychedelics."
Coinciding with the launch, the Psychedelics Access and Research European Alliance (PAREA) and Psychedelics Europe are co-hosting a closed-door lunch event in parliament today. For those invited, it’s a chance to ask questions of David Nutt, of psychedelics research fame and PAREA chair, Geert Dom, president of the European Psychiatric Association, Florence Butlen-Ducuing, of the European Medicines Agency, and Ian Roullier, a clinical trial participant and co-founder of PsyPAN.
RAP ON KNUCKLES OVER ALCOHOL (NON)STRATEGY: The U.K. government is not taking alcohol harm seriously enough, with deaths rising 89 percent over the last two decades and sharply since the start of the pandemic, according to a U.K. Public Accounts Committee report published today.
Overdoing it: About 10 million people in the U.K. drink more than recommended: Some 1.7 million people at levels that put them at a higher risk of harm, including 600,000 who are dependent. Alcohol is linked to over 100 illnesses, costing the NHS and society at least £25 billion a year, although figures are outdated. And yet, despite evidence showing every £1 spent on treatment immediately delivers £3 of benefit and significantly more in the longer term, there has been no alcohol-focused strategy since 2012 and the latest plans for one were abandoned in 2020.
“Today’s report lays bare the lack of political will to address alcohol harm,” said Dan Carden MP, who led this inquiry. “The government’s record on alcohol harm is one of policies scrapped and promises broken.” The committee recommends measures including work to better understand the costs of alcohol harm and barriers to accessing treatment.
It's a far cry from Ireland’s approach: The neighboring country introduced a new law this week to add labels to alcoholic drinks warning of risks of cancer. But, already, an alliance of EU countries is planning to oppose Ireland’s position. Italy, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Portugal are all on board with an unofficial policy document requesting that the Commission start a dialogue with the Irish government, reported Euractiv.
Friends in high places: Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had the ear of WHO chief Tedros at WHA on Tuesday, where he discussed his country’s world-leading position on alcohol labeling, saying he was “eager to share our experience with other countries.” He also met with WHO Europe boss Hans Kluge.
DARK SIDE OF VAPES: For countries looking for public health measures to cut smoking rates, this story from the BBC on highly toxic vapes found in a school will bring chills. An investigation found that, in just one school, vaping products in use by children contained high levels of metals, including more than twice the daily safe amount of lead, and nine times the safe amount of nickel. High levels of lead exposure in children can affect their neurological development.
Most of the products were illegal, raising questions on the validity of the U.K.’s vaping regulatory system, run by the medicines regulator MHRA. "None of these should be on the market — they break all the rules on permitted levels of metal,” said lab co-founder David Lawson. The MHRA said it will investigate.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND VACCINE MISINFORMATION: Artificial intelligence has made its way into health care. And while it can be transformational when used appropriately and carefully, it also carries important risks for vaccine misinformation, warns Moderna’s chief medical officer, Paul Burton. “With the rapidly burgeoning advent of artificial intelligence … the ability for misinformation and disinformation to flourish on the internet is going to only get bigger,” he told Morning Health.
Rolling up the (regulatory) sleeves: Social media is a “double-edged sword,” Burton said, noting that while many people want to get quality, dependable information, a lot of misinformation and disinformation comes through it. “The European Union could actually regulate that and have some guidance in place around what constitutes disinformation and how to counter it when it comes out,” he said.
One of the key pandemic lessons on vaccine hesitancy? “I think we learned that … the primary source of information needs to be governments and health authorities,” Burton said.
VAX RATES DECLINE: A British junior health minister sought to allay fears on Monday that vaccination rates, especially among young children, have fallen in recent years, notably during and since the pandemic. Giving evidence to the parliamentary health committee, Maria Caulfield MP said that across all vaccination programs Britain still has “one of the most extensive immunization programs in the world and our vaccine confidence and uptake rates are amongst the highest globally.”
We’re on it: While she acknowledged some “challenges,” Caulfield said that “we're pretty well placed to deal with many of those.” That includes having good live data to observe where there are dips in coverage; improving access in schools, care homes and pharmacies; and putting in intervention programs in communities where uptake is low.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Out of our minds: opium’s part in imperial history, a long read from The Guardian.
Sought out by science, and then forgotten, The New York Times investigates Colombia’sHuntington’s disease families.
EMA publishes 10-point guidance to address drug shortages, from RAPS.
**A message from PPTA: Medicines made from human plasma are essential for some 300,000 patients across the EU who rely on these therapies every day to treat a variety of rare, chronic, and life-threatening conditions. Without these treatments, many patients would have a substantially diminished quality of life, and some may not survive. In many cases, plasma-derived medicinal products are the only treatment option for these rare diseases. New indications, improved diagnostic techniques, greater access to treatment in other regions of the world, and increased use in cancer treatment-induced secondary immunodeficiency, continue to contribute to the growing clinical need for PDMPs. With Europe’s current reliance on the U.S. for almost 40% of the plasma it requires for the manufacture of PDMPs to treat its citizens, it is vital that the new SoHO Regulation is fit for purpose to help increase much-needed plasma donation in Europe.**