The US invests $5 billion in new coronavirus vaccines, plus the other health stories you need to know about

Top health news: US invests $5 billion in new coronavirus vaccines; China records world's first human death from bird flu; and more.
Top health news: US invests $5 billion in new coronavirus vaccines; China records world's first human death from bird flu; and more.
Image: REUTERS/Thomas Peter
  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: US invests $5 billion in new coronavirus vaccines; China records world's first human death from bird flu; WHO says one in six people globally is affected by infertility.

1. The US invests $5 billion to develop new coronavirus vaccines

The US government is spending over $5 billion to speed up the development of new COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 'Project NextGen' aims to provide better protection from coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, that might become future threats.

"While our vaccines are still very effective at preventing serious illness and death, they are less capable of reducing infections and transmission over time," a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson said. "New variants and loss of immunity over time could continue to challenge our healthcare systems in the coming years."

President Joe Biden's administration will spend a minimum of $5 billion in collaboration with the private sector.

The project will focus on creating long-lasting monoclonal antibodies resistant to new COVID-19 variants as well as broader vaccines that can protect against several different coronaviruses. It also seeks to speed up the development of vaccines that produce mucosal immunity and can be administered through the nose, in the hope they can dramatically reduce infection and transmission rates.

2. The WHO considers adding obesity drugs to 'essential' medicines list

Over 650 million adults worldwide are obese, more than triple the rate in 1975, and roughly another 1.3 billion are overweight, according to the WHO. The majority of obese and overweight people – 70% - live in low- and middle-income countries.

Graphic showing that 1 in 8 adults worldwide is obese
More than 650 million adults worldwide are obese.
Image: WHO

A decision by the WHO to include obesity drugs on the list for adults would mark a new approach to global obesity by the health agency.

"We believe it is a work in progress," said Francesco Branca, WHO director of nutrition, referring to the use of drugs as obesity treatments. He said there were still issues around the cost of the drugs, as well as the fact that they had not been in use long enough, which may make inclusion on the list unlikely. He said ultimately it will be up to the organization's expert committee to review the evidence and decide.

Health and Healthcare

How is the World Economic Forum improving the state of healthcare?

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Health and Healthcare works with governments and businesses to identify and amplify solutions for building resilient, efficient, and equitable healthcare systems. Here are some examples of the impact delivered by the centre:

Global vaccine delivery: The Forum actively supports global vaccine delivery efforts, and its contributions to COVAX have resulted in the delivery of over 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines. The Forum also played a pivotal role in launching Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has helped save more than 13 million lives over the past 20 years.

Davos Alzheimer's Collaborative: Through this collaborative initiative, the Forum is actively working to accelerate progress in the discovery, testing, and delivery of interventions for Alzheimer's disease.

Mental health policy toolkit: In collaboration with Deloitte, the Forum has developed a comprehensive toolkit to assist lawmakers in crafting effective policies related to technology for mental health.

COVID Action Platform: In the midst of the pandemic, the Forum, in partnership with various organizations, launched more than 40 initiatives worldwide to navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Global Coalition for Value in Healthcare: The Forum's coalition is fostering a sustainable and equitable healthcare industry. It has launched innovative value-based healthcare hubs to address ineffective spending on global health.

UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency: Hosted by the Forum, the constituency plays a crucial role in advocating for universal health coverage and emphasizing the private sector's potential to contribute to achieving this ambitious goal.

To get involved or to learn about other initiatives undertaken by the World Economic Forum, please contact us.

3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world

A Chinese woman has become the first person to die from a type of bird flu that is rare in humans, the World Health Organisation has confirmed. She was one of three people known to have been infected with the H3N8 subtype of avian influenza in Guangdong province, which is not believed to spread between people.

The US National Institute on Aging is funding a six-year, up to $300 million project to build a massive Alzheimer's research database. It will be able to track the health of Americans for decades and enable researchers to gain new insights into the brain-wasting disease.

Dengue fever has spread into Sudan's capital for the first time on record, as the country tackles its widest ever outbreak of the disease. Although dengue fever is endemic in Sudan, outbreaks were previously concentrated in peripheral provinces, and had not spread through the country.

Researchers in the US have reported what they believe are the first two confirmed cases in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus crossed a mother's placenta and caused brain damage in the infants they were carrying. The babies were born to young mothers who tested positive for the virus during their second trimester before vaccines were widely available, the scientists at the University of Miami said.

An increased risk of dementia has been linked to exposure to air pollution, even at levels below air quality standards, reports The Guardian. Experts say the findings prove more needs to be done to tackle poor air quality globally.

One in six people globally is affected by infertility, according to a new report by the WHO. It says millions of people face "catastrophic" healthcare costs as affordable treatment is often unavailable.

Scientists in the UK are studying whether honey could help in the search for alternatives to antimicrobial drugs, reports BBC News. Growing levels of antibiotic resistance is seen as a major threat to human health worldwide.

New research has found that poor-quality sleep increases the risk of suffering a stroke, reports CNN. Data from more than 4,500 stroke patients showed that people who slept fewer than five hours a night on average were three times more likely to suffer a stroke.

Up to a million smokers in the UK will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vaping kits and will be given other means of support to help quit smoking. Pregnant women will also be offered financial incentives to make the change, in what the British government says will be a world first.

4. More on health from Agenda

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading the charge to improve African health outcomes through its vision of a New Public Health Order for the continent. Its director ad interim, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, says the organization will be championing initiatives and investments across critical areas of health policy and practice.

AI automation and augmentation and a range of other smart technologies are revolutionizing the provision of health and healthcare. But more than a third of the global population lives without internet access, which remains a challenge for smart healthcare solutions.

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