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The Boris Johnson wrecking ball swung into action today with him announcing an extremely poorly timed merger. In a Canary Article that spells out the implications of yet another disastrous plan for gross mismanagement they report that, “The prime minister has announced he is to scrap the Department for International Development (DfiD) in a merger with the Foreign Office. The move, which has come under fire from former international development secretaries and Opposition MPs, will see the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Boris Johnson, in a statement to MPs, said it was ‘outdated’ to keep the departments separate. He told the Commons: “We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes.” Just like our Covid death toll Johnson’s ‘world-beating’ idiocy is set to rival Donald Trump; the serious priority of removing him from office becomes a lot more urgent by the day.
Who will take charge of our Foreign Aid Budget? How much do you trust the Tory who failed to realize the strategic importance of the port of Dover to UK imports? Thats right, the newly merged Department will put Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in control of overseeing the Foreign Aid Budget and although the 0.7% of GNI spent on International Development, which was part of the last Tory Manifesto remains as is enshrined in law, but there will undoubtedly be a radical change of emphasis on how it is spent. We can certainly expect to see American style crippling conditionality that favours the dominance of major UK Corporations in future. The usual Tory elitist tax cheats will gain access to lucrative contracts as payback for support with greedy billionaires sopping up the funding that was formerly assigned to vital overseas development goals.
The Canary report that, “Labour hit out at the move, with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy labelling it a retreat. She tweeted: ‘Extraordinary that in the middle of a global crisis, the UK is retreating from the world. Aid has long been one of Britain’s strengths helping us to build strong alliances, act as a moral force and creating greater global security. Once again we are diminished in the world’.” They say that, “Work will begin immediately on the merger and the department will be formally established in early September, International development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will remain in post until the merger is complete.” At a time of unprecedented upheaval, in the midst of a Global Pandemic, with crash-out Brexit guaranteed to exacerbating the catastrophic recession due to his disastrous handling of the Covid 19 crisis, Johnson wants to increase the chaos!
Not all Tories approve of this move, but no one is able to deter Johnson’s chaotic whims right now; no doubt he is being guided by his handler Cummings, who must go. The Canary note that, “Rory Stewart, both a former international development secretary and foreign office minister, told PA news agency he would have been ‘strongly’ arguing against the shake-up if he was still in office. He added: ‘I don’t think it is the smart option. There are many other things we need to be concentrating on at the moment. It will lead to a lot of disruption, a lot of uncertainty at a time when the Foreign Office has an enormous amount to be focused on.’ Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, who served as international development secretary during the coalition government, joined in criticising the proposals, saying ‘abolishing Dfid would be a quite extraordinary mistake’. In a statement to PA, the former Cabinet minister said it would ‘destroy one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world’.”
Sadly Boris Johnson’s selfish recklessness will overshadow the tiny scrap of good news for the developing world that I wanted to share today. When Newsnight interviewed Professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London last week to update their team’s progress on developing a vaccine for Covid 19 I got the first hint that they were pursuing a completely different model both in terms of the science and the distribution. A brief “must watch” YouTube Video presentation, “Distributed production of RNA vaccines for agile response to outbreaks” was presented by Professor Shattock at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos; it explains their new model. His lucid answer to the obvious question of why this radically different business and distribution strategy wasn’t in use already was absolutely priceless. Shattock matter-of-factly states that, “it would be very disruptive to traditional business models;” which is an extremely polite way of saying that big Pharma would not be able to exploit the vaccine to make obscene profits!
What is wrong with the current system aside from Pharma’s unhealthy stranglehold on even the most impoverished people on the planet? The really slow logistics of distribution leads to a hierarchy of who will receive the vaccine first and inevitably who will gain access to the vaccine dead last; a tragic inequality that has had me seriously worried. Shattock poses the question, “Imagine you are standing in any major city in the world and there’s an outbreak of what we call Disease X, an unknown respiratory pathogen, how quickly could we respond?” He explains that, “the reality is that for most countries there’s no regional mechanism that could manufacture and distribute vaccines in a meaningful timeframe.” The Professor then cites the Ebola outbreak as an example bemoaning, “the time it took to get a traditional manufactured vaccine into play” and showing a slide of the data he said that, “the required response was a matter of weeks.” He said that according to the modelling for Disease X, “for every month’s delay there would be up to 5 million deaths… equivalent to taking out a city the size of Rome or Singapore every month!”
In his presentation Professor Shattock ominously warns that, “…Importantly it’s developng countries that would bear the biggest burden, accounting for up to 80% of deaths.” Imperial’s 7th June News Brief seriously grabbed my attention as it is refreshingly positive in offering hope to those least able to afford a costly vaccine: “Vaccine Equity through Social Enterprise could provide a new model for access? Imperial College London has formed a new social enterprise VacEquity Global Health (VGH) to bring its COVID-19 vaccine to the world. For the UK and low-income countries abroad, Imperial and VGH will waive royalties and charge only modest cost-plus prices to sustain the enterprise’s work, accelerate global distribution and support new research. It is supported by Imperial College London and Morningside Ventures.”
The News Brief states that, “The Imperial vaccine technology is a ground-breaking innovation that is readily scalable. The social enterprise’s mission is to rapidly develop vaccines to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and overseas, including to low- and middle-income countries. Morningside and Imperial are also launching a separate startup company VaXEquity (VXT), to develop the underlying self-amplifying RNA technology to treat other health conditions beyond the current pandemic.” If this project is successful it marks the dawn of a new era in vaccine technology that would not selectively exclude the desperately poor communities who so often live in the overcrowded conditions most conducive to the spread of infectious disease.
Shattock’s brief presentation elaborates on what makes this a ground-breaking innovation in vaccine technology, saying, “The two new ventures are built upon years of research of Professor Robin Shattock who pioneered the technology of self-amplifying RNA. For COVID-19, the technology is used to deliver genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the ‘spike’ protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. This evokes an immune response in the host to produce immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” They report that, “The COVID-19 vaccine will enter phase one/two human trials on the week of 15 June with 300 people. A further efficacy trial involving 6,000 people is planned for October. If these human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year.”
I worry about the selfish mindset epitomized by Trump’s attempt to gain exclusive access to the first vaccine that proves effective in trials. Just like the disastrous private Healthcare system in the US that excludes the most needy, but lets the entire country down in an epidemic. Beware of those you do not treat, in America those who cannot afford Healthcare provide a fertile breeding ground for contagious diseases capable of wiping out millions. They should have learned that lesson from the resurgence of TB where, after almost eradicating the disease, their neglect and abandonment of the homeless population spawned a highly drug resistant strain that we were deathly afraid of contracting ourselves when I worked in the ER at Jackson Memorial. I always wanted to work in what I referred to as overwhelmed public Hospitals; Johns Hopkins is a prestigious private Hospital with founding commitment to treating the uninsured.
For the exact same reason we cannot afford to ignore the plight of poor people in the developing world in our efforts to eradicate Covid 19. If this global priority is neglected there will be a greater opportunity for mutation, which could potentially produce an even more contagious and virulent strain just as Spanish Flue did in a deadly second wave. To take maximum advantage of this new technology, what Imperial are proposing is a type of franchise model to would create localized production; a strategy that might prevent poorer countries in the developing world being automatically relegated to the end of the line. In his YouTube presentation Professor Shattock says that to avoid this, “you need a distributive solution. Even if we solve the manufacturing and approval timeline, a single manufacturing site is unlikely to make that just-in–time commitment to make a vaccine globally available.”
Citing an example of a familiar franchise Shattock says it is “…made locally to defined specifications. So can vaccine work in that way? One part of the solution is RNA vaccines because they can be made by a fully synthetic process, without requiring culture of cells or infectious material. Most importantly they can be made in a matter of weeks, a concept we are exploring with CEPI this partnership for preventing outbreaks.” He goes on to explain how, “RNA vaccines work by identifying the coat surface of a pathogen, encoding it in synthesized RNA and then that is injected into your muscle and the muscle makes the vaccine. So imagine your muscle becomes the factory, that makes the vaccine, that triggers your immune system to make protective white cells and antibodies.”
For more info on CEPI the Wellcome website states that: “CEPI can develop new vaccines to fight epidemics – but it needs global funding. Vaccines are a vital part of fighting epidemics, but developing new ones is challenging, costly and complex. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) is a new model for funding vaccine development which could drastically change the way we tackle epidemics. A collaboration between government, industry, philanthropy and civil society, CEPI launched in January 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Its aim is to finance and coordinate development of vaccines against known and unknown infectious diseases so they can be used to contain outbreaks before they become emergencies.”
In his Davos presentation Professor Shattoch reports that, “This technology offers four important advantages: first, rapid response, then you can include multiple vaccines in the same technology even within the same shot, it has low infrastructure cost and low manufacturing footprint.” Imperial College London have already proven their credentials with regard to providing vital humanitarian Healthcare solutions at genuinely low cost with their program SCI Foundation, formerly the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, which targets the eradication of parasitic diseases in Africa. Recommended as a top charity for International Development by GiveWell, managing to devote the maximum of donated funds to practical work on the ground, they get a lot accomplished on a modest budget. When I first donated just 50p could treat two people once a year for seven neglected tropical diseases; I’ve socking away 50p coins for them ever since.
Also out of Imperial College, Professor Alan Fenwick runs a special five day Global Health course once a year that is incredibly worthwhile for anyone who shares my passion for the developing world. On their Imperial webpage it says, “We provide a brief introduction to each of the major challenges in global health and debate how to address them. The various expert lecturers each discuss the role of different governmental, academic and NGO players in their chosen field, and consider how health problems in developing countries contribute to global health which affects us all. The five day course consists of lectures, debates, discussions and small group work. No prior global health knowledge is required to attend this course and lectures are delivered in a way that is accessible to anyone with a general interest in global health. Places are allocated on a first-come first-served basis.” The course is open to non-medics and for £300, or less than half that for students, it is very affordable.
I am reminded of the haunting lyrics of a folk song Joan Baez used to sing, “If living were a thing that money could buy, you know the rich would live and the poor would die.” “All my Trials,” was popularized during the social protest movements of the late 1950s and 1960s, but the poignant message is just as real today; the only questionable word being “if.” Boris Johnson believes that living is a thing that his money can buy so the poor, elderly and disabled are destined to die in his genocidal “Slaughter of the Sheeple” He is being called out by a popular football star and popular Tory Ruth Davidson who both criticized him for refusing school meals for kids during the summer holiday. Waging yet another dishonourable battle is making him tank in the polls at a point where the public are still angry over his refusal to fire Dominic Cummings. I am convinced that Cummings knows enough about the Covert 2019 Rigged Election to pose a serious threat; if he is ousted he might turn Whistleblower: with a police investigation, both of these dangerous and destructive men would be removed from power. DO NOT MOVE ON!