200 views | Akanimo Sampson | July 25, 2020
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is targeting to test two million Nigerians within 90 days in a seeming frantic bid to support surveillance, confirmation and response to the surging COVID-19 in the country.
This is happening as scientists say COVID-19 makes changes that cause cells not to recognize it. With an alarm code, one can enter a building without bells going off. It turns out that the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also has the same advantage of entering cells.
It possesses the code to waltz right in.
On July 24 in Nature Communications, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reported how the virus achieves this.
The scientists resolved the structure of an enzyme called nsp16, which the virus produces and then uses to modify its messenger RNA cap, says Yogesh Gupta, Ph.D., the study lead author from the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at the university.
According to Gupta, “it’s a camouflage because of the modifications, which fool the cell, the resulting viral messenger RNA is now considered as part of the cell’s own code and not foreign.”
Deciphering the 3-D structure of nsp16 paves the way for the rational design of antiviral drugs for COVID-19 and other emerging coronavirus infections, Gupta said. The drugs, new small molecules, would inhibit nsp16 from making the modifications. The immune system will then pounce on the invading virus, recognizing it as foreign.
“Yogesh’s work discovered the 3-D structure of a key enzyme of the COVID-19 virus required for its replication and found a pocket in it that can be targeted to inhibit that enzyme. This is a fundamental advance in our understanding of the virus”, said study co-author Robert Hromas, MD, professor and dean of the Long School of Medicine.
Gupta is an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology at UT Health San Antonio and is a member of the university’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute.
In lay terms, messenger RNA can be described as a deliverer of genetic code to worksites that produce proteins.
However, the Nigeria disease control agency says the country on Friday recorded 591 fresh cases and 12 deaths of the rampaging virus. ‘’Till date, 39539 cases have been confirmed, 16559 cases have been discharged and 845 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja’’, it says.
Nigeria detected the first case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, and NCDC immediately activated a full-scale multi-sectoral emergency Operations centre to coordinate the outbreak response in collaboration with the states.
The response was based on an Incident Management System with thematic areas focusing on Surveillance and Epidemiology, Laboratory services, Point of Entry (POE), Infection Prevention and Control, Case management, Risk communication, Logistics, Coordination, Liaison and Research.
An incident action plan was developed to guide the response with an overarching goal to prevent the spread of the virus in the country.
With the death toll in the country, the agency is currently focusing on reducing the mortality associated with COVID-19 by providing cases with appropriate care, training of health workers in case management, preventing contact with elderly as much as possible.
Of the 591 new cases from 17 states of the federation, Oyo climbed to the number one slot with 191 cases on Friday, followed by Lagos, the epicentre of the virus in Nigeria with 168 cases, Abuja 61, Ondo 29, Osun 26, Ebonyi 24, Edo 23, Ogun 14, Rivers 13, Akwa Ibom 12, Kaduna 10, Katsina six, Borno four, Ekiti three, Delta three, Imo three, and Niger one.
So far, according to AFP tally at 1100 GMT on Thursday based on official sources, the pandemic has killed at least 627,307 people worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year, with more than 15.2 million people infected.
The United States has the most deaths with 143,190, followed by Brazil with 82,771, Britain with 45,501, Mexico with 41,190 and Italy with 35,082.
More than three million cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Europe, over half of them in Russia, Britain, Spain and Italy, according to an AFP tally Thursday. The continent remains the hardest hit in terms of deaths, with 206,714.
Claims for government benefits by newly unemployed American workers rose to 1.42 million last week, the Labor Department says, reversing weeks of declines as coronavirus cases surge in the world’s worst-hit country.
Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus surpasses 15,000, health authorities say, as the country struggles to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.
Belgians will be required to wear face masks in outdoor markets and busy shopping areas, as well as accessible parts of public buildings, as concerns increase over new infections and hospitalisations in recent weeks.
13,000 South African health workers infected
The coronavirus has infected some 13,000 South African health workers and killed more than 100 of them, the health ministry says. South Africa holds the highest number of infections on the continent with 408,052 recorded cases and 5,940 deaths so far.
In the mean time, the head of the Red Cross has warned in an interview that the devastating economic toll the COVID-19 crisis is taking around the world could spark huge waves of fresh migration once borders reopen.
Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Jagan Chapagain, told AFP he was deeply concerned about the secondary effects of the pandemic.
“Increasingly we are seeing in many countries the impacts on the livelihoods and the food situation,” he said in an interview at IFRC’s headquarters in Geneva late on Wednesday.
The pandemic and the lockdowns and border closures imposed to halt the spread of the virus have been destroying livelihoods around the planet and are expected to drive many millions more into poverty.
Many people are already faced with the choice of risking exposure to the novel coronavirus or going hungry, Chapagain said, warning that the desperation being generated could have far-reaching consequences.
“What we hear is that many people who are losing livelihoods, once the borders start opening, will feel compelled to move. We should not be surprised if there is a massive impact on migration in the coming months and years”, he said.
More migration forced on people by desperate circumstances, he said, will result in numerous “tragedies along the way”, including more deaths at sea, human trafficking and exploitation.
Chapagain called for urgent support to help “relieve that desperation”, stressing that in addition to a moral imperative to help people in need, there is a clear economic argument for helping avoid forced migration.
“The cost of supporting the migrants, during the transit and of course when they reach the country of destination, is much more than supporting people in their livelihoods, education, health needs in their own country,” he said.
Migrating for vaccines
Chapagain, a Nepali humanitarian who took over as IFRC Secretary-General in February, also voiced concern that perceived health inequalities in the face of the pandemic might also provoke a rise in migration.
“People could feel that there is a better chance of survival on the other side of the sea,” he said, adding that another major factor would be “the availability of vaccines”.
The World Health Organisation is spearheading a push to try to ensure that any coronavirus vaccine developed be deemed a “global public good”, to be made available in an equitable manner across the globe.
But the United States and others are racing to secure stocks of promising vaccine candidates, and many fear that wealthy nations and groups might gain access to the jabs first.
“If people see that the vaccine is say, for example, available in Europe but not in Africa, what happens? People want to go to a place where vaccines are available,” Chapagain said.
The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.
More than 20 candidate vaccines are currently being tested on humans.
But even though there is hope that one or more safe and effective vaccines could be found by the end of the year, it will take time to scale up production to make enough for everyone.
Chapagain condemned efforts in some countries to secure vaccines for their own people first.
“The virus crosses the border, so it is pretty short-sighted to think that I vaccinate my people but leave everybody else without vaccination, and we will still be safe”, he said, adding, “it simply doesn’t make sense.”