UN security council warns weeks away from global food crisis

Rev 6:6 NAS “And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Zelenskyy’s global food crisis prediction may be 10 weeks away, UN official says: ‘Seismic’
  • “Russia has blocked almost all ports and all, so to speak, maritime opportunities to export food – our grain, barley, sunflower and more. A lot of things,” Zelenskyy said Saturday. “There will be a crisis in the world. The second crisis after the energy one, which was provoked by Russia.”
  • “Now it will create a food crisis if we do not unblock the routes for Ukraine, do not help the countries of Africa, Europe, Asia, which need these food products,”
  • The world has only 10 weeks’ worth of wheat left to deal with the crisis, according to Sara Menker, CEO of Gro Intelligence.
  • “This is seismic,” Menker said during a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council. “Even if the war were to end tomorrow, our food security problem isn’t going away anytime soon without concerted action.”

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Poland’s push-back policy leaves migrants facing an uncertain future as winter looms

By Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel

Near SIEMIANOWKA, Poland (Reuters) – Somali migrant Abdi Fitah’s bid to cross into Poland from Belarus ended with him barefoot and freezing after he lost his shoes in a river and wandered for days in the woods along the border.

The 23-year-old is one of thousands of people, including children, from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan who have tried to enter Poland from Belarus in recent weeks, with charities saying they face harrowing conditions on the border.

Jakub Sieczko, a medical doctor and coordinator of the Medycy na Granicy (Medics on the Border) aid group, said he feared there would be more deaths as temperatures drop.

“There are more and more people who are hungry and dehydrated…The conditions are getting worse,” Sieczko told Reuters, adding that many migrants are from warm countries and unprepared for the cold.

Ibrahim, who said he left Somalia 15 days ago, thought he was having a heart attack while walking through the woods with a group of fellow migrants, before receiving medical help for hypothermia at the border.

“The conditions are very cold, (we’re) not wearing shoes,” he said, explaining how he lost his shoes in the river. “The leg is a big problem. I’m not wearing (enough) clothes…(or) shoes.”

He crossed the border with six other Somalis. Three of them ended up in an ambulance due to their health problems, which included a sprained ankle and symptoms of hypothermia.

Four were driven off in a border guard truck. It’s unclear if they went to a detention center or were pushed back to the border.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said Poland is in breach of international law in its efforts to force migrants back into Belarus instead of offering them asylum.

Poland says it is respecting its international obligations while trying to stem the flow of migrants who, it says, often do not want asylum in Poland but rather in western Europe.

The European Union accuses Belarus of orchestrating the flow to put pressure on the bloc in retaliation for sanctions slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.

MORE AND MORE MIGRANTS

Polish authorities say more than 15,000 attempts to cross the border have been made since early August, mostly by Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian nationals. The attempts have become more frequent and now exceed 500 a day.

Under EU rules, migrants should in principle apply for asylum in the first country they enter, but the bloc is planning reforms to ensure asylum obligations are more evenly spread.

Franek Sterczewski, a Polish parliamentary deputy with leading opposition group Civic Coalition, said more migrants were being turned back by border guards into the woods.

“(The Somali migrants) were sent back to the border seven times,” he said. “They’ve been wandering the forest for weeks, the temperature at night is around zero degrees, it’s raining and it’s very cold. Pushing them back will put their health and life at risk.”

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel; Writing by Michael Kahn; Editing by Mike Harrison)

Moderna aims to deliver 1 billion more vaccine doses to low-income countries in 2022

(Reuters) -Moderna Inc said on Friday it aims to deliver one billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to low-income countries in 2022, in addition to the doses it has already committed to the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX.

These vaccines will be part of the 2-3 billion doses the company had forecast to produce next year.

“To date, more than 250 million people have been vaccinated globally with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. However, we recognize that access to vaccines continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world,” Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel said in a letter posted on the company’s website.

Moderna on Thursday announced plans to invest up to $500 million to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year, including its COVID-19 shot.

The company had committed in May to supply up to 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the COVAX facility from the fourth quarter of 2021 through 2022.

“We are committed to doubling our manufacturing and expanding supply even further until our vaccine is no longer needed in low-income countries,” Bancel said.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Vinay Dwivedi)

WHO backs rollout of malaria vaccine for African children

By Maggie Fick and Aaron Ross

NAIROBI (Reuters) -The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday the only approved vaccine against malaria should be widely given to African children, potentially marking a major advance against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually.

The WHO recommendation is for RTS,S – or Mosquirix – a vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.

Since 2019, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in a large-scale pilot program coordinated by the WHO. The majority of those whom the disease kills are aged under five.

That program followed a decade of clinical trials in seven African countries.

“This is a vaccine developed in Africa by African scientists and we’re very proud,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added, referring to anti-malaria measures like bed nets and spraying.

Malaria is far more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. It killed 386,000 Africans in 2019, according to a WHO estimate, compared with 212,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the past 18 months.

The WHO says 94% of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people. The preventable disease is caused by parasites transmitted to people by the bites of infected mosquitoes; symptoms include fever, vomiting and fatigue.

The vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing severe cases of malaria in children is only around 30%, but it is the only approved vaccine. The European Union’s drugs regulator approved it in 2015, saying its benefits outweighed the risks.

“This is how we fight malaria, layering imperfect tools on top of each other,” said Ashley Birkett, who leads global malaria vaccine work at Path, a non-profit global health organization that has funded the development of the vaccine with GSK and the three-country pilot.

Another vaccine against malaria, developed by scientists at Britain’s University of Oxford and called R21/Matrix-M, showed up to 77% efficacy in a year-long study involving 450 children in Burkina Faso, researchers said in April, but it is still in the trial stages.

GSK also welcomed the WHO recommendation.

“This long-awaited landmark decision can reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled,” Thomas Breuer, Chief Global Health Officer, said in a statement.

GSK shares held steady in New York following the announcement, which came after the close of trading in its London-listed shares.

FUNDING CHALLENGE

The recommendation was jointly announced in Geneva by the WHO’s top advisory bodies for malaria and immunization, the Malaria Policy Advisory Group and the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization.

Experts said the challenge now would be mobilizing financing for production and distribution of the vaccine to some of the world’s poorest countries.

GSK has to date committed to produce 15 million doses of Mosquirix annually, in addition to the 10 million doses donated to the WHO pilot programs, up to 2028 at a cost of production plus no more than 5% margin.

A global market study led by the WHO this year projected demand for a malaria vaccine would be 50 to 110 million doses per year by 2030 if it is deployed in areas with moderate to high transmission of the disease.

The GAVI vaccine alliance, a global public-private partnership, will consider in December whether and how to finance the vaccination program.

“As we’ve seen from the COVID vaccine, where there is political will, there is funding available to ensure that vaccines are scaled to the level they are needed,” said Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.

A source familiar with planning for the vaccine’s development said the price per dose was not yet set, but would be confirmed after GAVI’s funding decision and once there is a clear sense of demand for the vaccine.

The WHO’s decision had personal meaning for Dr. Rose Jalong’o, a vaccinology specialist at the Kenyan health ministry.

“I suffered from malaria as a child and during my internship, and during my clinical years I attended to children in hospital because of severe malaria who needed blood transfusion and unfortunately some of them died.”

“It’s a disease I have grown up with and, seeing all this in my lifetime, it’s an exciting time.”

(Reporting by Maggie Fick in Nairobi and Aaron Ross in Dakar; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Mark Potter and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Biden revives Trump’s Africa business initiative; focus on energy, health

By Doyinsola Oladipo and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure on the continent.

U.S. industry executives welcomed the interest, but said dollar flows will lag until the administration wraps up its lengthy review of Trump administration trade measures and sets a clear policy on investments in liquefied natural gas.

Dana Banks, senior director for Africa at the White House National Security Council, told a conference the administration planned to “re-imagine” and revive Prosper Africa, an initiative launched by former-President Donald Trump in 2018, as the “centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa.”

Travis Adkins, deputy assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), added: “We’re looking at the ways in which we (can) foster two-way trade, looking at mutually beneficial partnerships that work together to mobilize investment, create jobs, and … shared opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.”

President Joe Biden, who requested nearly $80 million for the initiative in his budget proposal in May, aims to focus it on women and equity, with an expanded role for small- and medium-sized businesses, Banks said.

The administration’s goal was to “reinvigorate Prosper Africa as the centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa,” she said.

“This is an area that is a priority both at home and abroad,” Banks told Reuters ahead of the conference, adding that African countries were eager to expand their cooperation with the United States.

U.S. business executives warn the United States is in danger of being overtaken by China and Europe, which are already investing and signing trade agreements across the continent.

“We can’t wait another year to devise an Africa policy; we need to be bold in our thinking,” said Scott Eisner, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-Africa Business Center.

He said many companies had started to eye investments in Kenya given the Trump administration’s talks with Nairobi on a bilateral free trade agreement, but that those plans were on ice until the policy review was completed.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office had no immediate comment on the status of the review.

Another hurdle is uncertainty about the administration’s policy on LNG projects.

Nigeria and other countries are eager to secure U.S. investment in such plans, but are waiting to see whether the administration will back LNG investments even as it seeks to halve U.S. fossil-fuel emissions.

“We’ve committed as an institution to have over 50% of our investments focused on activities that combat climate change,” said Kyeh Kim, a senior official at Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. foreign aid agency, said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Doyinsola Oladipo; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Tim Ahmann, Gerry Doyle and Dan Grebler)

Delta COVID variant becoming globally dominant, WHO official says

GENEVA (Reuters) – The Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is becoming the globally dominant variant of the disease, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said on Friday.

Soumya Swaminathan also voiced disappointment in the failure of CureVac’s vaccine candidate in a trial to meet the WHO’s efficacy standard, in particular as highly transmissible variants boost the need for new, effective shots.

Britain has reported a steep rise in infections with the Delta variant, while Germany’s top public health official predicted it would rapidly become the dominant variant there despite rising vaccination rates.

The Kremlin blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to have vaccinations and “nihilism” after record new infections in Moscow, mostly with the new Delta variant, fanned fears of a third wave.

“The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its increased transmissibility,” Swaminathan told a news conference.

Coronavirus variants were cited by CureVac when the German company this week reported its vaccine proved only 47% effective at preventing disease, shy of the WHO’s 50% benchmark.

The company said it documented at least 13 variants circulating within its study population.

Given that similar mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna posted efficacy rates topping 90%, Swaminathan said the world had been expecting more from CureVac’s candidate.

“Just because it’s another mRNA vaccine, we cannot presume all mRNA vaccines are the same, because each one has a slightly different technology,” Swaminathan said, adding the surprise failure underscored the value of robust clinical trials to test new products.

WHO officials said Africa remains an area of concern, even though it accounts for only around 5% of new global infections and 2% of deaths.

New cases in Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda have doubled in the last week, WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan said, while vaccine access remains miniscule.

“It’s a trajectory that is very, very concerning,” Ryan said. “The brutal reality is that in an era of multiple variants, with increased transmissibility, we have left vast swathes of the population, the vulnerable population of Africa, unprotected by vaccines.”

(Reporting by John Miller, writing by Giles Elgood, Editing by Catherine Evans and Michael Shields)

India’s halt to vaccine exports ‘very problematic’ for Africa

By Giulia Paravicini

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An extended halt to exports of COVID-19 vaccines from India, where authorities are battling a wave of domestic infections, risks derailing vaccination efforts already underway in Africa, one of the continent’s top health officials said on Tuesday.

India stopped vaccine exports a month ago and, according to a Reuters report earlier on Tuesday, is now unlikely to resume major exports before October, dealing a major setback to the global COVAX initiative on which many poor countries rely.

Africa has lagged far behind other regions due to supply issues and meagre financial resources but had planned to vaccinate 30-35% of its population by the end of the year and 60% within the next two to three years.

“This is very problematic as it means unpredictability of our vaccination programs and a serious risk of not achieving our stated target… on time,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, wrote to Reuters.

Those targets primarily relied on supplies from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, which has depended heavily on AstraZeneca shots produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).

“Given India’s huge challenges, it will be impossible to expect anything soon,” Nkengasong said.

There have been at least 4,742,000 reported infections and 126,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Africa so far, according to a Reuters tally.

And while the pandemic’s impact has been less acute than in the United States, Europe and now India, Africa’s largely unvaccinated population of over 1 billion remains vulnerable, experts say.

COVAX had already begun distributing millions of doses of the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine to countries across Africa. But those initial shipments have now been largely exhausted, with around 80% having been administered as a first dose, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most countries using COVAX will now surpass the 12-week maximum interval recommended between the first and second dose of AstraZeneca unless 20 million doses are delivered by the end of June and another 5 million in July, the WHO said.

“The supply gap could be closed if countries with adequate supplies set aside a percentage of vaccines for COVAX,” said Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the WHO’s Immunization and Vaccines Development Program in Africa.

A deal negotiated with Johnson & Johnson by the African Union should supply Africa with 400 million vaccine doses beginning in the third quarter of this year.

Several countries’ health officials told Reuters they had yet to receive updated information on expected arrival dates for COVAX shots. Some are now weighing their options.

Ethiopia, for example, has received just 2.2 million of the 7.6 million AstraZeneca shots it was due to get through COVAX by the end of April.

“We were expecting some delays, but not to this scale. As a country we must search other options,” Muluken Yohannes, a senior adviser to Ethiopia’s health ministry, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Omar Mohammed in Nairobi, Christophe Van Der Perre in Dakar and Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Joe Bavier and Alexandra Hudson)

Nigeria urges U.S. to move Africa Command headquarters to continent

ABUJA (Reuters) – The United States should consider moving its military headquarters overseeing Africa to the continent, from Germany, to better tackle growing armed violence in the region, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said on Tuesday.

Nigerian security forces face multiple security challenges including school kidnappings by armed gangs in its northwest and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as well as the decade-long insurgency by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which also carries out attacks in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

West Africa’s Sahel region is in the grip of a security crisis as groups with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State attack military forces and civilians, despite help from French and United Nations forces.

Buhari, in a virtual meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, said U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), should be relocated to Africa itself.

“Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM headquarters… near the theatre of operation,” said Buhari, according a statement issued by the presidency.

He spoke a week after the death of the longtime president of Chad, Idriss Deby, in a battle against rebels.

Deby was an important Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants and under him Chadian soldiers formed a key component of a multinational force fighting Boko Haram and its offshoot, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

“The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region,” said Buhari, a retired major general.

AFRICOM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Additional reporting and writing by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Chad in turmoil after Deby death as rebels, opposition challenge military

By Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane

N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – The son of Chad’s slain leader Idriss Deby took over as president and armed forces commander on Wednesday as rebel forces threatened to march on the capital, deepening the turmoil in a country vital to international efforts to combat Islamist militants in Africa.

The political opposition also denounced the military’s takeover of control, calling the move a coup d’etat and rejecting its plan for a transition. Labor unions called for a workers’ strike.

Deby, 68, was killed on Monday on the frontline in a battle against fighters of the Libyan-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a rebel group formed by dissident army officers.

His death shocked the nation and raised concerns among Western allies, notably France and the United States, who had counted on him as an ally in their fight against Islamist groups including Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Deby had been in power since 1990 and had just been declared winner of a presidential election that would have given him a sixth term in office. His son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers.

General Deby, 37, moved to consolidate his position on Wednesday, with the council issuing a new charter in place of the country’s constitution granting him the functions of president and also naming him as head of the armed forces.

In his first public comments since taking power, Deby said the army wanted to return power to a civilian government and hold free and democratic elections in 18 months.

“The military council has no ambition to govern the country alone,” he said in a speech to political party representatives, posted on the presidency website.

“The Transitional Military Council will work to consolidate democracy, assure peace and stability, guarantee security and the integrity of the national territory.”

The military also announced it had re-opened Chad’s borders, which were closed after Deby’s death.

The FACT rebels rejected the military’s plan and said on Wednesday that a pause in hostilities they are observing to give time for Deby to be buried would end at midnight.

“The forces of national resistance are more than ever determined to deliver the Chadian people from this abominable dictatorship,” they said in a statement.

The statement also warned foreign heads of state against going to Deby’s funeral on Friday “for imperatives of security”. French President Emmanuel Macron plans to attend, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

OVER THE BORDER

A spokesman for FACT – which is not linked to jihadists – said its forces were now in Kanem region about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) north of N’Djamena and their aim was to bring democracy to Chad after years of authoritarian rule by Deby.

The fighters poured over the vast country’s northern border last weekend.

“We don’t want to seize power to hold power. Our objective is for democratic transitions to be a reality,” the spokesman said. He said the group was preparing to march on N’Djamena to “free the people from a system that is undemocratic”.

FACT claimed responsibility for the injuries that killed Deby on Monday. An ex-army officer who often joined soldiers on the battlefront, Deby was visiting troops who had held up the rebel advance in intense fighting over the weekend.

He was wounded by gunfire in the village of Mele near the town of Nokou, more than 300 km (190 miles) north of N’Djamena, and evacuated to the capital where he later died, the FACT spokesman said. The presidency has not commented on the exact circumstances of his death.

Opposition politicians, many of whom boycotted the election, and civil society organisations also called for a return to civilian rule, while a coalition of other armed groups demanded an inclusive national dialogue.

In a joint statement, about a dozen party leaders condemned what they called “the institutional coup d’etat conducted by the generals” and called for a civilian transition.

The main labor organization, the Union of Syndicates of Chad, also rejected the military takeover and called for a strike.

FRENCH FRIENDS

Deby had won friends abroad by sending his well-trained army to fight jihadists including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.

His main ally, France, has about 5,100 troops based across the region as part of international efforts to fight the militants, including its main base in N’Djamena. The United States also has military personnel there.

Regional powerhouse Nigeria’s foreign minister said it was willing to help facilitate dialogue, but that while an early return to democratic rule was the ultimate goal, the immediate objective was the stabilization of Chad and the region.

Human Rights Watch criticized the West’s relationship with Deby, saying that for years it had propped up Deby’s government while turning a blind eye to his repression. In a statement, it warned of the “potentially explosive consequences” of Deby’s death for Chad and the region.

In N’Djamena, where authorities imposed a nightly curfew after Deby’s death, schools and some businesses were open on Wednesday but many people stayed home and streets were quiet.

A 14-day period of national mourning is being observed.

“We must make sure that this military council does not take over power,” said Djimadoum Ngarteri, a teacher, calling for all sides to lay down weapons. “We Chadians are fed up. We do not need people who take power with weapons.”

(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane in N’Djamena, Nellie Peyton, Aaron Ross and Edward McAllister in Dakar, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by Nick Tattersall, William Maclean)

India AstraZeneca shot delay could be ‘catastrophic’ for Africa: health official

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – India’s temporary hold on major exports of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot will undermine Africa’s vaccination plans, and could have a “catastrophic” impact if extended, the head of the continent’s disease control body said on Thursday.

India decided to delay big exports of the shots made in its territory by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to make sure it could meet local demand, two sources told Reuters last week.

The hold “will definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

The African Union had planned to vaccinate 30-35% of the continent’s population by the end of the year he said. “If the vaccines are delayed we are unlikely to meet our target,” he added.

That AU target primarily relies on supplies from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, through which 64 poorer countries including many in Africa are supposed to get doses from the SII. COVAX aims to provide enough shots for African countries to inoculate at least 20% of their populations.

“If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban, that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule,” Nkengasong said.

African countries have reported 4.25 million coronavirus infections and 112,000 related deaths, though experts have said the actual numbers could be higher.

The AU has also been negotiating with manufacturers to help member states secure the additional doses they will need to achieve 60% coverage.

On Monday, Johnson & Johnson announced it would supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. Delivery of those doses is due to begin in the third quarter of this year and will continue through 2022.

Those doses are separate from the GAVI/WHO-backed global COVAX facility.

Nkengasong said on Thursday the AU has “pivoted” towards the J&J shot in part as a result of the delay in the delivery of AstraZeneca shots, and also because it is a single-dose shot.

The J&J doses will begin to arrive in June or July, which will ease any shortage caused by the delay in the AstraZeneca doses, Nkengasong said. The gap until the arrival of the J&J doses is a concern, he added.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Andrew Heavens)