Global superpowers agree at UN to press Taliban to form more inclusive govt

News Network
September 23, 2021

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The five permanent UN Security Council members found common ground Wednesday on Afghanistan with officials saying all the powers would press the Taliban to be more inclusive after their military takeover.

China and Russia have described last month's Taliban victory as a defeat for the United States and moved to work with the insurgents, but no country has moved to recognise a government that includes international pariahs.

The Security Council powers all want "a peaceful and stable Afghanistan where humanitarian aid can be distributed without problems and without discrimination," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after the meeting during the annual General Assembly.

They seek "an Afghanistan where the rights of women and girls are respected, an Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism, an Afghanistan with an inclusive government representing all sections of the population," he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Russia met in person while their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi joined them virtually for the talks of just over an hour.

A US official described the meeting called by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as "constructive" and with "a lot of convergence," including hopes that the Taliban respect the rights of women and girls.

"I don't think anybody is satisfied with the composition of this interim government, including the Chinese," the official said.

Speaking to AFP before the meeting, China's ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, agreed that the five powers all wanted an inclusive government.

"Unity is everywhere," he said.

China has previously criticised the United States for freezing billions of dollars in Afghan assets.

But Beijing is also keen for the neighboring nation not to be a base for outside extremist groups.

Afghanistan was also the subject of virtual talks by the Group of 20 major economies that included the participation of several other nations including Qatar, the hub for Taliban diplomacy.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, addressing the G20, renewed concern about the Islamists' caretaker government which includes no non-Taliban and no women but has ministers blacklisted by the United Nations on terrorism allegations.

"The announcement of a non-inclusive government was a tactical mistake by the Taliban, as it will make it harder for us to engage with them," Maas said.

"It is important that they hear this from all of us. And we should also speak with one voice when it comes to the basic political parameters and benchmarks for any future engagement with them."

The Taliban have requested to speak at the UN General Assembly but the United States, which sits on the credentialing committee, has made clear that no decision will be made before the summit ends early next week. 

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News Network
October 11,2021

Terming illiterate people "burden on India", Home Minister Amit Shah said that they could never become a "good citizen" of India.

In an interview with Sansad TV on 20 years of Narendra Modi being in power, first as the chief minister of Gujarat and then as the Prime Minister of India, Shah spoke about how the current government has contributed towards increasing enrolment in schools

“When you evaluate this, you will know what could be its contribution towards a nation’s progress. Ek anpadh aadmi desh par kitna bada bojh banta hai. Na jo apne Samvidhan ke diye hue adhikaro ko jaanta hai, na smvidhan ne humse jo apeksha kari hai wo dayitva ko jaanta hai. Wo kaise ek achcha nagrik ban sakta hai? Iske andar amulchur parivartan hai. (An illiterate person is a burden on the country. He neither knows the rights given to him by the Constitution, nor knows the duties expected of him by it. How can such a person become a good citizen?)

He lauded the prime minister for taking steps that helped reduce Gujarat's school dropout rate and hailed him as a “democratic leader”.

"Even his critics would agree that the Union Cabinet has never functioned in such a democratic manner as it has during the current regime," the Union home minister said.

"I have closely seen both Modi and his style of working. I have never seen a patient listener like him. Whatever may be the issue, he listens to everyone and speaks least, and then takes a proper decision,” Shah said rejecting allegations that PM Modi is an autocratic leader.

"Therefore, he does not hesitate taking harsh and risky decisions which may be against the party’s supporters but are in the interest of the nation and the people,” he added.

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News Network
October 10,2021

The percentage of India's population vaccinated against Covid-19 is very low, renowned virologist Dr W. Ian Lipkin said on Saturday and opined the country does not yet have the sort of safety armour needed to start reopening.

Addressing India Today Conclave 2021, he said that India has the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world which the country should be proud of.

"Serum Institute of India is poised to lead here. I think this is something that India should be proud of and should acknowledge and promote," he said.

About the reopening procedure, Lipkin said that the percentage of India's population that is vaccinated is very small.

"Less than 20 per cent of your population that's vaccinated. Then 30 per cent of your population under the age of 18 are not yet eligible for vaccination. So this means that you don't have the sort of armour that you need to safely reopen in that way," he said.

Warning about the long-term effect of Covid-19, the virologist said that people usually don't talk about it "which I think is going to be extraordinary in terms of its impact," he added.

"These are not people who necessarily have acute disease, they may have an only mild form of it, but they remain permanently or at least for a long period, crippled with cognitive dysfunction, shortness of breath, fatigue. This can represent as many as 30 per cent of people who become infected," Lipkin said.

"These individuals, even if the virus were to magically disappear, might continue to be infected and have a huge impact on their lives for decades to come," he said.

Lipkin said there were many lessons from the Spanish flu of 1918 which have not been carried forward.

"I hope we will revise our approach in the future. But I'm not even confident that this is the worst of potential pandemics. We need to make sure that whatever we've learned here carries forward into the next months and years," he said.

He warned there are several more variants of SARS-CoV-2 which are circulating.

"There are variants, already circulating, don't have names. Will they be more capable of transmission? We don't know. Delta variant seems to be extraordinarily well adapted to spread in humans," Lipkin said.

He said that the world needs to start thinking not only about vaccines to prevent severe disease, but also that can prevent transmission.

"We need to improve our public health infrastructure, be able to track and trace individuals who have been exposed so that we can adopt a ring vaccination strategy, which was so successful in India in eradicating smallpox.

"Masking, even if these masks are not what I would consider state-of-the-art can also be useful. But people need to change the way they think about themselves and others and be less selfish," Lipkin added. 

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News Network
October 7,2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed Mosquirix, the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine — the first and the only till date — against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly African children.

The vaccine acts against plasmodium falciparum -- one of five malaria parasite species and the most deadly, most prevalent in Africa. The vaccine’s trial data showed that it could prevent 4 out of 10 malaria cases over a period of four years, when four doses were administered to children. Mosquirix is the first malaria vaccine which has finished its clinical development process.

Mosquirix, is not just a first for malaria; it is the first developed for any parasitic disease. Parasites are much more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for 100 years.

WHO’s approval followed a review of a pilot programme deployed since 2019 in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in which more than two million doses were given of the vaccine, first made by the pharmaceutical company GSK in 1987.

In clinical trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year, but the figure dropped close to zero by the fourth year. And the trials did not directly measure the vaccine’s impact on deaths, which has led some experts to question whether it is a worthwhile investment in countries with countless other intractable problems.

Malaria research is littered with vaccine candidates that never made it past clinical trials. Bed nets, the most widespread preventive measure, cut malaria deaths in children younger than 5 by only about 20%.

Against that backdrop, the new vaccine, even with modest efficacy, is the best new development in the fight against the disease in decades, some experts said.

How malaria affects the world

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide and the death toll due to malaria was 4,09,000.

African regions carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths.

How to use the vaccine

WHO has recommended that in the context of comprehensive malaria control, Mosquirix be used for the prevention of P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission. Mosquirix is to be given in three doses between ages 5 and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later. 

Funds for the programme were mobilised through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid, according to WHO.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided catalytic funding for late-stage development of RTS,S between 2001 and 2015.

Germany's BioNTech, which developed a coronavirus vaccine with US giant Pfizer, also said it aimed to start trials for a malaria vaccine next year using the same breakthrough mRNA technology.

The WHO also hopes this latest recommendation will encourage scientists to develop more malaria vaccines.

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