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Dramatic rise of substance use, STDs in Winnipeg: WRHA – CTV News

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Sexually transmitted blood borne infections have been on a dramatic increase in the city over the past four years.

That’s according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which says some STBBIs have increased by nearly 400 per cent.

According to the WRHA’s Community Health Assessment, there has been a significant increase in lab-confirmed cases of STBBIs from 2014 to 2018.

During this four year period, WRHA said cases of syphilis increased by 394 per cent, cases of gonorrhea increased by 297 per cent, and cases of chlamydia increased by 20 per cent.

But as case counts continue to rise in 2019, which is resulting in a substantial burden on public health resources, WRHA said more work needs to be done to provide people safe access to care.

“We are trying to manage an increased substance use issue within Manitoba, but this is also across Canada as well, specifically around methamphetamine use,” said Gina Trinidad, Chief Health Operations Officer for continuing care and health services with the WRHA.

“We want to make sure that individuals have access to clean needles, as an example, that there are targeted strategies for testing and treatment for individuals.”

Trinidad said the purpose is to bolster support for the education of public health with the goal of getting people tested to prevent the spread of STBBIs.

One major part of this is the WRHA’s Street Connections Program which handed out over 2 million clean needles in the 2018-19 fiscal year. This is compared to the 1.7 million clean needles that were handed out in the 2017-18 year, and the 1.4 million clean needles handed out in the 2016-17 year.

The assessment said the root causes of these increases need to be investigated and addressed.

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Tanzania COVID U-turn ‘a good move’ – but is it good enough? – Al Jazeera English

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Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania – Esther Mngodo, like other Tanzanians, was relieved to hear this week government officials are finally urging people in the country to take precautions against the coronavirus – and even wear face masks.

“It is a good move,” said Mngodo, a 34-year-old resident of Dar-es-Salaam. “But much more needs to be done to increase public awareness, testing and treatment. Most importantly, we must have a clear strategy on how to navigate through these unprecedented times.”

In a surprise change in the official stance on coronavirus, President John Magufuli on Sunday said the government had not forbidden the wearing of masks and encouraged those who wanted to do so.

However, he warned against what he claimed were faulty face coverings on sale in the country, suggesting that high coronavirus-related death rates worldwide could be linked to the uptake of such products and claiming those in Tanzania’s rural areas were less likely to fall victim to the virus because they tended not to wear them.

“The government has not forbidden mask-wearing. But we have to be careful about which masks we wear. We will perish. Don’t think we’re loved so much. Economic war is bad,” Magufuli told a congregation at a church service in Dar-es-Salaam.

“These masks which we buy in the shops- we’re killing ourselves,” he argued, before advising Tanzanians to either to make the masks themselves or use those produced locally.

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Magufuli has long downplayed the severity of COVID-19, urging Tanzanians to pray, use steam inhalation and embrace local remedies to protect themselves from the respiratory disease. Tanzania stopped releasing infection numbers in April 2020, weeks before Magufuli declared the country coronavirus-free in June through divine intervention.

For Mngodo, the recent U-turn could be a result of what seems to be a deadly resurgence of infection, which has swept across the country over the past few months.

“It appears that the extent of the problem has reached to a point where the government cannot deny the severity of the problem,” said Mngodo, a media consultant.

Announcements of deaths often attributed to “the current pneumonia” or “breathing problems” have flooded social media.

Among the deceased are a number of high-profile individuals, including several university professors, a former governor of the central bank, the country’s chief secretary and Zanzibar’s first vice president, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad.

Of them, Hamad was the only person confirmed to have been infected by the novel coronavirus, as he texted his COVID-19 test results to the media. As for the others, the public has been left to speculate about the causes of their deaths, at a time when the world is stilling battling the coronavirus pandemic and many common Tanzanians have been touched by the effects of it.

These circumstances have led religious leaders and other critics, particularly on social media, to put pressure on the government to provide clear and consistent guidelines on fighting the pandemic, while also urging individuals to take precautions.

A Tanzanian medical doctor based in the United States, Frank Minja, said the change of mind is welcomed, if long overdue, and could present an opportunity. “We want to encourage [the president] to move faster in implementing what we know to be effective and implement it right away,” he said.

“I don’t want to say it’s too late, because if we say too late then it means we might as well not do anything. And because, by its nature, the pandemic attacks in waves, it is never too late to start doing the right thing,” added Minja, who has been campaigning on social media to raise awareness about the coronavirus.

Dorothy Semu, acting chairperson of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, criticised Magufuli, saying the measures implemented when the virus first entered the country – including physical distancing and cancellation of large events – should have been kept in place.

“I am a politician but I am also a believer in science,” Semu said. “As leaders responsible for people’s lives it is important that we make our decisions based on facts. It’s like when HIV/AIDS was discovered; some people denied its presence and many lives were lost. So, I expected the president, who is also a scientist, to have continued with the past measures and we would have saved many lives.”

Magufuli in June declared Tanzania ‘coronavirus-free’, thanks to the prayers of its citizens [File: AP Photo]

The new stance by Magufuli – a former teacher and industrial chemist – on mask-wearing seems to have also prompted many other public offices and officials to suddenly come forward and warn people of the dangers of coronavirus and measures individuals should take to protect themselves from the virus.

For instance, the agency which runs Dar-es-Salaam’s rapid transport buses on Monday said passengers would not be allowed to board if not wearing a mask.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, headed by Dorothy Gwajima who has previously advocated steam inhalation and a vegetable smoothie to treat COVID-19, earlier this week issued a statement warning people against the virus and appealing to them to take precautions.

However, it insisted that it would not be recommending lockdown measures.

“As said by the president, we won last year and the economy continued to grow until we achieved middle-income economy status, and Coronavirus still existed,” said the ministry’s statement.

“We did not set lockdowns, and even now, we will not impose lockdowns because God is on our side.”

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Canadian experts caution against temptations to comparison shop COVID-19 vaccines – Kelowna Capital News

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While it’s tempting to compare various aspects of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to others, several experts cautioned against focusing on data that is not comparable and the danger of underrating the product’s ability to curb hospitalizations and deaths.

Health Canada’s long-awaited announcement Friday that a third vaccine would soon be deployed came just as the provinces faced heightened scrutiny over regional immunization plans that vary by timeline, age eligibility and priority groups.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the boost to Canada’s pandemic arsenal would mean “more people vaccinated, and sooner,” and would be key to helping contain spread.

Nevertheless, Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma acknowledged questions over how the public should evaluate trial results that show AstraZeneca has an efficacy of 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases. That’s compared to the 95 per cent efficacy of the country’s two other approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

But Sharma stressed that all three have been shown to prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

“Each vaccine has unique characteristics and Health Canada’s review has confirmed that the benefits of the viral vector-based vaccine, as with the other authorized vaccines, outweigh their potential risks,” Sharma said.

Several medical experts including Dr. Stephen Hwang say Canadians do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose as long as COVID-19 cases continue to rage in several hot spots and strain health-care systems.

With multiple COVID-19 projections warning of a variant-fuelled third wave without tighter suppression measures, any tool that can slow the pandemic should be embraced, he argued.

“It would be important for people to be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is first available in their community to them, rather than trying to hold out for a specific vaccine,” advised Hwang, who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Still, Toronto resident Maria Brum couldn’t help but question whether AstraZeneca was safe for her 79-year-old mother.

The vaccine was not tested on people over the age of 65. Health Canada, however, says real-world data from countries already using the product suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups, promising an update on efficacy in the age group as more data comes in.

“I personally would take that one out as an option for my mom,” said Brum, who is her mother’s main caregiver.

“Maybe I am wrong but, I don’t know, I don’t see that it’s more useful. I’d like to see one that has a higher percentage of (efficacy).”

As for herself, Brum said she has allergies that she believes may put her at greater risk of adverse reactions and so she is unsure whether she can take any vaccine.

But she’d like the option of choosing, if possible, even while acknowledging that limited supply could make that unlikely.

“As a Canadian, I would like to see us all have choices, regardless of age, gender, or ability,” says Brum.

“I’m going to wait where I can have more choices.”

Such hesitancy could pose public health challenges to Canada reaching the vaccination coverage needed to build protective immunity against COVID-19, said Hwang.

He noted that Germany has seen a reported preference among some for the vaccine made by Germany’s BioNTech with Pfizer, as well as a misconception that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inferior because of a lower efficacy rate.

Hwang says efficacy between vaccines cannot be compared because each involved completely different trials at different time periods, in different countries, with different volunteers of different age groups and varying trial designs.

“Until we have direct comparison studies where we give people one vaccine versus another and directly compare, it’s very difficult to know for sure how it’s going to pan out,” he says.

Then there’s the fact Canada’s initial AstraZeneca doses will be made at the Serum Institute of India, which dubs its version CoviShield, while later packages will be produced at the drug giant’s own manufacturing facilities.

Hwang acknowledges that could invite further scrutiny but says the Pune, India-based biotech firm has a “strong track record of producing vaccines.”

Sharma also stressed the similarities between the two shots Friday.

“For all intents and purposes they’re the same vaccine,” said Sharma.

“There are some slight differences in terms of manufacturing and the places that they are manufactured are different. The analogy is a bit like the recipe – so the recipe for the vaccine is the same, but they’re manufactured in different kitchens.”

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US urges Tanzania to embrace COVID-19 vaccines, share data – Burnaby Now

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The United States praised Tanzania on Friday for finally acknowledging the resurgence of COVID-19 after claiming for months it had defeated the pandemic through prayer. But the U.S. urged the country to share infection data and accept vaccines.

“It has become clear that the virus variant has arrived in Tanzania,“ U.S. Ambassador Donald Wright, who is also a doctor, said in a statement. “I’ve been encouraged by recent statements from the Ministry of Health acknowledging COVID-19 as a public health priority in Tanzania and urging citizens to take basic precautions.“

Tanzania is one of Africa’s most populous countries, with some 60 million people, and during its long COVID-19 denial the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that if the continent isn’t united, “it’s doomed.”

High-profile deaths this month in the East African nation, including that of the vice-president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, appeared to lead populist President John Magufuli to acknowledge publicly in the past week that COVID-19 was back.

For weeks, Tanzanians had seen a rise in death notices citing breathing difficulties and cases of what health workers called “pneumonia.” But countries such as Oman reported Tanzanians arriving in their countries and testing positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s president openly questioned COVID-19 vaccines, without providing evidence. Tanzania is one of the very few countries in Africa that has not signed up for the global COVAX facility to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Now those vaccines have begun to arrive, in Ghana and Ivory Coast, with more on the way.

The U.S. ambassador’s statement urges Tanzania to “convene its health experts and review the evidence on vaccines.” He also notes “it is critical to collect and report information about testing and cases.“

Tanzania last updated its number of infections last April. That number remains at 509.

Then the ambassador turned to aid: “Here in Tanzania, we dedicated $16.4 million to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic since the first confirmed case was diagnosed in March of 2020. The United States stands ready to ramp up our efforts and we are committed to working side by side with Tanzania to defeat COVID-19.”

An embassy spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about whether further aid depends on Tanzania sharing pandemic data and embracing vaccines.

Tanzania, unlike other African countries, did not lock down during the pandemic and it has promoted that to tourists and others.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Tanzania’s investment minister, Kitila Mkumbo, asserted that COVID-19 “has not been one of the major concerns of investors.” He added that American investors “are waiting for the pandemic to slow down so movement can begin.”

And the minister welcomed the Biden administration, saying he believed that the U.S. will once again “take global responsibility of supporting developing countries like Tanzania in many aspects, like health.”

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Cara Anna, The Associated Press

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