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#Kazakhstan president sounds urgent call for international co-operation

Astana Times

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It is becoming more obvious every year that the challenges we face are now no longer local but regional and increasingly global. In an ever more complex and interlinked world, the solutions to our problems – whether environmental, economic or human – are seldom contained by national borders, writes Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev (pictured).

Climate change cannot be slowed down or reversed by any nation acting in isolation. The poison of extremism is spread all too easily to countries thousands of miles away. The shock waves from mistakes in one continent, as we saw a decade ago, can send growth in all economies into reverse. Migration caused by conflict or natural disaster can increase pressures and tensions far from the neighbouring countries but to other continents.

Given the evidence is so clear and the challenges so great, the answer must be increased cooperation to find and deliver common solutions. But as we enter the last quarter of 2018, this shared sense of purpose seems further away than for decades.

Instead of increased collaboration, we see more conflict and division. As we have said before, old suspicions are resurfacing, new tensions emerging and fresh barriers being erected. The result is that the understanding, cooperation and rules-based international order, which has been the foundation of increased prosperity and security, appears under threat from all sides.

Last week, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev bravely intervened to try to change this disturbing momentum. He all but shocked global leaders at the Asia-Europe Summit in Brussels by likening the current tensions and fractures in the international community to those which led to the Cuban missile crisis over half a century ago. His comparison to a time when the world has rarely, if ever, been closer to another catastrophic global conflict showed how serious he believed the position was becoming.

He was right to sound the alarm bells. We need to concentrate on what unites us rather than always emphasising our differences. We have to find the courage to stop putting short-term, national interests before the long-term common good.

As might be expected from a country which from its earliest days has seen the United Nations as the pre-eminent international forum for settling disputes and finding solutions, he called for a special session to help find a way out of the current divisions and dangers. The involvement of the entire world community is needed if we are to find a way to ease tensions and build understanding and trust.

His offer to host such a special event, if necessary, in Astana, also made sense. Few countries have such good relations with all the major international players as Kazakhstan. Our country counts, for example, China, the European Union, Russia and the United States as both strong political and valued economic partners. We also have robust links and friendships throughout the Middle East – one of the regions where conflict is most intense.

Over the last decade, too, Kazakhstan has provided a platform for international talks and helped bring sides together in the most bitter of disputes. And it is only by dialogue and building trust that we can find a way out of the current dangers. If such a special meeting is to take place, Astana has plenty of attractions and experience.

But what was most important about President Nazarbayev’s strongly-worded intervention is that it was a wake-up call to the international community and a warning that it must urgently change course. It is intensely worrying to see how our world has fractured over the last few years.

Unless a way is found to build trust, increase understanding and promote cooperation, the future for all countries and all people will be more unstable, more dangerous and poorer. Only by working together can we create the long-term peaceful and prosperous future for everyone, no matter what our nationality or background. Without such cooperation, we will all be losers.

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EAPM: Beating cancer inequalities, getting ready for summer hols and transparency

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Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – there is much to discuss, on beating inequalities in cancer treatment, clinical data transparency and, importantly, planning for summer holidays writes EAPM Executive Director Dr. Denis Horgan.

Commissioner says EU cancer plan must ‘break the silence’ on women’s cancers

There is a large inequality of access to women’s cancer services and treatments across the EU, according to the bloc’s health chief, who highlighted the role of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan in bridging these disparities. Speaking during a webinar, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said there is a need to “break the silence” and talk openly about gynaecological cancers. 

The EU, she added, has “to assure that all women in all corners of the EU, get the support, have access to the screening and the vaccination, the information and the multidisciplinary care that they should be having”. 

Her hopes are on Europe’s beating cancer plan, which must bring “real change”. “This is what European citizens expect from us. And I also believe that we don’t have a right to fail them. We have an opportunity and we need to seize it,” Kyriakides said. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was set in 2020 to tackle the entire disease pathway, from prevention to treatment, with the goal to equalise access to high-quality care, diagnosis and treatment across the bloc. 

About 40% of cancer cases are preventable through effective cancer prevention strategies. The commissioner added that the EU cancer plan “aims to offer breast cancer screening to 90% of people who qualify for it by 2025”.

EMA chief sceptical about waiving patents as answer to vaccine inequity

The head of the European Medicines Agency expressed scepticism that waiving patents on coronavirus vaccines will bring about equitable access, saying that instead the answer was increasing distribution and availability.

In an interview with several national European newspapers, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said that she firmly believes in “equitable access to vaccines and that nobody is safe until we are all safe,” when asked about the U.S. proposal for a vaccine patent waiver. 

“For me, however, the way to solve this problem at the moment is to increase the distribution and availability of vaccines,” she said, pointing to a significant number of doses set to be available over the next several months. 

Cooke said that the focus should be on “enabling innovation.” “None of our existing vaccines would have come about if there hadn’t been an environment that made innovation attractive,” she said. 

Despite this, Cooke conceded that in the “long term” the debate on patent protection should be carried out. 

More action on rare diseases

Any disease affecting fewer than five people in 10,000 in the EU is considered rare. Although this might appear small, it translates into approximately 246,000 people. Most patients suffer from even rarer diseases affecting 1 person in 100,000 or more. Approximately 5,000-8,000 distinct rare diseases affect 6-8% of the EU population i.e. between 27 and 36 million people.

Public Health Policy Director Anna Kole has said that the successful launch of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan had provided inspiration for the idea of creating a dedicated action plan for rare diseases. 

Meanwhile, the Commission is moving on several different fronts to improve rare disease treatment in the EU. An impact assessment evaluating proposals to change EU regulations for medicines for rare diseases and for children is expected to run until the first quarter of next year. That will open the door to new legislative changes. And creation of a European health data space will allow pooling data from rare disease patients across different member countries. 

Kole said that an action plan would allow better coordination across the disparate fields that the Commission is acting on, as well as the introduction of new flagship initiatives. 

“If there’s one disease area where EU added value can’t be more clearly demonstrated, it’s rare diseases,” said Kole, who pointed to the benefits of allowing patients to move across borders for specialist treatment, or for facilitating data sharing throughout the bloc, as examples.

The EU supports research into rare diseases through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). Close to €900 million, is available to more than 160 collaborative projects related to rare diseases.

Rich-poor vaccine inequity

The disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines between rich and low-income countries has become impossible to ignore; according to UNICEF data, 86% of all doses given worldwide up to 30 March were administered to those in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while just 1% of jabs have been given to those in the world’s poorest. 

Low-risk groups in the UK, US and Israel are becoming eligible for jabs, while vulnerable populations elsewhere remain at risk of contracting the virus. The hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries, as the pandemic ravages economically disadvantaged nations, has brought the issue of vaccine patents to the fore. 

Biotechnology Innovation Organization  wrote in the Economist that the proposal “undermines the very system that produced the life-saving science in the first place”, and “destroys the incentive for companies to take risks to find solutions for the next health emergency”. 

Regulators and WHO call for clinical data transparency

World regulatory authorities are calling for increased transparency from the pharmaceutical industry in how they report and give access to clinical trial data. In a joint statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) cited need for “wide access to clinical data for all new medicines and vaccines”. 

Data related to a therapy or vaccine “must be published at the time of finalization of the regulatory review,” they said, regardless of whether the decision is positive or negative. “It cannot be justified to keep confidential efficacy and safety data of a medicine available on the market, or which has been refused access to the market.” 

The two bodies cited “overriding public health interest” in their statement, which called for pharmaceutical companies to report clinical trial results without redacting information that would otherwise be confidential because of commercial reasons. Only personally identifying information and individual patient data should be redacted from publicly available clinical trial data, wrote WHO and ICMRA. 

People can ‘start thinking about Europe summer travel’ 

People can start thinking about summer holidays in Europe on condition of being vaccinated, the EU has said, as its planned digital travel 'health pass' is on track for use from mid-June. The plan is that a European-wide health pass will be launched at the same time across the EU, and countries that do not have the resources to put it in place will be supported by the Commission, to avoid delays. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “I seriously believe that we can start thinking about [summer travel], probably like last year in Europe. “It will be important to open the continent gradually, and to be able to go on holiday. Everyone must go to get vaccinated. As soon as you are called, go to get vaccinated.”

Commission publishes open public consultation on the European Health Data Space 

The Commission has published an open public consultation on the European Health Data Space (EHDS) - an important building block of the European Health Union. The EHDS aims to make full use of digital health to provide high-quality healthcare and reduce inequalities. It will promote access to health data for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, research and innovation, as well as for policy-making and legislation. The EHDS will place individuals' rights to control their own personal health data at its core.

The consultation will remain open for responses until 26 July 2021. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: ″The European Health Data Space will be a crucial component of a strong European Health Union. It will enable EU-wide collaboration for better healthcare, better research and better health policy-making. I invite all interested citizens and stakeholders to take part in the consultation and help us leverage the power of data for our health. This will have to rest on a strong foundation of non-negotiable citizens' rights, including privacy and data protection.″ 

And that is everything from EAPM for now – stay safe, stay well, have a terrific weekend, see you next week.

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European Jewish chief asks heads of state to step up security of Jewish institutions due to rising threat

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Rabbi Menachem Margolin (pictured), the chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, has written to heads of state across Europe asking them to step up security around Jewish Institutions and increase their vigilance and monitoring of known extremist networks in light of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

Europe wide surveys by agencies such as the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) show that whenever there is a conflict between Israel and Palestinians, there is a marked uptick in incidents of an anti-semitic nature.

Rabbi Margolin relayed to the Heads of State that Jewish communities across the continent were concerned that if was not a matter of “if” but “when” reprisals against Jews and Jewish Institutions would take place.

In his letter the EJA head wrote:

I write with a heavy heart for having to do so, but with an urgent request for your consideration.

Figures prove that whenever Israel is engaged in skirmishes with Palestinian terror groups or others that seek to undermine Israel’s sovereignty, there is a sharp and marked uptick in antisemitic attacks across Europe.

In short, Jews are held responsible. Of course, this runs counter to the spirit and letter of the IHRA definition of antisemitism - namely that Jews should not be held responsible for events in Israel, but also that antisemitism and anti-zionism are two sides of the same coin.

Our association are hearing from our communities that they are concerned that it isn’t a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ there will be reprisals and acts carried out against them because of the ongoing conflict. These concerns are not without foundation as we have already seen a number of angry demonstrations outside synagogues in parts of Europe.

I ask you humbly and respectfully to increase vigilance and security in and around Jewish Institutions by your forces of law and order during this tense and difficult time and to increase your monitoring of social media channels and extremist networks.”

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Airbus and Air France ordered to stand trial over 2009 crash

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Air France (AIRF.PA) and Airbus (AIR.PA) should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter over their role in a 2009 crash in the Atlantic that killed 228 people, the Paris court of appeal ruled on Wednesday. (12 May)

The ruling reverses a 2019 decision not to prosecute either company over the accident, in which the pilots lost control of the Airbus A330 jet after ice blocked its airspeed sensors.

Victims' families welcomed the ruling, but Airbus and Air France said they would seek to overturn it at the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeal court.

"The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation," Airbus said in an emailed statement.

Air France logo is pictured at the Air France check-in at Bordeaux-Merignac airport, as Air France pilots, cabin and ground crews unions call for a strike over salaries in Merignac near Bordeaux, France April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
The Airbus logo pictured at the company's headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Air France "maintains that it committed no criminal fault at the root of this tragic accident", said a spokesman for the carrier, which is part of Air France-KLM.

Air France flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed on 1 June, 2009, killing everyone on board.

French investigators found that the crew had mishandled the situation arising from the loss of speed data from sensors blocked with ice and caused an aerodynamic stall by holding the aircraft's nose too high.

The earlier decision not to go to trial drew legal challenges from the families as well as pilot unions and prosecutors who had pursued charges against Air France alone.

Wednesday's ruling upheld new demands for a trial of both companies from senior prosecutors who have accused Air France of pilot training failures and Airbus for underestimating dangers posed by known problems with the speed sensors.

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