By: James C Johnston, Mehila Zebenigus
Global NeuroCare® Presenting At UN High Level Segment: Current State of Affairs
James C. Johnston, MD, JD and Mehila Zebenigus, MD will be presenting recommendations at the United Nations High Level Segment from 13-18 July 2022 on the theme, “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Drs. Johnston and Zebenigus will review the negative impact of the pandemic and propose recommendations improving healthcare access in an effort to advance SDG 3.
Originating from Wuhan, China in 2019, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic overwhelmed the world, causing millions of deaths, unprecedented suffering, and wreaking global economic and social devastation, which overwhelmed medical systems, diverted healthcare funding, and destroyed years of progress in developing nations.
This pandemic was unleashed during a critical stage in the evolving global burden of disease profile, with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – neurological disorders such as stroke, epilepsy, dementia, neuropathy – representing a major cause of morbidity and mortality, creating a ‘triple burden’ in regions plagued by infectious or communicable diseases and experiencing increasing accidents from industrialization.
GlobalNeurology® and Global NeuroCare® supported the World Health Organization, United Nations, and non-state actors in concerted efforts to reduce premature mortality from NCDs, recognizing that the failure to do so would exacerbate poverty, leading to profound effects on the economic, social, and political stability of developing countries, further destabilizing global health security. [Johnston JC, E/CN.5/2018/NGO/20].
Unfortunately this failure was sealed by the devastating impact of the pandemic, which derailed global health programs, leading to a resurgence of infectious and NCDs as well as increasing maternal, neonatal and childhood mortality and morbidity. [Johnston JC and Zebenigus M, E/2020/NGO/1 at 68; Johnston JC, E/2021/NGO/1 at 189].
The pandemic impacted every nation on the planet – except China. The CCP immediately locked down all domestic travel by 23 January 2020 but seeded the world with thousands of international flights, vehemently arguing against international travel bans on outgoing Chinese flights. China misled the world while maintaining a complete domestic lockdown, avoiding the devastating impact suffered by every other nation. On 11 March 2020 WHO belatedly admitted there was a pandemic. By then it was too late.
A Way Forward
Now there is a global obligation to re-establish, support, and advance healthcare programs in developing regions, in tandem with an independent, scientific, and transparent inquiry into the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to address the origin of this pandemic.
A Renewed Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals
Drs. Johnston and Zebenigus reaffirm the critical necessity of ensuring well-directed financing focused on self-sufficient local training programs to advance the recruitment, development, training and retention of healthcare workers in developing regions, in parallel with funding to effectively manage the ongoing pandemic, thus improving healthcare access and promoting public health equity and security, a position we have consistently ratified [E/CN.5/2017/NGO/19; E/CN.5/2018/NGO/20; E/CN.5/2019/NGO/33; E/2020/NGO/1], and which comports with the Agenda.
Improved access to neurological care in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in critical to managing the increasing incidence of NCDs, now exacerbated by the pandemic, and this mandates addressing extraordinarily complex challenges such as a severe shortage of healthcare workers, poor infrastructure, limited transportation, and a dearth of supplies, equipment, and medications, all compounded by abject poverty with food and water insecurity.
Global NeuroCare® focuses on improving healthcare access by establishing collaborative partnerships to increase the number of neurologists in SSA, and has worked with the Addis Ababa University Department of Neurology for the past fifteen years. This autonomous training program has been extraordinarily successful, having graduated dozens of neurologists since inception in 2006. These neurologists not only see tens of thousands of patients but more importantly they train general physicians to manage some of the common neurological conditions such as stroke, epilepsy, and neuropathy. This teaching is an essential means of improving care in SSA, where it is unlikely there will ever be enough neurologists to meet the burden of disease.
Further specific recommendations presented at the meeting will support an integrated, multi-lateral, multi-faceted, cross-sector approach to improving global health security [SDG 3], with a cross-cutting impact directly or indirectly across the SDGs [SDGs 1, 4, 8.5, 10.4, 16, 17], engendering positive economic, social, and political stability, thereby contributing to the global recovery from this pandemic.
An Inquiry into the Origin of the Pandemic
Global NeuroCare® notes with deep regret that the failure to properly investigate the origin of this pandemic impedes scientific advancement and jeopardizes global health security.
The WIV was conducting ‘gain-of-function’ experiments, including recombining the genome of the bat coronavirus with that of a mouse-infected coronavirus. The WIV reported that the resulting manufactured virus could “replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV. Additionally, in vivo experiments demonstrate replication of the chimeric virus in mouse lung with notable pathogenesis.” [Nature Medicine 2015; 21:1508-1513]. Further, “both monoclonal antibody and vaccine approaches failed to neutralize and protect from infection with CoVs using the novel spike protein.” [Id]. As the authors noted, “We built a chimeric virus” that was highly pathogenic, a “potential threat” and could “escape current therapeutics.” [Id].
The authors specifically highlighted the fact they “built” a virus with a “gain in pathogenesis” while the United States prohibited these gain-of-function experiments, stating that scientific review panels may deem “building chimeric viruses . . . too risky.” [Id].
These gain of function experiments suggest SARS-CoV-2 originated from the WIV, especially considering the unusual features of the virus including, inter alia, the furin cleavage site, EcoHealth Alliance proposal to construct human specific cleavage sites (rejected by DARPA as ‘gain of function’), WIV workers ill with Covid-19 symptoms by September 2019, absence of any intermediate host, reports confirming neither bats nor pangolins were sold at the nearby market [Scientific Reports, 11:1; 11898], efficient human to human transmission from the outset, the CCP’s dishonest responses and obstruction of any investigation [https://2017-2021.state.gov/fact-sheet-activity-at-the-wuhan-institute-of-virology/index.html].
Several authors with alarming conflicts of interest published a specious argument that it was “improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation.” The lead author initially raised serious concerns that the virus was engineered, but immediately after speaking with Dr. Anthony Fauci completely reversed views, concluding that if it was engineered, then one of several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses “would probably have been used,” citing a March 2019 article – from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. [Nat Med 2020; 26:450-452; Nat Rev Microbiol 2019 17:181-192].
This pandemic will continue to plague the world for the foreseeable future, which makes a full, comprehensive, transparent, international investigation into the origin critical, to provide a definitive statement, hold responsible actors accountable, more effectively manage the current pandemic, and take necessary steps to avoid future events.
The CCP has repeatedly blocked any investigation into the origin of Covid-19. Hopefully, the recent Senate bill “Covid Act of 2022” will open the door for an investigation.
But we implore the UN to establish a multi-disciplinary panel of international experts without conflicts of interest to review this matter, imposing meaningful sanctions if China continues refusing to cooperate.