News Scan for May 20, 2015

Global malaria goals
Handling of lab pathogens
New strain of rabies
Fungal meningitis payment

WHA aims to cut malaria burden 40% by 2020

The World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva set ambitious goals of reducing the global malaria burden 40% by 2020 and at least 90% by 2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

The WHA, the annual meeting of the WHO's member countries, also established a goal of eliminating malaria in at least 35 more countries by 2030, the WHO said in a news release.

The agency said the malaria mortality rate dropped by 47% between 2000 and 2013, thanks to the expansion of WHO-recommended measures, including mosquito control, chemoprevention, diagnostic testing, and treatment.

"Nevertheless, millions of people are still unable to access malaria prevention and treatment, and most cases and deaths continue to go unregistered and unreported. In 2013, malaria killed an estimated 584,000 people," the statement said.

The strategy for reducing the burden, the agency said, includes three main elements: ensuring universal access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment; accelerating efforts to eliminate the disease; and strengthening malaria surveillance. "It emphasizes the importance of innovation and research, and the critical need for political commitment, sustainable financing, strong health systems, and collaboration across different sectors," the WHO said.

In other action, the WHA approved the WHO's proposed program budget of US $4.4 billion for 2016-17. It includes a $236 million increase over the 2014-15 level to, among other things, leverage the experience gained during the Ebola epidemic and address emerging priorities such as antimicrobial resistance, health and the environment, malaria, and viral hepatitis.

"Additional funds will also be used to further strengthen transparency, improve risk management, and enhance accountability," the agency said.
May 20 WHO news release
Dec 10, 2014, CIDRAP News item on WHO's annual malaria report


House committee asks GAO to review federal lab biosafety findings

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee (ECC) yesterday asked the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to further review safety lapses regarding dangerous pathogens ("select agents") at federal labs after its investigation found that several inspections failed to find vials of smallpox that were eventually discovered in July 2014.

In a letter, ECC Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Tim Murphy (R- Pa.), chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, focus on the discovery of potentially live smallpox virus in cardboard boxes in a cold storage room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been renting the space from NIH, and the vials were found as FDA was preparing to move its materials to its own campus.

NIH protocols prohibit storing materials in cardboard boxes in cold storage rooms because of concerns over mold and cross-contamination. The letter notes that the room where the smallpox vials were discovered on Jul 1, 2014, was inspected twice in 2011 and again in 2012 and 2013 by NIH officials.

Upton and Murphy wrote, "We believe the information and evidence developed from this investigation provides a basis to believe that there were additional lapses and concerns involved with the retention of the smallpox samples than just the failure to account for undiscovered, and presumably abandoned, materials."

The letter asks the GAO to examine specifics about the inspections of the NIH cold storage room and related findings, including the likely condition of boxes stored in the room for decades and the likelihood of mold growth.

Yesterday's request comes on the heels of a May 7 letter sent to GAO requesting a review of the different types and methods of biosafety inactivation and attenuation protocols.
May 19 ECC letter to GAO
May 19 ECC news release
May 7 ECC letter to GAO


Officials report novel rabies strain in New Mexico

The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) said yesterday that a rabid fox from Lincoln County that bit a woman on Apr 20 had a strain of rabies that has never before been identified.

The Rabies Laboratory at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the finding after its scientists conducted genetic sequencing of the virus, the NMDOH said in a press release.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) announced on Apr 23 that the fox, which attacked a 78-year-old woman in Lincoln County, had tested positive for rabies. The woman received a series of rabies vaccinations to prevent rabies, which is usually fatal.

The NMDOH is working with the CDC and NMDGF to increase surveillance in Lincoln County, which is in the south-central part of the state. "We'll be collecting dead foxes and bats found on the ground in Lincoln County and testing them for rabies," said NMDOH Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. "This new strain is related to other rabies strains found in bats."
May 19 NMDOH press release
Apr 23 NMDGF news release


Compensation cleared for victims of 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak

A federal judge yesterday cleared the way for victims of a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak caused by a now-closed Massachusetts compounding pharmacy to have access to a $200 million compensation fund, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday.

The 2012 outbreak sickened at least 750 people in 20 states and killed 64. The fund is set up to compensate creditors and victims of the outbreak, caused by tainted steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center formerly of Framingham, Mass. It is part of a plan to liquidate the assets of the company by US Bankruptcy Court Judge Henry Boroff, the story said.

"This is really the end process of the bankruptcy case, barring any appeals," said David Molton, a New York lawyer representing creditors. About 3,300 victims are qualified to seek compensation from the fund, he said.
May 19 AP story

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