Global health news round-up: five-minute COVID lab tests, malaria vaccine success

Each week, Leading Healthcare rounds-up recent global news stories in health and care.

Over the past seven days, the UK has seen news including the announcement of a new clinical research facility at London’s Royal Free Hospital, as well as the launch of new sustainable healthcare plans on Earth Day.

But away from these shores, there have also been plenty of stories – focusing on everything from COVID-19 passes and quicker lab testing, to malaria vaccine achievements and health system shake-ups.

First up we’re in France, where the trial of a digital coronavirus travel certificate has begun – making the nation the first in the EU to apply the idea. As per The Guardian, the country’s TousAntiCovid app has been upgraded and now includes the ability to store negative COVID-19 test results. The trial is also set to be extended past the original 29 April date to include vaccination certificates – with antibody test results to be added at a later date.

Members of the public will be able to access a ‘state-certified online document’ – which can be stored, printed or downloaded – to help make travelling easier. The app will also generate a QR code featuring the user’s personal details and results. (The Guardian)

There’s similar news from Denmark – which has recently begun trialling a ‘Coronapas’ for those who have been vaccinated, have antibodies or have tested negative within the last 72 hours, to enable residents to visit hairdressers, tattoo parlours, salons, and driving schools. Leisure venues such as cinemas, theatres, museums and restaurants are also expected to be added in May. The passes work through an app called MinSundhed (MyHealth) which links to Danish ID numbers. (The Guardian / BBC)

As part of a wider global story, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a new plan to ‘stamp out’ malaria in another 25 countries by 2025. The news comes ahead of the annual World Malaria Day on 25 April.

The initiative – called E-2025 – will provide specialised support and technical guidance for nations working towards achieving zero cases of locally-transmitted malaria. The WHO reports that between 2000 and 2020, a list of 24 countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria for three or more years – including Algeria, Argentina, China, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. (WHO)

In more malaria-related news, the WHO also reports that Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have administered over 1.7 million doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine across the past two years – as part of a pilot programme that will ‘inform a WHO recommendation’ on ‘broader use of the vaccine across sub-Saharan Africa’. (WHO)

Meanwhile, another malaria vaccine developed by the Jenner Institute of Oxford University has shown up to 77% efficacy in a trial that took place over 12 months in 450 children in Burkina Faso. Larger trials will now begin. (The Guardian)

In Japan, scientific institutes, including Riken, have developed technology that can detect COVID-19 in a lab in just five minutes. It is believed results are as accurate as polymerase chain reaction tests, which currently take an hour.

Published in Communications Biology, the research method is said to involve placing test samples in a mixture of a special enzyme and a reagent – with light emitted if coronavirus is present. According to The Japan Times, the test can also detect variants but cannot differentiate them from the original strain.

The aim is that clinical research in fiscal will begin in 2022, with commercial release of the testing system to follow – and the hope is that this technique can also be applied to other viruses and cancers for quicker and earlier detection. (The Japan Times)

According to Reuters, India – whose health system is coming under increasing strain due to its current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic – has ‘reported the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus infections’ for the second day in a row, as of Friday 23 April, with over 330,000 new cases. (Reuters)

Over in New Zealand, the government has announced that its healthcare system will be overhauled and become national, with district boards to be replaced by a single, centralised organisation called Health New Zealand. This will also include an Indigenous Maori Health Authority. The goal is to simplify and streamline the current system, reducing fragmentation and the number of decision-makers, as well as to improve racial inequalities within health and reduce geographic or ‘postcode’ differences in care. (ABC News)