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Six department of health employees to be suspended over Digital Vibes saga
30 September 2021, 12:30 PM

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has announced that action is being taken against six more employees in the Department of Health who were implicated in the Special Investigating Unit report into the Digital Vibes saga.

The SIU report into the multimillion rand Digital Vibes COVID-19 communication contract has revealed damning findings against former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, his family and close associates.

The company, owned by Mkhize’s associates, was awarded R150-million to provide COVID-19 related communication services last year.

Speaking during a media briefing in Pretoria, Phaahla says six people will receive letters of suspension, with the Director General of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, being the seventh to have already been placed on precautionary suspension.

“We have noted that there are serious allegations against a number of departmental senior officials, notably that of our deputy director general responsible for health regulations and compliance Dr Anban Pillay. There are 6 officials that the acting DG has to take steps against. By the close of business today, all affected 6 officials in the department of health would have been served with suspension letters. Dr Buthelezi has already been put on suspension.”

Health Ministry responds to SIU report findings and recommendations

Ramaphosa releases SIU report into Digital Vibes contract:

President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the publication of the final report into the Digital Vibes matter earlier this week.

The company, owned by Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha, was awarded R150 million to provide communication during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The 114-page report details how a R150 million communications contract was unlawfully awarded with the tender process having reportedly been set up to favour Digital Vibes.

The report shows that service fees for COVID-19 communications were highly inflated.

The report has also named Department of Health officials including Anban Pillay and Precious Matsoso.

In June, Ramaphosa placed Mkhize on special leave.

In August, Dedani Mkhize, son of the former Health Minster, complained that the unit should have served him with papers before it went to the Special Tribunal.

This was after it emerged that he allegedly collected boxes and parcels stuffed with cash from one of the key figures in the corruption saga involving Digital Vibes.

According to documents the SIU filed at the Special Tribunal, Mkhize repeatedly met with Digital Vibes Director Radha Hariram at a fuel station in Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal, where he allegedly collected cash directly linked to the department’s contract.

Presidential report:

Coronavirus can transform pancreas cell function
30 September 2021, 12:23 PM

When the coronavirus infects cells, it not only impairs their activity but can also change their function, new findings suggest. For example, when insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas become infected with the virus, they not only produce much less insulin than usual, but also start to produce glucose and digestive enzymes, which is not their job, researchers found.

“We call this a change of cell fate,” said study leader Dr. Shuibing Chen, who described the work in a presentation on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, held virtually this year.

It is not clear whether the changes are long-lasting, or if they might be reversible, the researchers noted earlier in a report published in Cell Metabolism. Chen noted that some COVID-19 survivors have developed diabetes shortly after infection. “It is definitely worth investigating the rate of new-onset diabetes patients in this COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a statement.

Her team has been experimenting with the coronavirus in clusters of cells engineered to create mini-organs, or organoids, that resemble the lungs, liver, intestines, heart and nervous system.

Their findings suggest loss of cell fate/function may be happening in lung tissues as well, Chen, from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told Reuters.

Certain genes may protect an infected patient’s spouse

A study of couples in which both partners were exposed to the coronavirus but only one person got infected is helping to shed light on why some people may be naturally resistant to the virus.

The researchers had believed such cases were rare, but a call for volunteers who fit that profile turned up roughly a thousand couples. Ultimately, they took blood samples from 86 couples for detailed analysis.

The results suggest resistant partners more often have genes that contribute to more efficient activation of so-called natural killer (NK) cells, which are part of the immune system’s initial response to germs.

When NKs are correctly activated, they are able to recognize and destroy infected cells, preventing the disease from developing, the researchers explained in a report published on Tuesday in Frontiers in Immunology.

“Our hypothesis is that the genomic variants most frequently found in the susceptible spouse lead to the production of molecules that inhibit activation of NKs,” study leader Mayana Zatz of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, said in a statement. The current study cannot prove this is happening, she added.

Even if the findings are confirmed with more research, the contributions of other immune mechanisms would also need to be investigated, the researchers said.

Experimental pill shows promise against coronavirus variants

Laboratory studies show that Merck & Co’s experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be effective in patients infected with any of the known variants of the coronavirus, including the dominant, highly transmissible Delta, researchers said on Wednesday in a presentation during IDWeek 2021, the virtual annual meeting of infectious disease organizations.

Molnupiravir does not target the spike protein of the virus, which is the target of all current COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, it targets an enzyme the virus uses to make copies of itself.

It is designed to work by introducing errors into the genetic code of the virus. Data showed that the drug is most effective when given early in the course of infection, Merck said.

The company is conducting two large late-stage trials of the drug – one for treatment of COVID-19 and another as a preventive.

Sinkhole
West Rand municipal council to consider declaring Merafong City local municipality a disaster area
30 September 2021, 11:26 AM

The West Rand District municipal council is expected to convene on Thursday to consider declaring the Merafong City local municipality a disaster area.

Merafong includes areas such as Khutsong, Carletonville and Fochville. Declaring Merafong a disaster area will enable the municipality to source funds and other resources to relocate residents in areas affected by sinkholes to a safer place.

A geological study commissioned by the municipality in 2000 found that 90% of Khutsong township is on dolomitic land and that there is an urgent need to relocate communities. Gauteng premier David Makhura visited Khutsong on Wednesday.

“The disaster will be declared by the district municipality. The principal thing is to attend to the old infrastructure, water and sewer infrastructure destroyed by the sinkhole with regards to housing development in this area because the old township of Khutsong is affected by sinkholes. We have a new development here called Elijah Bagayi, we have moved lots of people affected by the sinkhole problem.”

Billions will be needed to relocate people from sinkhole-prone Khutsong

Four year old girl killed in Cape Flats shooting
30 September 2021, 9:28 AM

A four year old girl has died after being caught in crossfire of an alleged gang-related shooting in Cape Town.

Western Cape Police spokesperson, Andre Traut, says she was shot and wounded in a wendy house in Ottery on Wednesday night and later died in hospital.

He says a 48 year old man was also wounded in the attack.

“During the same incident, a 48 year old male sustained a gunshot wound and was admitted to hospital too. Three suspects fled the scene and are being sought. It is believed that rival gangs shot at each other and that the girl was caught in the crossfire. If you can shed any light on this matter, or know the whereabouts of the suspects please do not hesitate to contact Crime Stop on 08600 10111.”

3 people shot and killed, 2 others wounded in Crossroads near Nyanga 

Meanwhile, earlier this month, three people were shot and killed and two others wounded in Crossroads near Nyanga on the Cape Flats. Police Spokesperson, Novela Potelwa says suspects in a minibus taxi fired several shots at four men. Three men died on the scene while a fourth was wounded.

Potelwa says a woman in her 30s who was standing outside her home was wounded when she was hit by a stray bullet.

Nyanga police have launched a manhunt for suspects who shot and killed 3 men and injured two others in Crossroads on Saturday afternoon.

The shooting incident occurred in Situlo street.

Video: 3 people shot and killed, 2 others wounded in Crossroads near Nyanga on the Cape Flats

Flouting U.N. sanctions in Africa? No one is watching after Russia move
30 September 2021, 8:50 AM

Russia is delaying the appointment of panels of independent experts to monitor violations of U.N. sanctions on South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR)and Mali, diplomats said on Wednesday, leaving their work in limbo.

Russia is unhappy with the number of experts appointed from Western countries, diplomats said, and would like more Russians named to the panels. Russia is working to expand its influence in Africa, specifically challenging traditional French sway in Mali and CAR.

“Russia indeed put on hold the approval of a number of panels or individual experts,” Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told Reuters. “Unfortunately we are still faced with the situation when the proposed composition of such panels is not geographically balanced. We have a predominance of representatives of Western countries.”

The mandates for the panel of experts on South Sudan expired on July 1, for Democratic Republic of Congo on Aug. 1, CAR on August 31 and Mali ends on September 30.

Until the council agrees to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appointments for the new mandate of these panels, the experts can’t start work and their efforts to track sanctions violations are hampered.

Russia is also delaying a replacement appointment of one expert to the panel monitoring sanctions on Somalia, diplomats said. The rest of the experts on that panel are able to work until their mandate expires in mid-December.

Guterres appoints panels of between four and six independent experts for each of these U.N. sanctions regimes. They monitor and report to the Security Council on violations and recommend further action.

Each year the Security Council renews the various sanctions regimes and the mandates for the panels. Guterres then writes a letter to the council to tell them which experts he has appointed and the 15-member body – by consensus – acknowledges the decision, allowing the panel to start work.

“Some of the experts do not meet the requirements of impartiality, neutrality and independence,” Polyanskiy said. “This affects the results of their work. This situation should be fixed,”

Earlier this year, the panel of experts monitoring CAR sanctions accused Russian military instructors and CAR troops of targeting civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting. The Kremlin has said it is a lie that Russian instructors had taken part in killings or robberies.

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