Disproportionate numbers of adults with chronic diseases, such as obesity, hypertension and lung disease, reduced their physical activity levels during the first weeks of the UK COVID-19 lockdown, according to a new study co-led led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM),
The research, conducted with UCL and the University of Bath, also found similar reduced levels of activity for people with disabilities and depression.
Published as a pre-print on medRxiv, the study uses data from a UK-wide online survey of more than 5,800 adults aged 20 and over, and reveals that while the majority (60%) of adults have maintained the same intensity of physical activity as they did pre-COVID-19, a quarter (25.4%) adopted lower intensity physical activity. This latter group included a bigger proportion of adults who have health conditions that heighten the risk of suffering from the most severe effects of COVID-19, should they contract the SARS-CoV2 virus.
Lead author of the study, Dr Nina Rogers (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) said: “Low levels of physical activity put adults at increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease and stroke which are also potential risk factors for more severe complications if someone develops COVID-19.
“It is concerning that in the mid to long term, multiple lockdowns might lead to prolonged periods of low physical activity which could increase the size of the population that is most vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.”
The study also found that not only people with medical conditions but also those who perceived themselves or others in their home to be at risk, had more frequently changed towards a more inactive lifestyle.
Senior author Dr Chrissy Roberts, Associate Professor at LSHTM said: “We believe that the trade-off between being protected from COVID-19 and the health detriments of reduced physical activity could place already vulnerable populations in a potential ‘no-win’ situation.
“When we’re talking about vulnerable people, it’s not just those who already have underlying health problems, but those who perceive themselves to be at risk too.
“We could well see seasonal cycles of COVID-19, as we do with flu. If that’s the case then we have to start thinking about protecting people from this COVID-19 epidemic, or the one that could come next year. If a person feels at risk now and reduces their physical activity in response, then this could set them on a course towards developing the same risk factors that would make them vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 in subsequent epidemic waves.”
Virologist Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, fell ill with COVID-19 in mid-March. He spent a week in a hospital and has been recovering at his home in London since. Climbing a flight of stairs still leaves him breathless.
Piot, who grew up in Belgium, was one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus in 1976 and spent his career fighting infectious diseases. He headed the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS between 1995 and 2008 and is currently a coronavirus adviser to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. But his personal confrontation with the new coronavirus was a life-changing experience, Piot says.
This interview took place on 2 May. Piot’s answers have been edited and translated from Dutch:
“ON 19 MARCH, I SUDDENLY HAD A HIGH FEVER and a stabbing headache. My skull and hair felt very painful, which was bizarre. I didn’t have a cough at the time, but still, my first reflex was: I have it. I kept working—I’m a workaholic—but from home. We put a lot of effort into teleworking at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine last year, so that we didn’t have to travel as much. That investment, made in the context of the fight against global warming, is now very useful, of course.
I tested positive for COVID-19, as I suspected. I put myself in isolation in the guest room at home. But the fever didn’t go away. I had never been seriously ill and have not taken a day of sick leave the past 10 years. I live a pretty healthy life and walk regularly. The only risk factor for corona is my age—I’m 71. I’m an optimist, so I thought it would pass. But on 1 April, a doctor friend advised me to get a thorough examination because the fever and especially the exhaustion were getting worse and worse.
It turned out I had severe oxygen deficiency, although I still wasn’t short of breath. Lung images showed I had severe pneumonia, typical of COVID-19, as well as bacterial pneumonia. I constantly felt exhausted, while normally I’m always buzzing with energy. It wasn’t just fatigue, but complete exhaustion; I’ll never forget that feeling. I had to be hospitalized, although I tested negative for the virus in the meantime. This is also typical for COVID-19: The virus disappears, but its consequences linger for weeks.
I was concerned I would be put on a ventilator immediately because I had seen publications showing it increases your chance of dying. I was pretty scared, but fortunately, they just gave me an oxygen mask first and that turned out to work. So, I ended up in an isolation room in the antechamber of the intensive care department. You’re tired, so you’re resigned to your fate. You completely surrender to the nursing staff. You live in a routine from syringe to infusion and you hope you make it. I am usually quite proactive in the way I operate, but here I was 100% patient.
I shared a room with a homeless person, a Colombian cleaner, and a man from Bangladesh—all three diabetics, incidentally,which is consistent with the known picture of the disease. The days and nights were lonely because no one had the energy to talk. I could only whisper for weeks; even now, my voice loses power in the evening. But I always had that question going around in my head: How will I be when I get out of this?
After fighting viruses all over the world for more than 40 years, I have become an expert in infections. I’m glad I had corona and not Ebola, although I read a scientific study yesterday that concluded you have a 30% chance of dying if you end up in a British hospital with COVID-19. That’s about the same overall mortality rate as for Ebola in 2014 in West Africa. That makes you lose your scientific level-headedness at times, and you surrender to emotional reflections. They got me, I sometimes thought. I have devoted my life to fighting viruses and finally, they get their revenge. For a week I balanced between heaven and Earth, on the edge of what could have been the end.
I was released from the hospital after a long week. I traveled home by public transport. I wanted to see the city, with its empty streets, its closed pubs, and its surprisingly fresh air. There was nobody on the street—a strange experience. I couldn’t walk properly because my muscles were weakened from lying down and from the lack of movement, which is not a good thing when you’re treating a lung condition. At home, I cried for a long time. I also slept badly for a while. The risk that something could still go seriously wrong keeps going through your head. You’re locked up again, but you’ve got to put things like that into perspective. I now admire Nelson Mandela even more than I used to. He was locked in prison for 27 years but came out as a great reconciler.
I have always had great respect for viruses, and that has not diminished. I have devoted much of my life to the fight against the AIDS virus. It’s such a clever thing; it evades everything we do to block it. Now that I have felt the compelling presence of a virus in my body myself, I look at viruses differently. I realize this one will change my life, despite the confrontational experiences I’ve had with viruses before. I feel more vulnerable.
One week after I was discharged, I became increasingly short of breath. I had to go to the hospital again, but fortunately, I could be treated on an outpatient basis. I turned out to have an organizing pneumonia-induced lung disease, caused by a so-called cytokine storm. It’s a result of your immune defense going into overdrive. Many people do not die from the tissue damage caused by the virus, but from the exaggerated response of their immune system, which doesn’t know what to do with the virus. I’m still under treatment for that, with high doses of corticosteroids that slow down the immune system. If I had had that storm along with the symptoms of the viral outbreak in my body, I wouldn’t have survived. I had atrial fibrillation, with my heart rate going up to 170 beats per minute; that also needs to be controlled with therapy, particularly to prevent blood clotting events, including stroke. This is an underestimated ability of the virus: It can probably affect all the organs in our body.
Many people think COVID-19 kills 1% of patients, and the rest get away with some flulike symptoms. But the story gets more complicated. Many people will be left with chronic kidney and heart problems. Even their neural system is disrupted. There will be hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, possibly more, who will need treatments such as renal dialysis for the rest of their lives. The more we learn about the coronavirus, the more questions arise. We are learning while we are sailing. That’s why I get so annoyed by the many commentators on the sidelines who, without much insight, criticize the scientists and policymakers trying hard to get the epidemic under control. That’s very unfair.
“My lung images finally look better again. I opened up a good bottle of wine to celebrate, the first in a long time.”–Peter Piot, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), working on behalf of NHS England and in partnership with NHSX, have analysed the pseudonymised health data of over 17.4 million UK adults to discover the key factors associated with death from COVID-19.
This is the largest study on COVID-19 conducted by any country to date, analysing NHS health data from 17.4 million UK adults between 01 February 2020 and 25 April 2020, which has given the strongest evidence to date on risk factors associated with coronavirus. Among the sample, there were 5,707 deaths in hospitals attributed to COVID-19.
Compared to white people, people of Asian and Black ethnic origin were found to be at a higher risk of death. Previously, commentators and researchers have reasonably speculated that this might be due to higher prevalence of medical problems such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes among BME communities, or higher deprivation. The findings, based on detailed data, show that this only accounts for a small part of the excess risk. Consequently, further work must be done to fully understand why BME people are at such increased risk of death.
Additionally, people from deprived social backgrounds were also found to be at a higher risk of death, which also could not be explained by other risk factors.
Results confirmed that men are at increased risk from COVID-19 death, as well as people of older ages and those with uncontrolled diabetes. People with more severe asthma were also found to be at increased risk of death from COVID-19.
The study linked data about patients that had been hospitalised with COVID-19 with data held in primary care records processed by TPP. This was carried via the OpenSAFELY analytics platform, a new secure mechanism which allowed the GP records to be linked where they are stored for individual care. This minimises the security risks associated with transferring and storing data elsewhere, to deliver analyses quickly and safely while preserving patient privacy. All identifiable data remains in control of the NHS and data is pseudonymised before it can be accessed by researchers.
Professor Liam Smeeth, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at LSHTM, NHS doctor and co-lead on the study, says: ‘We need highly accurate data on which patients are most at risk in order to manage the pandemic and improve patient care. The answers provided by this OpenSAFELY analysis are of crucial importance to countries around the world. For example, it is very concerning to see that the higher risks faced by people from BME backgrounds are not attributable to identifiable underlying health conditions’.
Dr Ben Goldacre, Director of the DataLab in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, NHS doctor and co-lead on the study, says: ‘During a global health emergency we need answers quickly and accurately. That means we need very large, very current datasets. The UK has phenomenal coverage and quality of data. We owe it to patients to keep their data secure; and we owe it to the global community to make good use of this data. That’s why we have developed a new highly secure model, taking the analytics to where the data already resides.’
Further analyses using OpenSAFELY are already underway, including investigation into the effects of specific drugs routinely prescribed in primary care. The platform can also be used to evaluate COVID-19 spread with innovative approaches to modelling; predict local health service needs; assess the indirect health impacts of the pandemic; track the impact of national interventions; and inform exit from lockdown.
China is facing growing pressure from national governments and international organizations to open its doors to an independent, international investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus causing the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as into the nation’s early response to the outbreak. So far, however, the Chinese government has given no public sign it is interested in cooperating. Its silence, and signs that China is stifling origins research by its own scientists, have fueled theories that the virus accidently leaked from a lab there.
“The whole world wants the exact origin of the virus to be clarified,” German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas told reporters today, endorsing calls for China to allow an outside body to conduct field research and other studies aimed at determining how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, jumped into humans. The Chinese government’s response to such calls, he says, will demonstrate “how transparent it wants to be with the virus.”
The remarks echo those made in the past few weeks by the European Commission, Sweden, Australia, and others. And they come as a few government officials, including U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where SARS-CoV-2 was first identified. That lab studies and stores samples of coronaviruses found in bats and other species. So far, however, the assertions that the new virus was in that facility have not been backed by hard evidence, and some scientists are skeptical of the escape claim, saying it is more likely that SARS-CoV-2 naturally emerged elsewhere.
Still, both politicians and scientists are increasingly calling on China to make any investigations it is conducting into the matter more transparent—and to allow independent scrutiny. After its Friday meeting, for example, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Emergency Committee, a group of independent scientific experts advising the agency, recommended a probe that included “field missions” to China, and perhaps the involvement of the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Its goal would be to “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts,” the panel said.
“We need transparency,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Commission, said this past Friday on CNBC in response to a question about whether she would support an independent review. But she suggested any investigation would need China’s participation and could wait until the pandemic abates.
Sweden’s health minister, Lena Hallengren, made similar remarks on 30 April. “When the global situation of COVID-19 is under control, it is both reasonable and important that an international, independent investigation be conducted to gain knowledge about the origin and spread of the coronavirus,” she wrote to Sweden’s Parliament. Hallengren said Sweden is planning to ask the European Union to push for the probe.
Australia wants to see WHO push for an investigation. “It would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on 23 April, urging WHO members to back an inquiry.
WHO is not currently involved in studies in China, spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic tells ScienceInsider, but it “would be keen to work with international partners and at the invitation of the Chinese government to participate in investigation around the animal origins” of the virus.
“It is our understanding that a number of investigations to better understand the source of the outbreak in China are currently underway or planned,” he added, “including investigations of human cases with symptom onset in and around Wuhan in late 2019, environmental sampling from markets and farms in areas where the first human cases were identified, and detailed records on the source and type of wildlife species and farmed animals sold in these markets.”
The Chinese government has said it has launched its own investigation into the origins and early response to the pandemic, but has publicly provided few details. And it has responded with anger to assertions it bears responsibility for allowing the outbreak to spread globally, with government-sponsored news organs calling such claims “baseless.” Multiple press reports have also provided evidence that China has promoted disinformation campaigns suggesting the virus originated in other places, such as the United States.
The first trial, called DISCOVERY, started on 22 March 2020 to test four experimental treatments against COVID-19. This trial will recruit 3200 patients from Belgium, France, Germany Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The second trial, called RECOVERY, started enrolment of patients in the United Kingdom on 27 March 2020. This trial is testing two treatments against COVID-19. In the future, RECOVERY trial will be expanded to assess the impact of other potential treatments as they become available.
For more information follow the links below:
By: Sheila Harvey, Associate Professor in Clinical and Social Intervention Trials at LSHTM, and Saidi Kapiga, Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at LSHTM
The impact of violence against women is considerable. Women often have low self-esteem and low self-confidence. They feel inferior to others in their community, including their own children, who witness them being beaten by their partner. Other women feel angry and have vented their anger on their children.
But talking about violence has given women hope that things can change.
Globally, around a third of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. There are many negative impacts for women and their families, including poor physical health, mental health problems, such as depression, post-traumatic distress, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Furthermore, there is accumulating evidence of an association between intimate partner violence and women’s risk of becoming infected with HIV infection. Studies have highlighted poverty as one of the key drivers of vulnerability to intimate partner violence and HIV infection. This has led to economic interventions, such as microfinancing, being employed as a central approach to addressing these overlapping epidemics with the aim of strengthening women economically and improving household welfare.
There is also increasing recognition of its impact on health. Women’s increased participation in decision-making is associated with positive impacts on population and child health.
It has been suggested that microfinance can reduce intimate partner violence by empowering women economically, which in turn, leads to greater self-esteem and self-confidence, wider social networks, and household decision-making power.
However, the impact of microfinance on violence against women has produced mixed results. It may also increase intimate partner violence by challenging established gender norms and male authority.
A recent evaluation of economic interventions found that positive outcomes were more likely when economic strengthening was combined with gender empowerment interventions.
In one of the earliest trials implemented in South Africa, microfinance loans were provided to women in groups in combination with a 10-session participatory gender and HIV awareness intervention. Two years after delivery of the intervention, women’s reported experience of past-year physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence was reduced by 55%.
This influential trial also raised a number of questions, including whether the impact was due to the microfinance loans or to the 10-session gender awareness component, or both. Another important question for policymakers was whether a similar impact could be achieved in other settings with high rates of violence.
This is something we wanted to find out in the recent MAISHA study.
Delivered to women who are members of an established microfinance loan scheme in Mwanza city, Tanzania, MAISHA involved a ten-session participatory curriculum that covered a range of gender issues and aimed to: empower women, prevent their experience of intimate partner violence, and to promote healthy intimate relationships.
Interviews before the intervention revealed women in Mwanza experience high rates of physical and/or sexual violence. They also experience other forms of abuse such as controlling behavior by a partner, and emotional and economic abuse.
Our intervention reduced the risk of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence by a quarter over a two-year period. The effect was strongest for physical violence, which was reduced by one-third, while the impact on sexual violence was limited.
The impact was greater among women who participated in seven or more of the ten sessions. Attitudes towards violence and norms around male authority shifted among women who received the intervention. In-depth interviews with a small sub-set of the women who participated in the intervention revealed increased self-confidence because of new skills in communication and conflict resolution.
However, it is not clear whether a similar reduction in violence would be observed if the MAISHA intervention was delivered to women who are not engaged in established group-based microfinance activities. It is possible that combining the intervention with a scheme that aims to empower women economically was necessary to produce the effect on violence we observed. This would support findings from other studies.
To understand whether the MAISHA intervention could have the same effect among women not engaged in a microfinance loan scheme, a second trial has recently been completed in Mwanza city.
The UN’s sustainable development goal 5 is to eliminate all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls, and the MAISHA study adds to the growing evidence that violence can be prevented by combining strategies to improve women’s economic and social situation.
Further work is required but the MAISHA intervention has the potential to positively impact the lives of a large number of women, not just in Tanzania but also in other similar settings with high rates of gender-based violence across the globe.
S. Kapiga, S. Harvey, G. Mshana, C.H. Hansen, G.J. Mtolela, F. Madaha, R. Hasim, I. Kapinga, N. Mosha, T. Ambramsky, S. Lees, C. Watts. A social empowerment intervention to prevent intimate partner violence against women in a microfinance scheme in Tanzania: findings from the MAISHA cluster randomized controlled trial. The Lancet. DOI:10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30316-X
On 16 September 2019, MITU published results from a large cluster-randomised controlled trial (called MAISHA study) evaluating a social empowerment intervention to prevent intimate partner violence against women. MITU investigators conducted the trial in Mwanza city, NW Tanzania. Women involved in a microfinance loan scheme (provided by BRAC) took part in a participatory gender awareness curriculum, which aims to empower women, prevent intimate partner violence, and promote healthy relationships. The curriculum was developed by EngenderHealth, an international non-profit organisation focussing on gender equity and reproductive health.
The investigators found that after 24 months, women in the intervention arm were less likely than those in the control arm (who did not receive the intervention) to report past-year physical or sexual intimate partner violence. The effect was greater for past-year physical IPV, which was reduced by a third. However, evidence of an impact on past-year sexual IPV was limited. Women in the intervention arm were also much less likely to express attitudes accepting of intimate partner violence, or express attitudes accepting of intimate partner violence, or to view intimate partner violence as a private matter.
Intimate partner violence is a major problem in Tanzania, and many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The Tanzanian government is committed to addressing this problem through its national plan of action to end violence against women. This trial, which was conducted in collaboration with the Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, addressed the UN’s sustainable development goal 5 to eliminate all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls.
The trial findings add to evidence from other studies showing that a social empowerment intervention combined with economic empowerment can be effective in reducing women’s experience of intimate partner violence. The MAISHA investigators have recently completed a second, linked trial evaluating the impact of the MAISHA intervention delivered to women in newly-formed groups who are not engaged in a formal microfinance loan scheme.
“The results of MAISHA suggest that the addition of a social empowerment intervention to existing microfinance programmes can lead to considerable reductions in women’s experiences of physical intimate partner violence over and above those that may result from microfinance alone” said Prof Saidi Kapiga, co-principal investigator of MAISHA study.
“The MAISHA trial adds to a growing body of evidence that violence against women is preventable. Interventions such as MAISHA have the potential to positively affect the lives of a large number of women in Tanzania, and other settings where intimate partner violence is common” said Dr Sheila Harvey, co-investigator of MAISHA study.
For more information, you can read the published article online in the Lancet Global Health. Here are the links to the paper and the accompanying editorial.
“The community is not on the girls’ side”
Rise clubs are helping adolescent girls and young women start conversations about HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Khayelitsha is one of South Africa’s largest townships, situated in the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa.
As is the case in many other communities in South Africa, women and girls in the semi-informal settlement deal with gender inequality on a daily basis, which puts them at higher risk of HIV infection.
Gender inequality is a barrier for adolescent girls and young women to access HIV and sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education. It also places girls at higher risk of gender-based violence.
Momentum for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa is building and many African countries have already integrated UHC into their national health strategies. But with 11 million Africans pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket health expenses, how can Africa achieve UHC which delivers a quality package of care for people living in Africa?
The UHC debate was buzzing in Rwanda’s capital Kigali this week during one of the largest health gatherings in Africa, the Africa Health Agenda International conference 2019. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Health of Rwanda and the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref Health Africa), 1500 health leaders shared new ideas and home-grown solutions to the continent’s most pressing health challenges.
Participants discussed the need for countries to embrace the concept of UHC and do their utmost to make it work. They stressed that good health allows children to learn and adults to contribute to societies and the economy. They also underscored that it can allow people to emerge from poverty and provides the basis for long-term economic security, essential for the future of the continent.
Host country President, Paul Kagame was awarded the honour of excellence in recognition of his political leadership on UHC. In a tweet he thanked Amref saying, “We owe this progress to partners like you who have joined forces with us in our journey to deliver a dignified and healthy life for all Rwandans.” The Minister of Health of Ethiopia also received an award for Ethiopia’s work in promoting primary health care.
Ensuring that everyone has access to basic health services is a challenge and the key to the success of UHC will be ensuring that the quality of services is good enough to improve the health of the people who access them.
“We need to track the impact of UHC,” said Michel Sidibé, co-moderating a high-level ministerial panel. “Coverage is not enough, we need to be delivering quality, affordable, accessible services to all. The ultimate measure of success for UHC will be whether the poorest, the marginalized and the most vulnerable people are able to benefit.”
During the conference Mr Sidibé participated in a townhall with young people. He spoke to them about their meaningful engagement in the UHC process saying that young people need to ‘claim and own the space.’ He also talked to civil society groups about the remarkable progress towards achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment targets across Africa and of the critical need of their continued engagement on HIV within UHC.
The first ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage will take place on 23 September 2019 during the United Nations General Assembly under the theme ‘Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World.’
The number of new HIV infections globally continues to fall. Modelled estimates show that new infections (all ages) declined from a peak of 3.4 million [2.6 million–4.4 million] in 1996 to 1.8 million [1.4 million–2.4 million] in 2017—the year for which the most recent data are available. However, progress is far slower than that required to reach the 2020 target of fewer than 500 000 new HIV infections (see graph below).