1. June 2023
News from the Capitals
Didier Raoult: game over?
Didier Raoult gained a global celebrity at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic for touting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. He is being criticised by many experts for questionable studies conducted at the Hospital University Institute of Infectious Diseases (IHU) in Marseille. For the last three years, he refuses to confront his findings to the rest of the scientific community because he considers himself “the star of infectious diseases” and that no one can confront the “elite”. Nowadays, he prefers to express himself in mainstream and conspiracy-theorist media.
His latest known feat of arms is a non-peer-reviewed manuscript – i.e., not yet vetted for publication in a scientific journal – published online on 04 April 2023. Based on 30,423 Covid-19 patients treated at his institute between 02 March 2020 and 31 December 2021, the preprint described the effectiveness in terms of reduced mortality of the treatment combining hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, the infamous “Raoult protocol”. On 28 May 2023, 18 personalities from the medical and scientific community signed a tribune published in the reference journal Le Monde to denounce the absence of conformation to the legislative framework on research and the lack of reaction of the health authorities. For the signatories, this work constitutes “the largest known unauthorized clinical trial to date”.
In December 2021, Didier Raoult received a “warning” sanction from a regional Medical Council; the National Medical Council appeal a minima this decision, meaning that they consider that this sanction could be more severe. In July 2022, Marseille’s public prosecutor opened an investigation for other accusations of a breach in regulation on research. In September 2022, the two independent authorities responsible for the inspection of health and superior education establishments published a report pointing out “serious malfunctions” in the institute he chaired. In May 2023, the justice authorities performed perquisitions in this institute.
In February 2020, Didier Raoult published a video about his alleged miracle elixir whose original title was “Coronavirus: game over!”. Are we witnessing the beginning of Didier Raoult’s own game over?
Paris Games in 2024: the government does not want homeless persons in the street
With the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming next year, the government asked regional authorities to set up “temporary regional accommodation facilities” that can welcome the flow of homeless individuals that will be asked to leave Paris. Invited to react to this plan, Housing Minister Olivier Klein explained that this plan will not force people and that this operation is meant to “lower the number of homeless individuals in Paris region to have a better within-reach support in other regions”.
This polemic comes in a larger picture of criticism around the arrival of the Games, initially presented as “popular” by the French Authorities. This qualifying collides with the price of the tickets that can reach in some cases hundreds, nay thousands of euros. Recently, the Paris regional office of the public institution that provides student residences announced that they will requisition about 3,000 student rooms to accommodate Olympic and Paralympic Games staff.
Regarding the government management of homeless individuals, this action reminds the broken promise that newly elected President Macron gave to have no more people in the street by the end of 2017, along with the camps regularly dismantled by the authorities.
UK announces new regulatory recognition routes
Since COVID-19, the UK has focused on speeding up the process of approval for innovative medicines to ensure that patients have quicker access to life-saving treatments and NHS has more capacity to care for more patients. Brexit has also increased UK’s focus on independent medicine approval routes for innovative devices as part of the UK’s ambition to claim leadership in life sciences and MedTech.
As a big next step, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced new regulatory routes for medicines that will use established approvals from Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US. This means that innovative medicines approved in one of the respected countries will enter the UK market ready for staff and patient use, reducing the bureaucracy involved in regulatory approvals.
Reform of long-term care
With the votes of the traffic light coalition, the Bundestag has passed a reform of long-term care. This is intended to improve the situation of the five million people in need of long-term care in Germany and their families. To finance the higher benefits, contributions to long-term care insurance will rise to 3.4% of gross income on 1 July. Childless persons will then pay 4%. Federal Health Minister Lauterbach defended the reform against criticism and emphasised above all the improvements in for caring relatives.
The Federal Minister of Health wants to better support those in need of care and their relatives in the future with the so-called relief budget.
This is what the relief budget aims to do:
From July 2025 onwards, € 3,539 per year is provided for this, which caregiving relatives can flexibly use for prevention and short-term care. Among other things, the care benefits for ambulant and home care will also be increased. In 2024 by 5 % and in 2025 by 4.5 %.
Social associations complain that this increase would not be sufficient. They demand at least 16% to maintain purchasing power in the wake of inflation alone. The benefit improvements will be financed through contribution increases. However, the health insurance funds criticise that this is not a sustainable solution for long-term care insurance. Financial stabilisation would thus be achieved until 2025 at the most. Further measures are necessary for long-term stabilisation.
Family carers also criticise that the reform is far from sufficient.
Heated discussions about Habeck’s heating law
Federal Minister of Economics Habeck is currently consulting with coalition politicians on a possible compromise for his controversial heating law. The FDP in particular still needs clarification.
The minister has shown a willingness to compromise and has suggested that the start of the heating law could be staggered and initially only apply to new buildings. There could also be further technical options, such as the use of wood or wood pallets. In addition, district heating could come more into focus.
The FDP had put pressure on the bill. It is calling for a fundamental revision of the law. It wants the law to focus more on incentives and let people decide for themselves which heating system to install or not.
The Greens, on the other hand, accuse the FDP of breaking their word, as they had agreed to introduce the law before the parliamentary summer break.
The parties bring an end to the campaign for the municipal and regional elections on Friday night.
The campaign for the May 28th elections in Spain has been intense. The first week was dominated by controversy surrounding the electoral lists of EH Bildu, with candidates linked to ETA (ETA was a Basque separatist organization that conducted a prolonged and violent campaign for independence in Spain). Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faced accusations from the opposition, especially the PP, for his party’s alliances with Bildu. In the following days, parties focused on different messages: Sánchez emphasized his government’s achievements, while Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the PP aimed to unite conservative voters against Sánchez. Ciudadanos positioned themselves as defenders of centrism, Podemos highlighted their role as necessary for progressive change, and Vox targeted both the PSOE and the PP, promising a radical shift. The campaign has been marked by unexpected events and controversies, which have forced parties to adjust their strategies.
Spain – From drought to floods
Persistent rainfall in the east of Spain extends towards the center of the peninsula, causing damage and flooding. The torrential rains, caused by an isolated high-level depression (DANA), continue for the fifth day in the eastern part of the peninsula, resulting in damage and floods. On Friday, the rainfall extends to areas in the center, including the province of Castellón and the Sierra de Madrid, where there is a weather alert for precipitation ranging from 80 to 140 liters per square meter within 12 hours, according to the State Meteorological Agency.
In the town of Molina de Segura in Murcia, firefighters have rescued around fifteen drivers who were trapped in their vehicles and assisted in pumping out water from basements and lower areas.
The NOS reported that in the recent Dutch Senate elections, the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) has emerged as the largest party with 16 out of 75 seats. The combined GroenLinks and PvdA faction obtained 14 seats, one less than expected. The ruling coalition of VVD, D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie secured 24 seats, two more than projected. This gives the coalition a majority in the Senate. They can achieve this majority either with the support of the GroenLinks/PvdA faction ‘over left’ or with the BBB faction ‘over right’. Recent negotiations involved the allocation of “rest seats,” which can change hands when State members vote for different parties. The coalition’s two additional seats were the result of these negotiations.
Political reporter Lars Geerts explains that the coalition now has two options. The BBB, which aligns with the coalition’s ideologies, is open to cooperation, appealing to the CDA and VVD. However, D66 and ChristenUnie have fewer areas of agreement with the BBB and prefer to collaborate with GroenLinks/PvdA on climate and migration. The coalition has faced difficulties reaching a consensus on major issues, which could lead to challenges and internal conflicts.
In the Senate elections, BBB, GroenLinks, and PVV each lost one “rest seat.” GroenLinks’s loss is notable as it resulted from a member voting for Volt. This strained cooperation within the GroenLinks faction in Zuid-Holland. BBB’s victory was already anticipated based on the results of the March Provincial elections.
The official results of the Senate elections will be announced by the Electoral Council on Thursday, and the new Senate will convene on June 13. In the coming months, the Senate will discuss important legislation on topics such as nitrogen policy and asylum seeker reception. The government aims to enforce municipalities’ responsibilities in providing accommodation for asylum seekers, but securing majorities for these proposals remains uncertain.
Study Links COVID-19 Pandemic to Increased Memory and Concentration Problems in Adults
A recent study conducted by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel) has found a significant rise in adults seeking help for memory and concentration problems, suggesting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study observed a 40 percent increase in visits among adults aged 45 to 74 compared to early 2019.
Furthermore, there was a 31 percent increase in visits from individuals aged 25 to 44 with memory issues. However, no significant change was seen among those under 25, while a less pronounced 18 percent increase was noted among those aged 75 and above.
The study, based on data from the Nivel Primary Care Database, forms part of the COVID-19 Health Survey conducted by RIVM and other organizations on behalf of the Ministry of Health. Although the exact mechanisms underlying the relationship between COVID-19 and cognitive decline are still unclear, the findings align with the growing understanding of the pandemic’s consequences.
Addressing cognitive health concerns among adults, particularly those affected by the pandemic, is crucial. Continued research is needed to fully comprehend the impact of COVID-19 on cognitive function and to provide appropriate support and care to individuals experiencing memory and concentration problems.
High Rates of Overweight and Obesity Among Young Adults in the Netherlands, Study Finds
A recent study by the Central Bureau of Statistics reveals that a quarter of young adults in the Netherlands are overweight, with 7 percent suffering from severe obesity. The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased among children and young people, with 17 percent being overweight in 2022 compared to 15 percent in 2014. Factors such as parents’ educational level and non-European background contribute to the higher rates. Additionally, the study highlights low levels of physical activity among young people with overweight, with only 29 percent meeting the recommended exercise guidelines. The findings underscore the importance of targeted interventions and promoting a healthy lifestyle to address the growing issue of overweight and obesity among young adults in the country.
Greece joins the General Assembly of the World Health Organization in Geneva
On 26 May, in the framework of the General Assembly of the World Health Organization – World Health Assembly – the Deputy Minister of Health and member of the Standing Committee of the European Office of the World Health Organization, Ms. Mina Gaga, had meetings with the Director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus and with the Director of the European Office of the WHO, Dr. Hans Kluge.
On top of the agenda was the importance of primary health care, the quality of health services but also the crisis preparedness plans that must be signed by 2024 by all member countries.
New interim government in Greece: Neutral and impartial
On 26 May, the caretaker government, which will lead the country to a second round of elections on 25 June, was sworn in at the Presidential Palace.
Interim Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas requested yesterday from the members of the cabinet of the interim government to respect the values of “Neutrality, impartiality and objectivity”. The service ministers were sworn in before the President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou. However, Mr. Sarmas called ministers to a short meeting and referred the final discussion on government policy in the run-up to the election. As he underlined, “It’s not normal government policy, it’s government policy for a few weeks. Nevertheless, this is what the Constitution and the Law require. We must have a general direction and the prime minister will oversee the implementation of government policy.”
No end in sight for the Canadian healthcare system crisis
As presented last week, Canadian physicians are increasingly speaking up about the difficulties they are facing when treating patients caused by the lack shortages of personnel. This appears to be a national trend, with the Canadian hospital system facing a deep crisis that threatens patient care. Doctors in Calgary and Edmonton (Alberta) and in British Columbia have shared their worry about the situation in their hospitals, arguing that newly built hospitals remain empty because of the lack of staff and patients are forced to wait hours and sometimes days before receiving medical attention. Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones recently spoke about long-term problems in the province, sharing that there is no end in sight to staffing shortages in some areas. In British Columbia, some patients have resulted to crossing the border to get cancer screening due to the backlog in their area, forcing them to pay out of pocket for the medical expenses that would otherwise be covered by the Canadian Health System.
Ongoing research on the health effects of wildfire smoke
As the country is increasingly affected by wildfire as is currently the case in Alberta, research is being conducted on the long-term effects of smoke inhalation. On the short term, the inhaled smoke and particles can cause systemic inflammation in the body, which can lead over time to chronic diseases such as heart disease. For individuals with existing heart problems, this increases their chance of developing a heart attack. Young children and pregnant women are also populations at risk of developing respiratory problems. Finally, exposure to smoke increases the prevalence of lung cancer and brain tumors in a large radius around the wildfire. There also seems to be a link between wildfires and increased rates of influenza. Research is being conducted on the impacts on mental health and cognition capacities.
More research is needed to better understand the negative impacts of wildfires and smoke inhalation in the Canadian context and beyond as changing weather conditions make natural disasters of the sort increasingly likely in many regions of the world.