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Netflix has increased its investment in Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood. The dominant streaming company announced its presence via its newly created Twitter handle, NetflixNaija, while also detailing plans to commission original content by partnering with local creatives and investing in the space.

The streamer has ordered an as-yet-untitled six-part series that will be directed by local directors Akin Omotoso, Daniel Oriahi and CJ Obasi.

This is a welcome development for the industry. Apart from the visibility and increased viewership, Netflix also gives Nigerian filmmakers a strategy to combat the adverse impact of piracy in Nigeria. It’s not the first attempt at this. An indigenous streaming platform, IrokoTV, established in 2011, has been using streaming to distribute Nollywood content while staying out of the reach of pirates.

Nollywood is the second largest employer after agriculture in Nigeria. In 2014, Nollywood was worth $5.1 billion and made up 5% of Nigeria’s GDP. Although the first Nigerian films were made in the 1960s it wasn’t until the 1990s and 2000s that the industry blossomed as filmmakers took advantage of digital technology and internet distribution. Nollywood filmmakers have largely run an independent model for over three decades, producing about 50 movies a week.

Lax copyright laws and enforcement allow piracy to continue, though. For years, pirates have stolen Nigerian filmmakers’ profits at the end of the distribution chain by replicating and distributing films within days of VCD/DVD release. These losses lock up the industry’s full potential, as filmmakers experience difficulty in attracting funding for ambitious projects.

Creative freedom? Not yet

Netflix investment is great, but maximising the new resources depends on certain legal fundamentals. Are Nollywood filmmakers and stakeholders conversant with the ownership rights regime in the evolving digital copyright era? Will Nollywood get value for its rich creative resources when negotiating across licensing and other transactional platforms? How well would the Nigerian intellectual property laws – particularly its copyright laws – protect Nollywood creators in dealings with Netflix and other sophisticated partners?

Nollywood is disadvantaged at present, but there is hope.

A customer looks at some Nollywood movies in a shop at Idumota market in Lagos. Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty Images

Licensing is defined as the process of obtaining permission from the owner of a TV show or movie for various purposes, and online streaming is no different. A licensing agreement is established under the terms of a legally binding contract between the content owners and Netflix, and each agreement varies. Some licences will last into perpetuity, while others are limited for a time. This is why Netflix is constantly updating consumers on what will be available, and also what will soon disappear.

Netflix licenses out content that does not belong to it from the entity that owns that content. This vastly oversimplifies the process, but Netflix gets written permission from rights holders to show their movies. That permission comes in the form of a licence (a contract) that allows the use of copyrighted creations, contingent upon various limitations and fees.

For original content, the company gets into specialised agreements with production houses. These agreements are made within the copyright regimes of the United States. Sound knowledge of these licence contracts and how they are structured is crucial for Nollywood’s growth.

Nigeria lags behind on copyright

Nigeria’s copyright law was first governed by the English Copyright Act 1911, which was made applicable to Nigeria by the colonial powers of Great Britain. Nigeria applied the 1911 Act until it was replaced with the Copyright Act of 1970. This act was considered inadequate because it failed to combat and punish the increasing rate of piracy and other copyright infringements. Hence the birth of the 1988 Act, later amended and recodified.

In 2012, the Nigerian Copyright Commission led the drafting of a new copyright bill, published in 2015. But the country’s National Assembly hasn’t passed it into law.

From the late 1990s, the global intellectual property regime encountered disruptive changes because of the influence of digital technology. The World Intellectual Property Organisation led the charge to change intellectual property laws to respond to digital creations and protect creativity. The outcome is the current global digitalised intellectual property regimes.

Nigeria, with its archaic copyright regime, still lags behind. The country’s copyright laws and others which may complement copyright – including torts, contract and e-commerce laws – have not been updated since 1999. How can Nigerian creatives thrive globally if the minimum threshold for protecting their content isn’t modernised?

Nollywood’s creative handicap

Being the most successful video streaming platform, Netflix possesses the resources to protect its legal and business interest. Some commentators believe that it might become a monopoly in the streaming industry. This scenario will adversely affect Nollywood by limiting the bargaining space for alternatives. Local player IrokoTV needs to devise new strategies to compete.

In my earlier research between 2016 and 2018, I had discussions and interviews with some Nollywood stakeholders who raised their concerns about the inadequacy of digital copyright regimes in Nigeria to protect their creative interest.

A street clothing seller passes by two movie vendor stands at Idumota market in Lagos. Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty Images

If these concerns aren’t properly addressed, Nollywood creators may be operating in an unequal legal and economic environment which favours the video-on-demand partners. Nigeria’s copyright laws are outdated and in need of reform to adapt to current digitalised intellectual property regimes and productive methods.

How Nigeria can fix it

For Nollywood to fully compete at the global level, it should adopt a smart, proactive approach. Nigerian creators and policymakers need collaboration to achieve progress. Most importantly, it is time for the proposed amended Nigerian Copyright Act to become law. The amended law will help protect Nollywood in the digital market place.

Nigerian copyright management organisations and performer rights organisations have to educate themselves and plan programmes to enforce the rights of their members. With digital platforms, the formation of contracts entails different legal regimes. Nigerian creatives need a reformed and recognised idea submission agency based on a deliberate policy and legal framework.

Nollywood should also focus on the economics of creativity. The industry needs metrics to track and measure skills and output of performances. A collaborative partnership with experts in economics, analytics, statistics and adjacent fields will help. Nigerian universities should revamp their curricula to train existing and emerging lawyers to master the intricacies of digital licensing so they can advise Nollywood’s creative industry.The Conversation


Samuel Andrews, Professor of Intellectual Property Law, University of Gondar

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mar 21, 2020
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has announced that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa has increased to 240 as of Saturday (21 March).
The Western Cape has seen the greatest increase in reported coronavirus cases – up to 74 from 56 on Friday.
However, Gauteng remains the province with the most reported cases, up to 125 from 109 on Friday. The Eastern Cape has also reported its first case.
On Saturday, global cases stood at 277,312 and 11,554 deaths. 91,994 people have recovered.
“Of the 38 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, we wish to confirm the first imported COVID-19 case in the Eastern Cape Province that tested positive for SARS-CoV- 2 from a 28-year-old female who travelled to Germany,” the NICD said.
“The Gauteng Province continues to dominate the total share of confirmed COVID-19 cases, followed by the Western Cape Province and the KwaZulu-Natal Province, respectively.”
The provincial breakdown of the 38 new cases is as follows:
Eastern Cape Province:
A 28-year-old female who travelled to Germany
Gauteng Province:
An x-year-old male who travelled to France
A 55-year-old male with pending travel history
A 26-year-old male with pending travel history
A 34-year-old female with pending travel history
A 43-year-old female with pending travel history
A 61-year-old male with pending travel history
A 6-year-old female with pending travel history
A 29-year-old female with pending travel history
A 45-year-old female with pending travel history
A 64-year-old female with pending travel history
A 67-year-old male who travelled to France and Ethiopia
A 39-year-old male who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 72-year-old female who travelled to Belgium and the Netherlands
A 41-year-old male who travelled to France and Italy
A 37-year-old female with pending travel history
A 30-year-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands
KwaZulu-Natal Province:
A 59-year-old male with pending travel history
A 68-year-old male with pending travel history
A 26-year-old female who travelled to the United States of America and the United Kingdom
Western Cape Province:
A 30-year-old female who travelled to Ireland
A 57-year-old female who travelled to Germany and Switzerland
A 55-year-old who travelled to France and Switzerland
A 74-year-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 52-year-old male with pending travel history
A 44-year-old male who travelled to the United States of America
A 26-yer-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 57-year-old male who travelled to Spain
A 36-year-old male who travelled the United Kingdom and France
A 40-year-old female with pending travel history
A 52-year-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 48-year-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 39-year-old male who travelled to Dublin and Ireland
A 36-year-old male with pending travel history
A 55-year-old female with pending travel history
A 45-year-old male who travelled to Germany and Austria
A 65-year-old female who travelled to the United Kingdom
A 34-year-old male with pending travel history
On Friday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura warned that South Africa may face a national lockdown unless the coronavirus spread is contained.
Gauteng is the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak and currently has 109 confirmed infections, with 33 of these infections reported in the last day.
“A lockdown may just be where we are all headed and the decision to do so has to be made by our national leadership,” said Makhura.
“We will raise it with the president. We are watching these numbers very closely and we are worried,” said Makhura.
He expressed absolute confidence in president Cyril Ramaphosa and the leadership team to do the right thing.
Mar 20, 2020
Gboyega Akosile, chief press secretary to Lagos state governor, has revealed that some hospitals in Lagos state have been receiving patients suffering from chloroquine poisoning.
Gboyega Akosile made the statement while quoting Oreoluwa Finnih, senior special assistant to the governor on health.
Akosile, however, warned people against the consumption of chloroquine as a measure to fight coronavirus.
The demand for chloroquine, oral artemisinin-based monotherapy (oAMTs) for malaria treatment, soared a few hours after President Donald Trump announced that the drug had been approved by his country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the virus.
But Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, contradicted the American president, saying the agency was still working to examine all possibilities.
However, according to widespread reports, residents trooped to pharmaceutical stores across Lagos and Abuja on Thursday evening to purchase the drug – with many sticking to Trump’s false claim and ignoring FDA’s correction.
In a tweet on Friday, Akosile warned people against harming themselves through the indiscriminate use of the drug.
“Hospitals now receiving patients suffering from Chloroquine Poisoning, says Gov @jidesanwoolu’s SSA on Health, Dr @Oreoluwa_Finnih. She urged people against massive consumption of Chloroquine as a measure to fight #Coronavirus,” he tweeted.
However, in a post on its official Twitter page on Friday, March 20, 2020, the NCDC also warned Nigerians to not engage in self-medication and to wait for directives from health workers and authorities.
“@WHO has NOT approved the use of chloroquine for #COVID19 management. Scientists are working hard to confirm the safety of several drugs for this disease.
“Please DO NOT engage in self-medication. This will cause harm and can lead to death,” the agency pleaded.
Mar 20, 2020
The International Air Transport Association, on Thursday, disclosed that Nigeria’s aviation industry will lose over 2.2 million passengers due to the disruption to air travel amidst the fight against coronavirus.
The association also stated that the country’s aviation industry will lose over N160.58bn (using Bureau de Change rate of N370 to $1) ($434m) in revenue and 22,200 jobs.
The association, an umbrella body for 290 airlines globally, had in early March projected 853,000 losses in passenger volumes and $170m loss in base revenues in Nigeria if the spread of COVID-19 continued.
However, in its country-specific loss analysis, IATA said since the end of January, thousands of passenger flights had been cancelled in Africa.
It added that the cancellations would increase exponentially with the implementation of additional measures in different countries.
IATA said, “International bookings in Africa are down roughly 20 per cent in March and April, domestic bookings have fallen by about 15 per cent in March and 25 per cent in April, according to the latest data.
“African airlines had lost $4.4bn in revenue as of March 11, 2020. Ticket refunds have increased by 75 per cent in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 (01 February – 11 March).”
The association said South Africa would also lose six million passengers, $1.2bn in base revenues and risk over 102,000 jobs.
According to IATA, other African countries expected to record huge losses are Kenya ($320m), Ethiopia ($202m) and Rwanda ($52m).
IATA said the expected job losses for Kenya would be 36,800; Ethiopia, 98, 400; and Rwanda, 3,000 while the loss in passenger volume would be 1.6 million, 1.2 million and 201,000 for the three countries respectively.
Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, IATA, Alexander de Junaic, however, appealed for governments’ support for the industry.
He said, “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the top priority of governments. But they must be aware that the public health emergency has now become a catastrophe for economies and for aviation.
“The scale of the current industry crisis is much worse and far more widespread than 9/11, SARS or the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
“Airlines are fighting for survival. Many routes have been suspended in Africa and Middle East and airlines have seen demand fall by as much as 60 per cent on remaining ones.”
Mar 20, 2020
Bentley will stop car production at its British factory from the end of Friday for four weeks over the coronavirus outbreak, one of the final automakers in Britain to announce such plans.

Parent company Volkswagen said on Tuesday it would be ceasing output at plants across Europe as the pandemic hits sales and disrupts supply chains, but Bentley’s northern English site in Crewe has continued operations so far.

The luxury brand, which makes around 11,000 vehicles each year and employs roughly 4,500 people, said the move was to protect the health of its workforce and due to accelerating constraints on activity and declining demand in some markets.

The factory should reopen on April 20, the firm’s boss Adrian Hallmark told Reuters, just as the firm had returned to profitability last year after a difficult 2018.

“We were all set up for a gangbusters 2020, the first two months of the year have been very strong … and then the coronavirus hits us,” he said.

“Any ideas of glory and big profits that we had have been tempered significantly but having said that, we really don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

The brand said it expected to see a reduction in sales in every market where the coronavirus is taking hold, and in China demand was down 50% against expectations last month but in March was returning to the expected level.

The British government has asked manufacturers if they could help with the design and production of ventilators.

“It’s been a very high level question… and the question was: we’ve got 1,000 engineers – could we dedicate a number of them with requisite skills and experience to be able to help to do some of the development work and industrial engineering…?” said Hallmark.

He likened the effort to the use of Bentley’s factory to Britain’s World War Two effort by building engines for its fighter planes.

“I like to remember that in just two years, the Spitfire engine… went from 1,500 to 2,700 horsepower,” he said.

“When needs must, we can perform and I’m sure the same would be true for ventilators … if we were given the right brief and opportunity to do so.”

Mar 20, 2020
A glut of unsold, high quality Nigerian crude continues to build up with weak global demand caused by coronavirus and surplus supplies by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Russia and other OPEC nations.

Nigeria, which produces some of the easiest-to-refine crude that typically commands a premium, has 30 or more unsold April-loading cargoes, traders say, equal to 30 million barrels or 30 percent of daily world demand.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) last week put the number as high as 50.

Globally, the oil market has lost around half its value this month as the coronavirus has led to a collapse its demand.

At the same time, supply is growing as major producers are pumping flat out to gain market share after Moscow refused to back deeper production cuts at a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its OPEC+ allies.

Demand has dropped as nations take unprecedented measures to limit the spread of the virus, cutting fuel demand. A lack of options for storage, as well as rising freight costs have also deterred buyers.

“It’s a very large overhang,” said a trader of Nigerian crude, who asked not to be named.

“It can be the best price and margin in the world, but there is no storage for crude and product as demand collapses and shipping cost is going through the roof.”

One trader expected differentials to go lower. Nigeria’s largest crude stream, Qua Iboe, valued at a premium of $3.00 a barrel to benchmark dated Brent in December, was offered at dated Brent minus 70 cents this week, two traders said.

That would be the lowest in many years. Qua Iboe BFO-QUA was last valued at parity with dated Brent in 2005, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

The May loading programmes for Nigerian crude will emerge in the coming days and add another 50 cargoes or 50 million barrels to the already ample supplies.

Given the overhang, traders predict Nigeria will cut its official selling prices (OSPs) for April crude, which are expected imminently.

There is no sign of companies in Nigeria, Angola or the North Sea restraining production because of lower demand – if anything, they are maximising output to try to raise cash, trade sources say.

“At $30 a barrel they just want money,” one said.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is spreading across the world. For those who catch it, the vast majority will experience mild symptoms, but for a few it can cause severe disease and death. Some groups - like older people and those with pre-existing health conditions - are more vulnerable when exposed than others.

Because of this, the primary objectives in fighting the outbreak are to contain the virus and help the infected to get well again. In this context, health literacy is a valuable tool because it can affect health outcomes in multiple ways. Health literacy is the degree to which people can get, understand and use basic health information to make decisions about health issues.

A health literate society is one with a population that will be aware of the severity of the situation and is able to understand how to protect themselves, and others, through basic actions. In the case of this new virus, this includes physical distancing and washing hands. It’s also a society in which the systems and services in place can ensure clear, timely and appropriate communication.

In the current situation, well-informed individual behaviour is a key intervention alongside medical and governmental action. It’s crucial that health authorities apply health literacy principles and provide information that is easy-to-understand, easy-to-access, and barrier-free. Health literacy is vital to slowing down the spread of the virus and mitigating the impact and effects of COVID-19.

This isn’t always done well. In Europe, research has shown that health literacy is a neglected public health challenge. More than a third of the population faces difficulties in finding, understanding, evaluating and using information to manage their health.

Another challenge is fake information. Instead of real facts, people’s information channels might be dominated by fake news and fear due to the uncertainties. We’ve seen that during this pandemic – it’s not only the virus that is spreading quickly but “a wildfire of false and unverified information” on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in the so called “infodemic”.

Along with more than 100 other health literacy experts, we put together a handbook on health literacy. This highlights cutting edge research, policy and practice from the field and is aimed at audiences from education, public health, health care and social science. Readers will learn about health promotion and prevention programmes for school children, patients, and the elderly. They can also learn about government and community policies that improve population health literacy.

What’s needed

Health literacy information must be understandable and it needs to meet the literacy needs of the people it’s directed at. People with reading difficulties, hearing and sight impairments, for example, will need different formats. They’ll need more explanation. For instance, animations help in explaining the virus, the disease, its transmission and protective measures.

For parents and children, the UN, UNICEF and Save the Children provide tips for how to talk to children about the virus. For example comics might help.

Other criteria health authorities must keep in mind include:

  • Explain the situation transparently and clarify the overriding objectives repeatedly to prepare people for the fact that interventions and recommendations might change based on new evidence and adapt to future scenarios.

  • Be adaptable: information providers must be able to continuously communicate new evidence and information. Authorities should not be afraid to correct earlier messages and statements if new information is available, especially if it is contradicting yesterday’s news.

  • Avoid a blame game: blaming false security promises and scandalous over-interpretations of studies and figures are of little help. Rather, the aim should be to strengthen the well-informed responsibility of the individual, solidarity with particularly vulnerable population groups and targeted collaborative action.

Linked to this is the need to prepare people for a barrage of misinformation. Health literacy can apply some basic principles that ensure people get the right information, and know how to distinguish the bad.

This will:

  • Help people cross check the accuracy and credibility of information found on TV, radio, internet, and social media, including aggressive ads for products.

  • Enable people to ask questions to family members and trusted health professionals about the fake news, misinformation and harmful content and messages.

  • Guide people to evidence-based messaging. As the Global Working Group on Health Literacy of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education stated, “the dissemination of quality, timely and understandable information is key in slowing down transmission and avoiding overburdening the healthcare system”.

  • Encourage people to check the source of information (where does it come from, who is behind the information, what is the intention, why was it shared, when was it published)

  • Encourage people to search a second source verifying the information and to double check with family, friends, colleagues and trusted health professionals

  • Encourage people to think hard before sharing information and not to share anything they haven’t checked and to visit fact-checking websites. These include credible sites such as the News Literacy Project, their fake news check questionnaire and CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism’s fake check guide.

If followed, some of the information and guidelines we’ve set out in the handbook can go a long way to building citizens’ health literacy on COVID-19 and contribute to containing the disease.The Conversation


Orkan Okan, Researcher, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health Literacy Research, Bielefeld University; Kristine Sørensen, Director, Global Health Literacy Academy and Associated Guest Researcher, Freiburg University , and Melanie Messer, External Lecturer, APOLLON University of Applied Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mar 20, 2020

Many African countries have been recording high economic growth rates for years. However, a recent study showed that poverty on the continent has increased again. How can this be?

When it is about poverty in Africa, there are many misunderstandings. According to surveys, a large proportion of people in Europe and North America are convinced that little or nothing has been done in recent decades to combat extreme poverty on the continent. This is no surprise: stereotypes from the colonial era, memories of the terrible famines of the 1980s and current reporting on refugees easily obstruct a clear view of the living conditions of people in African countries.

In fact, the figures even suggest the opposite: there is progress - at least in the number of people who have to live on less than $1.90 (€1.76) a day. "Overall, the proportion of people in Africa living in monetary poverty has clearly declined, from 54% in 1990 to 41% in 2015," World Bank economist Luc Christiaensen said in the DW interview. The main contributors to this development were the expansion of infrastructure in rural areas, increased agricultural productivity and years of robust economic growth in most African countries.

So the trend is positive, but the whole truth is that rapid population growth has actually increased the absolute number of poor people in Africa, from 278 million to 413 million. The most important project of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - the end of all kinds of poverty by the year 2030 - will therefore most likely be missed by Africa. According to World Bank estimates, 20% of all people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be living in poverty in 2030 unless the governments of Africa significantly step up their poverty reduction efforts.

But it doesn't look like that at the moment. At least this is what a recent, representative study by the pan-African research institute Afrobarometer, which is regularly questions people in more than 30 African countries about the provision of their basic needs, suggests How often did you not have enough to eat last year? How often did you not have access to clean water? The researchers summarize the results in the so-called Lived Poverty Index (LPI).

The results of the study published this month are disillusioning. According to the study, between 2014 and 2018, lived poverty rose slightly in Africa for the first time in more than a decade. In some countries - including South Africa, Niger and Uganda - it even rose considerably. Although people are still better off on average than they were some ten years ago, the figures indicate that there are deeper-seated difficulties in the fight against poverty.

For study author Robert Mattes, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, the recent rise has one main reason: "Africa's democratization, which has been going on for decades, has come to a standstill," Mattes told DW. Even one well-functioning multi-party systems, such as in Zambia, Tanzania or Benin, have now come under pressure from authoritarian leaders. "This decline in democracy leads to a neglect of the needs of the rural population in particular. There are fewer incentives to take care of the things that reduce poverty," said Mattes.

Data from the study show that lived poverty is lowest where electricity networks, sewerage systems, roads and mobile phones are relatively well developed. Governments should therefore invest primarily in public infrastructure, Mattes said.

Inequality as a driver of poverty

Although the results of the Afrobarometer study match the assessments of other organizations on poverty in Africa, they also raise an apparent paradox. For years, Africa's economies have been recording some of the highest growth rates in the world, with the African average GDP rising by 4.7% per year between 2000 and 2018. Although the figures have fallen slightly in recent years, the question remains: shouldn't Africa's economic growth also be reflected in the development of poverty?

Henry Ushie of Oxfam Nigeria has an explanation for the sometimes huge discrepancy: "If we want to fight poverty, we must first fight inequality. Inequality is the biggest driver of poverty in the world." Economic growth, largely due to the sale of commodities, simply does not reach ordinary people. Inequality is particularly high in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy.

Oxfam therefore uses the so-called Commitment to Reduce Inequality Index to evaluate the efforts of governments in the fight against inequality. Among other things, it examines tax justice, investment in education and health, and gender equality. The results of a recent survey in several West African countries are sobering. "Governments in the region are not particularly committed, and unfortunately Nigeria is even ranked at the very bottom," said Ushie.

In the near future, African governments are likely to face another problem: The coronavirus, which could not only pose challenges to the health systems of African countries but is already slowing down the global economy. "The prices of oil and other commodities will fall and countries that live on the export of these commodities will have to go further into debt," said Luc Christiaensen from the World Bank. It remains to be seen whether countries that are less dependent on exports will also be affected. "In the fight against poverty, the coronavirus has thrown another obstacle in the way of African governments."


Culled from Deutsche Welle

Mar 20, 2020

The United States on Mar 10 granted Chinese telecom giant Huawei another 45 days to continue doing business with American companies.

The new provisional license expires on May 15. Prior to the extension, the previous license was set to expire on Apr 1.

In May, Washington said it would blacklist Huawei from the US market and from buying crucial American components.

The United States has expressed concern that Huawei equipment could contain security loopholes that allow China to spy on global communications traffic. The company has denied the accusation.

US companies and residents are essentially forced to find alternative suppliers for Huawei's telecommunications equipment and software.

US President Donald Trump's administration granted Huawei a provisional license, extended for 90 days in November and then for 45 days in February, so as not to cut off the most rural areas of the United States from the world while companies found alternative suppliers.

Source: AFP/jt

COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019, is relentlessly sweeping across the world. The scale of the epidemic has caused chaos and led to the World Health Organisation declaring it a pandemic in early February 2020.

Understanding the virus is the preoccupation of scientists who are trying to unravel its mysteries as a first step to finding ways to stop the disease spreading, and to finding a vaccine. On a daily basis scientists are finding out new things about SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the rapidly spreading disease COVID-19.

An area of inquiry is its relationship to other coronaviruses. For example, it’s been identified as being part of the same family of coronaviruses which caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS was first identified in 2002. It caused severe respiratory disease which was fatal in approximately 10% of cases. MERS, on the other hand, originated in the Middle East and although less infectious, caused death in around 37% of cases.

Scientists investigating SARS-CoV-2 have found that the structure is very similar to the SARS-CoV. But there are also a number of marked differences. For example, one of the most startling differences of COVID-19 is its rapid spread across the world.

Closing the gap in understanding these differences and similarities is what stands between scientists and a solution to the rapidly spreading disease. One vital line of inquiry into how the body is able to fight and overcome the infection is how blood types – and their associated antibodies – might influence the immune response.

Similarities and differences

SARS-Cov-2 is round in shape and has a number of proteins called spikes on the surface. These spikes attach to the same human cell receptor (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) as the SARS-CoV. This information is important as it suggests that the virus uses the same mechanism of ensuring that the viral genes enter the host cell, replicate and infect other cells. Scientists can use this to develop drugs which inhibit the spike protein from binding and so slow the ability of the virus to replicate

Another similarity is the structure of the spike protein which is called NSP15. Scientists from a number of universities in the US have studied the structure of this protein and found it to be 89% similar to the NSP15 protein in SARS-CoV.

Like COVID-19, SARS was highly infectious. But there was one quirk: not everyone who was exposed to individuals who were already infected developed the disease.

One area of research was whether blood types and naturally occurring antibodies could influence the spread or severity of infection.

The distribution of the four main blood groups (A, B, AB and O) varies across population groups and geographical regions due to natural selection, the environment and disease. Up until recently, blood groups were commonly known for their role in blood transfusion. If patients received incompatible blood, powerful naturally occurring anti-A or anti-B antibodies could cause a blood transfusion reaction.

But research has shown that blood types could also play a role in infection and how the body’s immune system responds. One theory is that blood group antigens can act as binding receptors which will allow viruses or bacteria to attach and enter the body’s cells.

An example of this is the norovirus which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. This virus is able to bind to ABO antigens on mucosal surfaces of the gut, and once this happens, it is able to gain entry into the host cell and then replicate. On the other hand, anti-A and anti-B antibodies may be part of the body’s natural defence and could limit or even prevent infection.

What about coronaviruses?

Doctors at a Hong Kong hospital studied this phenomenon and reported that individuals who were blood group O appeared to be less susceptible to SARS-CoV than those who were group A, B or AB. Researchers showed that the virus could express antigens on its surface similar to those found in the ABH blood group. They also reported that naturally occurring anti-A antibodies were able to inhibit or even block the binding of the virus to the host cell.

This led to the theory that group O individuals, which have both anti-A and anti-B antibodies, may have some protection against infection.

The fact that blood types and their associated antibodies influence the immune response is one of the lines of inquiry into how the body is able to fight and overcome the infection.

How this occurs in COVID-19 still requires more study to build on the work already being done.

Another discovery is that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is unique and is 10-20 times more likely to attach to human cells. This could explain the increased and more rapid spread across populations.

The structure of these unique spike proteins matter enormously because they will form the basis for the development of a vaccine.

The ABO blood group has evolved in response to disease over thousands of years. The antigens and antibodies which form part of this system interact with cells of the immune system and are able to influence the way they react. As we get to know more about SARS-CoV-2 the role of blood types, if any, may become clearer.The Conversation


Glenda Mary Davison, Associate professor, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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