Speaking to Lusa agency, regarding the identification of a new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (B.1.1.529), Francisco George expressed strong concern and regretted that the vaccines have not reached the entire world population.
“I was worried, really worried. It is news that, of course, no one wanted to know, but this evolution was accepted by everyone”, said Francisco George.
For the specialist in public health, the fact that this new variant was detected in southern Africa, having initially been identified in South Africa, the country most affected by Covid-19 on the continent, is due to the conditions it brings together: large concentrations of population and, above all, a high proportion of people with compromised immune responses, which are essential to curb the disease.
This insufficient immune response can result from a chronic disease, from treatments that inhibit the immune system, but also from diseases such as HIV, with a high incidence in the region, tuberculosis and cancer, among others.
“The response of the body's defense antibodies is compromised due to these diseases, which gives the viral particle more freedom to undergo changes in its composition”, he indicated.
The new variant results from several mutations in the spike protein, which is responsible for the virus entering the body's cells.
"This is a process that may explain the situation that has now emerged" in South Africa, said Francisco George, pointing to the demographic profile of continents like Africa, where "poverty and inequalities are glaring".
But the former director-general of Health considers that, in the emergence of this new variant in southern Africa, there is a phenomenon that is “manifested in selfishness on the part of the industrialised countries of the world”.
These richer, more industrialised countries have solved problems related to financial flows but not those of global health, he lamented.
Francisco George criticizes “the lack of solidarity of rich industrialized countries with countries immersed in crises of great poverty and difficulties, as happens in these countries which are now more affected”.
"There has been no care to invest in global health, despite the appeals of the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has insisted on the need for help to countries that do not have the money to buy vaccines", he lamented.
What is now happening, he explained, "is a consequence that could have been avoided if, in the beginning, the concern with the distribution of means had been taken into account".
For Francisco George, there is still a lot to know about the B.1.1.529 variant, which is why the timely preparation of the laboratory-based surveillance system is essential, which has to be “very tuned”.