The Rise of Global Mental Health

The constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) opens with a definition of health that underscores the importance of “mental…well-being.” Even still, mental health has struggled to achieve parity in global health. For much of its history, the field of mental health developed parallel to public health. Mental health, and the lack of it, was nebulous and eluded the gold standards of clinical measurement like bioassays and microscopy. As a result, psychology and psychiatry (components of the larger field of mental health) were shunned by other disciplines for a perceived lack of scientific basis and over-emphasis of sociological factors. Those with mental disorders, cognitive and developmental impairments were thusly cared for largely by religious institutions and, eventually, asylums rampant with inhumane treatment and neglect. 

Psychiatric patients in Bucharest sleep two to bed with feet bound;
Image Credit: Bernard Bisson

By the 1970’s the United States was moving toward deinstitutionalization and curiosity about how to effectively study and treat mental illness in the context of culture. Mental health research worldwide began engaging with patients as active participants with “lived experience.” The sharing of epidemiological data around mental health indicators became more fluid. The push for data-driven and evidence based decision making in global mental health produced big payoffs. The 1990’s saw both the WHO’s first World Mental Health Report and the first iteration of The Global Burden of Disease study

These publications highlighted the sheer burden of poor mental health. Of the ten leading causes of disability, five were mental illnesses, including the leading cause of disability in the world: unipolar major depression. Self-inflicted injury was among the top ten leading causes of premature death in developed countries. While the psychiatric epidemiological data continued to underscore the need for new interventions and novel funding mechanisms for global mental health, not much has changed. Last year, the Lancet Commision on global mental health and sustainable development released a 45-page report outlining a global health crisis that is severely underfunded relative to its burden on society. Even in developed countries, only 20% of individuals living with depression will receive adequate treatment. In developing countries, the number is a dismal 4%. But only 1% of global health development funds are allocated to mental health programs. That comes out to just $0.85 per year of healthy life lost to mental illness, compared to $144 for HIV/AIDS programming and $48 for malaria and tuberculosis. 

Even if the funding existed, global health education has yet to produce a reliable pipeline of mental health professionals with the skills necessary to address the crisis. Educators at schools of public health in the United States have identified that mental health is still not adequately integrated into public health curriculum. Johns Hopkins remains the only school of public health in the country with a dedicated mental health department. While the majority of other public health programs offer coursework that have mental health as a component of its curriculum, few programs offer tracks or courses that have mental health as its primary focus, leaving students interested in the field to piecemeal their education together through independent study and practicum/thesis work. 

(Read the study on mental health in schools of public health here)

The evidence is clear that global mental health should be recognized as a global health and global development priority. Despite the lack of full acceptance by the global health donor community and larger public health community, the field of global mental health has continued to grow. Organizations like the Movement for Global Mental Health serve as collaboration spaces for mental health researchers and advocates. The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health continues to produce calls for action that elicit drastic, even if short-lived, spikes in mental health earmarked development assistance. And just this year, the field’s superstar, the Peter Piot or Paul Farmer of global mental health, Dr. Vikram Patel was awarded the prestigious John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award

“...All countries can be thought of as developing countries in the context of mental health

Patel et al.

We are living in the age of a changing climate, protracted humanitarian crises, and a global population that is increasingly forcibly displaced from their homes. The burden of mental health problems will continue to pose a threat to health that will require the unique skill set of the field of global mental health. Leaders like Dr. Patel continue to advance the global mental health agenda in an effort to realize the complete definition of health that lies at the core of global health. For those of us for whom global mental health is our calling and passion, we must continue to push for our place at the table when the global health agenda is being set. 

Note: One of the photographs used in this blog appears elsewhere on the internet in an unredacted form. However, to protect the privacy and dignity of those who appear in the photograph, I’ve elected to hide their faces.

Global Mental Health: How Are We Doing? (WHO)

Perspectives on Global Health from Pharmacists Around the World

As healthcare continues to morph and adapt based on the requirements of kind, compassionate, evidence-based care, pharmacists are playing a vital role in ensuring patients needs are met in countless regions across the earth. In this four-part IH Blog series, these roles accompanied by profession-related challenges and pharmacist-led global health initiatives will be explored within a profession that is often underappreciated. The following perspectives, shared by practicing pharmacy professionals from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, Cambodia, and the United States of America (USA) aim at highlighting various aspects of healthcare that should be properly addressed by governmental bodies, NGOs, and all stakeholders by both sustainable political will and empowering solutions. This initial segment focuses on medication access in each of these areas and the thoughts that pharmacists from these respective nation states have been willing to share with IH Connect.

Throughout both developed and developing healthcare systems, access to medications is consistently a top priority for pharmacists and health care systems. As this health care profession attempts to provide services that meet the needs of their communities, access deficiencies habitually impede the ability to follow through with individualized and compassionate care. The lack of access to life altering chemical entities can affect anyone anywhere, from an affluent metropolitan city like Washington D.C. to a small rural Cambodian village in the province of Kampot. Despite the differences in these locations, each of these instances cause significant harm, breed mistrust in healthcare professionals, and create despair among those that seek healing. These frustrating situations are due to intensify because of the increased strain on medical resources who take a “do-what-has-always-been-done” approach. These following four pharmacists, all from various corners of this vast planet, will describe the barriers they consistently face regarding medication access and initiatives that are being undergone to ensure that a novel approach is commenced to address this looming medical tragedy.

Nazgul Bashir, B. Pharm

Registered Pharmacist – Super Care Pharmacy

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Before discussing medication access in the United Arab Emirates, I would like to give a brief introduction about the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is a middle eastern country with a population of 9.68 million. The country is comprised of seven emirates and healthcare in UAE is regulated both federally & at the Emirate level. 

Now, starting with the topic on hand about medication access in UAE, there are several factors that have an impact on it and I will touch on them individually and in detail. 

First and foremost, I think the most important factor is the number of medications available in UAE. The majority of medications available in UAE are imported drugs. UAE imports pharmaceutical products from 72 different countries. Of those, 10 countries constitute approximately 80% of the entire country’s supply. The domestic sector is rather small; however the UAE Ministry of Health (MOH) plans to increase the number of pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities to 30 by 2020 up from 16 in 2017. Availability of different medication combinations or different strengths are difficult to find due to the limited number of industries in UAE. One such example is oral prednisolone, which in UAE is available in strengths of 1mg, 5mg, 10mg & 20mg. In the USA, there are more strengths available including 1mg, 2.5mg, 5mg, 10mg, 20mg and 50mg. Tourists or expats coming from overseas that need a particular medicine or medicine combination or a particular strength may not find it available.

The second hindrance to medication access is the cost of medications. There are many reasons for the high cost medication. The aforementioned fact that about 80% of medications in UAE are being imported rather than locally manufactured is one reason. Another reason is an insignificant availability of generic medicines as the majority of medicines available are brand name. The final reason is the national health insurance model. Because all national citizens do not have to pay for their own medications, there is no incentive to keep the medicine prices low. As a result, individuals who are not insured under the public national insurance system, for example expats and tourists, face a huge barrier to obtaining medicines. 

With these barriers in mind, initiatives have started to take place in UAE to find a solution. The government reduced 24% of the prices for 8732 medicines over the course of 6 years. Another initiative which took place is increasing the number of generic medicines while also advising physicians and pharmacists to dispense the generic rather than the branded medicines. Through this initiative, generic medicines now account for 30% of the overall pharmaceutical market which has increased from 12% of the market two years ago. If the UAE can bump these numbers up to 70-80% of the overall market in UAE, the UAE will be seen in better position in terms of generic medicines. 

I am glad to be a part of a region where these issues are actively tackled, not just by the government but by private sectors as well. We are also seeing that pharmacists are playing a larger role, providing information on availability of cheaper alternatives on medicines. Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professional and it should be part of their responsibility to help make medicines as accessible as possible to their clients.

 Dr. Bryce Adams, Pharm D., RPh.

Oncology Medical Science Liaison

Washington D.C., United States of America

Although there are a host of issues surrounding access to medications, I will be focusing on oncology medications as oncology is my current specialty as a medical science liaison in the USA. 

To begin, I would like to highlight encouraging statistics that show the accessibility of oncology medications in the USA. A recent 2019 study found that 96% of new cancer medications were available within the United States, the next highest nation was at 71%. Furthermore, the average delay in the availability of cancer medications within the United States was 3 months, with the next closest nation being at 9 months.

In terms of novel and innovative treatment options, oncology drugs have been increasingly approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) throughout the last few years. The FDA has enacted policy changes to attempt to increase the efficiency of drug reviews. The results have been significant – in 2017 alone, 46 new oncology drugs were approved. Moreover, from 1991 to 2016 there was a 27% decrease in cancer related deaths in large part to the expanded and more targeted-based therapy. The chance that a patient will live for 5 or more years has increased by 41% since 1975.

Outside of regular treatment options of those living with cancer, patients have the ability to participate in a clinical trial. Currently, there are 24,351 clinical trials listed as active (defined as not yet recruiting, recruiting, enrolling by invitation, or active) – 11,813 of those trials are active in the United States. However, even with the surplus of ongoing clinical trials, it still seems there is a lack of patient enrollment. It is estimated that roughly 70% of patients are interested in clinical trials, and yet <5% of patients actually enroll in clinical trials. Some of these barriers to enrollment include: lack of availability at a specific clinic, lack of a specific trial available, patient ineligibility, physician is unaware of trials/not offering them to patients, and a patient deciding not to enroll in a clinical trial (perhaps due to a fear of receiving the placebo).

An aforementioned barrier to cancer treatment that needs to be emphasized is the locations of specialized cancer clinics. Studies have shown that patients who are diagnosed with advanced staged cancer are likely required to drive an hour or more to the nearest cancer clinic for the appropriate care they need. Additionally, travel distance may affect treatment decisions. A patient may select a slightly less efficacious therapy if that means they have to travel less often. 

Two initiatives have recently been instituted to further increase the accessibility of medications. First, in an effort to go towards value-based contracting, some companies are beginning to only charge patients if their medications are effective. While this is a rarity, it will be interesting to follow the impacts of this on other more costly treatments and to determine the impact on patients. Secondly, in 2018, the right to try act was passed. This essentially gives terminally ill patients who are unable to enroll in a clinical trial and have no other remaining FDA approved options, access to other treatments. While this is a relatively new policy and there are some restrictions, hopefully it will give patients hope and additional treatment options. 

Dr. Moeung Sotheara, Ph.D. 

Clinical Research Assistant & Part Time Lecturer – University of Health Sciences

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 

In rural Cambodia, access to medication is especially limited when compared to urban areas. Access is limited by two main factors in these communities. Firstly, many people living in rural areas have low incomes which means it is difficult for poor rural individuals to buy medicines for serious illnesses. Secondly, community drug outlets and public health facilities are generally concentrated in the provincial capitals/cities, making it difficult for people from rural, remote areas to get access to those places. 

Usually, medicines imported from other Asian countries such as India, China, Vietnam, Thailand, or Malaysia are cheaper and therefore, more accessible. These cheaper medications, however, tend to be held toward a lower quality standard which can lead to disease state progression, antibiotic resistance, and other situations that can inflict harm onto patients. However, western brand medicines, which are usually held to a higher standard of quality, are less accessible because their prices are higher. Locally, they are generally considered “medicines for the rich.”

The lack of access due to  these aforementioned barriers makes diseases difficult or impossible to treat in cases where medication is necessary to cure it. Patients may see their disease aggravated and could die of it.

In order to address these medication access complications, a specialized team should be created that assists patients or their relatives to get medication which is far from their home and provide a specific loan with very low or no interest rate for villagers who cannot afford to buy medicines. This approach has been initiated in Cambodia through the increased access of health equity funds (HEF). These funds, allocated to individuals unable to afford the out-of-pocket expenses for public services, are pooled from a variety of sources like the national health budget and various donors. These patients are then given a specialized card to receive these funds when public services are used. The HEF focuses on addressing low medication access through the initial financing as aforementioned, community support, quality assurance, and finally policy dialogue. The results of this project have been promising – there was a 28% increase of patients utilizing public services with HEF than before without the HEF. In addition, the patients were not perceived to be more stigmatized within their communities.  

Veda Peddisetti, B. Pharm.

Clinical Pharmacist – Satya Sree Clinic & Diagnostics 

Hyderabad, India 

India is the largest country in South Asia and the second most populous country (1.35 billion) in the world. In addition, India is said to be in the third stage of demographic transition with birth rates declining and death rates decreasing. In the past few decades, India has experienced monumental population growth. This has led to many problems in healthcare management throughout the country, in particular, medication access. The direct cause seems to be the over-demand of medications. However, various indirect causes include poverty, varying per-capita incomes, unemployment, and out of pocket expenditures (India doesn’t have an established federal healthcare insurance system like Medicare in the USA, National Health Service in the United Kingdom, etc.).

In addition to the aforementioned causes, the literacy level in villages and rural areas are quite low. Many of the farmers and laborers from rural India are uneducated. As a result, many don’t know how medication can help them get better and how important it is to take medication every day to keep chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes in control. In urban areas, all income classes are more educated and are given awareness more frequently about healthcare when compared to individuals in rural areas. So, they tend to use medication and other healthcare facilities more frequently. Accessibility is not a huge issue in cities but this creates competition among providers and results in high costs which turns into a problem for low and average income communities of the urban population.

Usually, regular medications like anti-diabetics, anti-hypertensives, common antibiotics, analgesics, vitamins are available throughout the country except in some deeply located tribal areas. Medications which are used for some cancer chemotherapies, auto-immune diseases, and some orphan drugs are not widely available. People have to go to highly rated hospitals in developed metropolitan cities to get these medications, and I believe this scenario is the same anywhere in the world. This kind of accessibility shouldn’t affect any patient or healthcare provider unless there is any medical emergency. And thanks to the continuous efforts of the Government of India, India is improving the accessibility of medication. Recently, various health benefit schemes were implemented like free supply of in-patient medications in civil hospitals and sale of reasonably priced generic medications in rural and urban communities.

It is a well-established fact that India is a potential supplier of medications to many countries in the world. India is a manufacturing and research hub for many reputed pharmaceutical companies. However, this often leads to pharmaceutical companies who are exporting their products in large quantities rather than supplying them domestically. These medications range from certain medications for chronic diseases like diabetes drugs to life saving medical devices like the Epi-Pen. These pharmaceutical companies more interested in profit are preventing the Indian population from getting the best medications.

With the lack of proper medications, healthcare professionals cannot take the proper steps in patient care that they could actually do if they had adequate access to medications. So, it is vital to educate people of India, especially the rural population, while simultaneously framing and implementing some regulations and limits on the export of medications by pharmaceutical companies in order to improve healthcare in India.

Sexually Transmitted Infections in Sub-Saharan Africa

By: Samantha Dulak BS and Heather McClintock PhD MSPH MSW

This is the first part of a IH Blog series featured this summer, Sexually Transmitted Infections in Sub-Saharan Africa: Determinants, Outcomes, and Interventions.

Part I: Sexually Transmitted Infections in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common acute conditions that while exacting a tremendous toll on health and well-being currently receive minimal media coverage and attention. This is likely due to resources being allocated to other new and emerging conditions, the stigma associated with people who are perceived to be able to contract STIs, and a lack of education about STI symptoms and treatment. STIs range from curable (syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichinosis) to incurable (HPV and HIV/AIDS) infections. The nearly 30 STIs are most commonly transmitted through sexual encounters, but contact with blood and mother to child transmission during pregnancy are other ways STIs can be spread (Newman et al., 2015). Comparing the four curable STIs globally, sub-Saharan Africa had the highest incidence and prevalence of syphilis and gonorrhea (Chesson, Mayaud, & Aral, 2017). Unfortunately, STIs can raise HIV transmission up to four times which is why controlling STIs is at the top of the public health professional’s radar (Stillwaggon & Sawers, 2015). The highest prevalence of HIV is found in sub-Saharan Africa with 53% of the world’s HIV population living there and 56% of those individuals being women (UNAIDS, 2018). Although incidence rates are falling globally, 1.8 million people were newly diagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017; there is much more work to be done to reach the 2020 goal of less than 500,000 new cases in this region (UNAIDS, 2018). The current estimates state that 66% of all new global HIV infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS, 2018).

STIs affect people of all socioeconomic classes in every country. Without proper precautions, no one is immune from these infections. STIs in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly important because the largest estimates are reported in this region and public health advances can provide insight and hope to other countries that are affected. Combating the negative stigma around STIs will increase the amount of people who will know their status, subsequently increasing treatment for those infections that are treatable. Furthermore, globalization perpetuates the spread of STIs across geographic boundaries highlighting the importance of acknowledging and addressing STIs on a broad scale.

STIs cause major pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancies, infertility, and spontaneous abortions (Chesson, Mayaud, & Aral, 2017). In both men and women, liver cancer, central nervous system diseases, and arthritis are all common comorbidities (Aral, Over, Manhart, & Holmes, 2006). Due to insufficient diagnosis and treatment in many lower and middle income countries, the rates of complications are much higher. This inadequacy can be attributed to the asymptomatic nature of some STIs, lack of education on the topic, or poor care-seeking behaviors (Mayaud & Mabey, 2004).

There are many at-risk groups for contracting STIs, including men who have sex with men, female sex workers, children born to women with STIs, and intravenous drug users. An interesting connection to be made exists for women who experience intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV can include physical or sexual violence, stalking, and psychological control over one’s spouse or dating partner (Centers for Disease Control, 2019). Women are already disproportionately affected by STIs, and these rates are greatest in women who also have reported cases of IPV. One answer for this is that women who have experienced IPV are more likely to have high-risk partners (Miller, 1999). Abusive partners may express coercive behaviors both within and outside of the relationship (Miller, 1999). Additionally, people experiencing IPV can suffer psychological trauma leading them to have impaired decision-making skills and experience increased risk-taking behavior (Miller, 1999).

As of 2018, the World Health Organization has been utilizing the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Global AIDS Monitoring system to quantify cases of STIs at the country level and the Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme (GASP) to follow antimicrobial resistance for the treatable STI, gonorrhea (Wi et al., 2017). For GASP to have continued success, international collaboration must be strengthened to develop advanced screening procedures and novel antibiotic treatments. By continually improving both monitoring systems, there may be hope for new vaccines for STIs we are still not protected from. Since antimicrobial resistance is not evolving at the same time across all countries, sharing data and laboratory methods for new pharmaceutical development is imperative to control the spread of STIs in sub-Saharan Africa (Wi et al., 2017).

References

Aral, S.O., Over, M., Manhart, L., Holmes, K.K. (2006). Sexually Transmitted Infections. In Jamison, D.T., Breman, J.G., Measham, A.R, Alleyne, G., Claeson, M., Evans, D.B., Jha, P., Mills, A., Musgrove, P. (Eds), Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, second edition. 311–30. Washington (DC): World Bank and Oxford University Press.

Center for Disease Control [CDC]. (2019). Preventing Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved May 27, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html

Chesson, H.W., Mayaud, P., & Aral, S.O. (2017). Sexually Transmitted Infections: Impact and Cost-Effectiveness of Prevention. In Holmes, K.K., Bertozzi, S., Bloom, B.R., & Jha, P. (Eds.), Major Infectious Diseases, third edition. Washington (DC): The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and The World Bank.

Mayaud, P., Mabey, D. (2004). Approaches to the Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections in Developing Countries: Old Problems and Modern Challenges. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 80(3), 174–182. doi: 10.1136/sti.2002.004101

Miller, M. (1999). A model to explain the relationship between sexual abuse and HIV risk among women. AIDS Care, 11(1), 3-20. doi:10.1080/09540129948162

Newman, L., Rowley, J., Hoorn, S. V., Wijesooriya, N. S., Unemo, M., Low, N., . . . Temmerman, M. (2015). Global Estimates of the Prevalence and Incidence of Four Curable Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2012 Based on Systematic Review and Global Reporting. PLos One, 10(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143304

Stillwaggon, E., & Sawers, L. (2015). Rush to judgment: The STI-treatment trials and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 18(1), 19844. doi:10.7448/ias.18.1.19844

UNAIDS. UNAIDS: Data 2018. 2018. https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/unaids-data-2018_en.pdf (accessed 26 May 2019).

Wi, T., Lahra, M. M., Ndowa, F., Bala, M., Dillon, J. R., Ramon-Pardo, P., . . . Unemo, M. (2017). Antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae: Global surveillance and a call for international collaborative action. PLoS Medicine, 14(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002344

Samantha Dulak

Samantha Dulak is a recent graduate from Arcadia University. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Minor in Global Public Health. Her enthusiasm for medicine and disease prevention perfectly intertwine these two fields of study. Her current public health interests are in maternal and child health and nutrition. Since graduation, Samantha has applied to naturopathic medical school with a goal of becoming a pediatric physician. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing sports, and baking.

Dr. Heather F. McClintock PhD MSPH MSW

Dr. McClintock is an IH Section Member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at Arcadia University. She earned her Master of Science in Public Health from the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. McClintock received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on health behavior and promotion. Her research broadly focuses on the prevention, treatment, and management of chronic disease and disability globally. Recent research aims to understand and reduce the burden of intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to completing her doctorate she served as a Program Officer at the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and a Senior Project Manager in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania. At the University of Pennsylvania she led several research initiatives that involved improving patient compliance and access to quality healthcare services including the Spectrum of Depression in Later Life and Integrating Management for Depression and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Studies.

Global News Round Up

Politics & Policies

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the fiscal year 2020 Department of State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill, which includes funding for international development, global health, gender equality, and humanitarian assistance programs.

Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion this week, strict enough to rival abortion rules in countries like Brunei, Guatemala and Syria.

The Trump administration pushed the G-7 nations to water down a declaration on gender equality last week as part of its broad effort to stamp out references to sexual and reproductive health in international institutions, according to people involved in the process and drafts reviewed by Foreign Policy.

Health Ministers from G7 countries wrapped up a two-day meeting today in Paris that focused on strengthening primary health care, health inequalities for developing countries and the elimination of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The increase in the number of infectious-diseases outbreaks (e.g., Ebola, Zika, and yellow fever) around the world and the risk posed by an accidental or deliberate release of dangerous pathogens highlight the need for a sustained, multi-sectoral, and coordinated United States response. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is proud to be working with more than ten other Federal Departments and agencies in this critically important effort.

Today, May 18, 2019, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar participated in a meeting with the Pasteur Institute.  He and other U.S. health officials met with Stewart Cole, President of the Pasteur Institute, and other members of the Pasteur Institute, and other members of the Institute’s senior leadership team.

Programs, Grants & Awards

Since childhood, Cynthia Luo knew she wanted to be a physician. In high school, she discovered a passion for cancer immunology research while working in the lab of a biotech company.  After spending part of a gap year volunteering at a rural health clinic in Uganda, she aspired to have an impact on global health.

Research

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there are more than 112,000 confirmed cases of measles worldwide, as of this month – a 300% increase from the 28,124 cases this time last year.

New research suggests that coxsackievirus decreases the number of insulin-producing beta cells, raising the risk for type 1 diabetes in lab mice, according to findings published Wednesday in Cell Reports.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is associated with an increase in its abuse, injury due to overdoses, and car accidents, but does not significantly change healthcare use overall, according to a new study.

Avian malaria parasites (genus Plasmodium) are cosmopolitan and some species cause severe pathologies or even mortality in birds, yet their virulence remains fragmentally investigated. Understanding mechanisms and patterns of virulence during avian Plasmodium infections is crucial as these pathogens can severely affect bird populations in the wild and cause mortality in captive individuals.  The goal of this study was to investigate the pathologies caused by the recently discovered malaria parasite Plasmodium homocircumflexum (lineage pCOLL4) in four species of European passeriform birds.

Diseases & Disasters

There have now been 880 measles cases reported in this year’s outbreak, already the largest since 1994, federal health officials said on Monday.  An additional 41 cases were reported last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 30 were in New York State, which is having the country’s most intense outbreak, largely in Orthodox Jewish communities.

Tuberculosis (TB) may be an ancient disease, but it is still the leading cause of infectious death worldwide, affecting more than 10 million people and killing 1.6 million in 2017 alone. Last year, the UN held the first High-Level Meeting on TB. As part of that meeting’s final political declaration, member states committed to fill the $1.3 billion annual funding gap in TB research & development, and to increase overall global investments to 2 billion dollars with the aim of enabling the development and introduction of life-saving scientific innovations for those impacted by TB around the world.

The government is to send new funding and expert personnel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amid fears the rapidly escalating Ebola crisis there is spiralling out of control and could spread into neighbouring countries.

Chad’s worst measles outbreak in years will soon spread to all parts of the country as vaccination rates are too low to stop an epidemic that has already hit thousands, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Technology

Last year’s high-level political declaration on the fight against tuberculosis committed to mobilizing sufficient and sustainable financing for universal access to quality prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of tuberculosis (TB). To achieve this, we need new ideas and innovation to end TB.

In theory, a terrorist could mass disseminate the hemorrhagic virus by small particle aerosol. It is a possible but unlikely scenario because executing such an attack would take an incredible amount of technology and financing.  However, someone g executing such an attack would take an incredible amount of technology and financing. However, someone with basic skills in virology could infect only a few people with Ebola, and the event would cause worldwide havoc.

Confronting an Ebola outbreak spiraling out of control in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization announced ola s on Tuesday to change its vaccination strategy, offering smaller doses and eventually introducing a second vaccine.

Environmental Health

Concentrations of antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels by up to 300 times, the first ever global study has discovered.

Māori culture is at risk due to predicted changes in the ranges of two culturally important native plants, kuta and kūmarahou.

Equity & Disparities

In San Francisco, a hub of homelessness in the US, researchers have observed firsthand how living on the streets can accelerate aging. With an average age of 57, homeless study participants suffered strokes, falls, and incontinence at rates more typical of people in their 70s and 80s.

More people on the planet have access to electricity than ever before, however, the world is on pace to fall short on the goal of affordable and sustainable energy for all by 2030, according to an international report on the state of international energy.

Women, Maternal, Neonatal & Children’s Health

Over 20 million babies around the world – about 1 out of every 7 – were born underweight in 2015, a slight improvement over rates in 2000 but not enough to meet goals and prevent global health consequences, according to a new study.

In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, ongoing armed conflict increases the incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) and presents a distinct and major barrier to care delivery for all survivors of GBV. To address the multiple barriers to providing time-sensitive medical care, the Prevention Pack Program was implemented. The Prevention Pack Program was able to provide timely and consistent access to emergency contraception, HIV prophylaxis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections for rape survivors in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

31,285 Human Rights Violations and Counting: Hypocrisy in America’s Liberal Bastion

On February 8, 2019, city councilors in Los Angeles met to approve a resolution declaring LA a “city of sanctuary.” It was hailed as a victory amid growing political tension and derision, a “symbolic welcome sign,” according to Councilman Gil Cedillo, that was supposed to “set the tone for the way we want our residents to be treated.” However, for the 31,285 Angelenos who are experiencing homelessness, Los Angeles is anything but a sanctuary.

You know you’ve stumbled into LA’s Skid Row the moment you arrive. Trash clings to the streets in heaps, stacked haphazardly against rows of tents so densely packed it’s difficult to find the sidewalk. It’s a stark contrast to the dazzling city skyline that frames the neighborhood. This isn’t a part of Los Angeles you can see from the sterile aerial shots that punctuate film and television, but it’s the reality of a county with over 10,000,000 residents and wage growth that can’t keep up with the rising cost of living.

Everyone in Los Angeles, from City Hall to residential streets, agrees that more must be done. Inevitably, however, most attempts to build temporary or permanent supportive housing in Los Angeles is met with public resistance. NIMBY, the acronym for “Not in My Back Yard,” refers to the opposition of development in one’s own neighborhood, even if they would otherwise support such a project somewhere else. NIMBYism is rampant in LA’s complex and powerful network of neighborhood associations and councils. When city officials met with residents of Sherman Oaks, a wealthy neighborhood on the west side of the city, to show proposals for homeless housing projects, residents turned out in force to oppose the plans. One resident went so far as to propose his own solution to the need for emergency shelters in Los Angeles:

“You want me to have compassion for people who don’t care about themselves?…I’m proposing maybe you build a reservation for these homeless somewhere out in the desert…when we interned the Japanese during the Second World War, we didn’t intern them in the city”.    

Much of this resentment and stigmatization comes from the deeply held American belief in the “prosperity gospel.” In other words, those who work hard and are free from vices are protected against material scarcity. Homelessness, then, is a personal failing and not a societal one. It’s time we reframe homelessness.

Public officials, public health professionals, and advocates across Los Angeles need to change the way we talk about homelessness to end the rampant NIMBYism in the city. It’s time to adopt a rights-based approach that focuses on the systemic failures that are determinants of homelessness. We need to abandon the “treatment first” approach to combating homelessness, where we attempt to fix the precipitating effects of inadequate housing (substance abuse, mental illness, poor health) before providing stable housing. Instead, programmatic and policy efforts should focus on “housing first” approaches that satisfy basic human needs before attempting to solve complex behavioral and lifestyle issues. The model is evidence-based and, unlike many interventions designed to combat homelessness, it’s effective. Investments in housing first approaches reduced homelessness by 91% in Utah, and research efforts in Seattle show that the savings generated by reducing the need for crisis intervention services more than makes up for the cost of housing first projects.  

Image Credit: The Spotlight

Los Angeles has the opportunity to lead by example in a world that is growing increasingly less empathetic to the plight of the vulnerable. However, we cannot be the city that birthed the “Me Too” movement and turn away from the fact that half of all women who are homeless report that they are domestic violence survivors. We cannot say that we are a city that believes that black lives matter when we know that while only 8% of LA County identifies as black or African American, they make up over one-third of the unsheltered population. It is unconscionable that our city turns out in force for Pride but fights efforts to house homeless youth, nearly half of whom cite whom they love as the reason they are homeless.

In December, Los Angeles hosted the UN’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that states in no uncertain terms that housing is a right of every person everywhere. If we are to be taken seriously in our defiance of increasingly discriminatory national rhetoric, we must do better here at home.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
-UDHR, Article 25.1

Read more about evidence based messaging campaigns around homelessness.