Progress toward #polio eradication is a much-needed reminder that global health is still winning

I always love spotlighting polio eradication. Along with Guinea worm, it is one of the few candidates to follow smallpox to the eternal (or so we all hope) halls of eradicated diseases. While the eradication effort has suffered its setbacks in recent years, public health workers have persisted, steadily marching onward. And frankly, there has been so much hand-wringing in global health in recent weeks that it is important to occasionally remember that there are still wins we can, and should, celebrate.

What makes this success possible in addition to trackable is the global network of polio surveillance systems, which was featured in CDC’s MMWR at the beginning of April:

The primary means of detecting poliovirus transmission is surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) among children aged [less than] 15 years, combined with collection and testing of stool specimens from persons with AFP for detection of WPV and vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPVs)…in WHO-accredited laboratories within the Global Polio Laboratory Network. AFP surveillance is supplemented by environmental surveillance for polioviruses in sewage from selected locations. Genomic sequencing of the VP1-coding region of isolated polioviruses enables mapping transmission by time and place, assessment of potential gaps in surveillance, and identification of the emergence of VDPVs. For public health nerds like me, all of MMWR’s polio reports can be found here.

Basically, a combination of syndromic and environmental surveillance allows public health systems to track polio where it pops up, and genetic sequencing helps to trace how the virus got to where it did to shed light on transmission patterns and find gaps in surveillance.

The WHO followed with two YouTube videos featuring the global polio surveillance system and polio vaccination, which is what will make eradication possible:



This is all pretty straightforward stuff – we all know generally that surveillance systems do, in fact, work when their infrastructure is properly supported and that children should be vaccinated against polio. But it’s important to not lose focus on our successes and global health progress, even when it is simple, straightforward, and sometimes slow.

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Engaging our members: Results of the 2017 Member Engagement Survey

At the beginning of March, the International Health Section sent out a membership engagement survey put together by the Membership, Communications, and Global Health Connections Committees. The survey was sent out over the APHA Connect e-mail listserv and individually to all members who provided an e-mail address with their APHA member profiles. We collected responses for approximately three weeks and closed data collection after about three weeks, on March 25.

Thank you to all who responded! We have been working to analyze the data and discuss the feedback we received. We want our members to know that we are taking this feedback seriously and actively working on changes to our communications and approach to member engagement in response. We hear you loud and clear!

A summary report of the survey responses and the committees’ action plan are included below. You can access this report, as well as an Excel spreadsheet and a Tableau workbook summarizing the survey response data, in the Section’s library on APHA Connect. (You will need to log into Connect using your member ID, so be sure to have it handy.


2017 Member Engagement Survey Results: A Summary
April 21, 2017

Methods
On March 6, a 19-question member engagement survey was sent out over APHA Connect and individually to all members included on the March 1 roster provided by APHA. Of the 2,368 members, 43 did not list an e-mail address, and 61 e-mail addresses were invalid, meaning that the survey link was sent to 2,264 recipients. We received 230 responses between March 6 and March 25, a 10% response rate.

Overview
Of all survey respondents, nearly two-thirds (62%) listed the IH Section as their primary affiliation, compared to 38% with IH as their secondary Section. By membership category, 43% were regular members (full, discounted, or affiliate), 33% were students, 18% were Early Career Professionals (ECPs), and 6% were retired. Primary members (62% of respondents vs. 45% of all members) and ECPs (18% of respondents vs. 11% of all members) were over-represented among survey respondents. Most (86.5%) indicated that they intended to renew their APHA membership.

Consistent with overall membership data, nearly half (45.5%) of respondents had been members for less than a year, and an additional 28% had been a member for 1-3 years. The most common reason listed as the primary motivation for joining APHA was networking (48.7%), followed by professional collaboration (“to connect with other researchers/professionals to collaborate on studies/projects,” 21.3%). Nearly a quarter of respondents indicated that they joined to either attend (13.5%) or present (11.3%) at an Annual Meeting.

Committees and working groups
Members were given the opportunity to indicate if they were interested in learning more about the Section’s committees and working groups, and to provide their e-mail address for the chairs of their selected committees and working groups to reach out to them with information on how to get more involved. Committees that generated the most interest among respondents were Advocacy/Policy (36.5%), Mentorship (23%), and Program (21.3%). Working groups with the largest number of interested respondents included Global Health Connections (46.5%), Maternal and Child Health (27.4%), and Community-Based Primary Health Care (25.7%). Committee and working group selections were not mutually exclusive, as respondents could indicate multiple committees and working groups in their form response.

Communications
Survey respondents seemed to be largely unaware of the Section’s communications platforms. Among the four platforms in the survey, awareness of APHA Connect (https://connect.apha.org) was highest (38.6%), followed by the quarterly Section Connection newsletter (33.1%), the Section’s social media channels (30.2%), and the blog/website (https://aphaih.org, 28.8%). Respondents were most likely to actively read the newsletter (20%) and follow the Section’s social media channels (8.9%).

Discussion and follow-up
The general tone of most of the responses was that members want to get more involved but aren’t sure how, and that our communications channels are not advertised well enough. The Membership, Communications, and Global Health Connections Committees have developed a list of action items, found on the next page, to address the needs indicated by the survey responses.

Action Items

Completed items

  • Distribute e-mail addresses of respondents who were interested in committees/working groups to the respective committee/WG chairs (March 27)
  • Share initial survey results with the Section leadership (March 31 conference call)
  • Make survey data and results analysis available to members in the following formats (April 21):
    1. Written report
    2. Spreadsheet
    3. Dashboard
  • Publish the results of the engagement survey on the IH Blog and the APHA Connect listserv (May)

Ongoing items

  • Include links to APHA Connect, the blog, and all social media channels on all newsletters
  • Promptly send out welcome e-mails to new members when the Membership Committee receives new rosters

Items in development

  • Publish the results of the engagement survey for all members in the Section Connection newsletter (July)
  • Create a checklist for members and present it as a 6- to 12-month program to acquaint them with the IH Section and APHA (June)
  • Host a short webinar to “tour” our social media channels, APHA Connect, old issues of the newsletter, and leadership contact information (August)

Policy on #HIV related travel restrictions adopted by @WFPHA_FMASP at #WCPH2017 now posted

After APHA adopted its permanent policy statement on HIV-related immigration restrictions that we submitted at last year’s Annual Meeting, the IH Section worked with APHA’s WFPHA liaison, Dr. Deborah Klein-Walker, to submit a corresponding policy proposal on behalf of APHA to the World Federation of Public Health Associations, which held its 15th World Congress on Public Health this month in Melbourne, Australia. The proposal was accepted and passed by the WFPHA Policy Committee at the meeting, and has now been posted the website (PDF). The text of the policy (excluding references) is below.

Scientific evidence and treatment needed to combat the spread of HIV – not ineffective travel bans

Submitted by the American Public Health Association
(Contact person D. Walker)

Introduction
HIV-related restrictions against entry, stay, and residence remain common around the world. Various countries have policies that mandate HIV testing of all or certain groups of foreign nationals as a condition of obtaining a visa for employment. These policies have no basis in science and violate migrant workers’ human rights to confidentiality and informed consent to testing, exposing them to exploitation by their employers. According to UNAIDS, 35 countries currently have official HIV-related travel restrictions. Furthermore, HIV-related travel restrictions against foreign nationals have been shown by international treaty bodies, international legal scholars, and human rights organizations to constitute discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and/or country of origin.

Scope and Purpose
Restrictions on travel, immigration, or residence related to HIV status are a violation of the principles of nondiscrimination and equal treatment in all international human rights laws, treaties, and agreements. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to equal protection under the law, free from discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status, and the UN Commission on Human Rights has determined that this includes discrimination based on health status, including HIV infection. According to the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while international human rights law allows governments to restrict rights in cases of emergency or serious public concern, the restrictions must be the minimum necessary to effectively address the concern – and HIV-related travel restrictions have been overwhelmingly ruled as both overly intrusive and ineffective public health policy. Within such restrictions, compulsory HIV testing is a serious violation of numerous human rights principles, including the right to bodily integrity and dignity. The accompanying deportation and/or loss of employment and residency status of HIV-infected migrants that frequently accompanies such testing violates the rights of PLWHA to privacy, work, and appropriate medical care. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has specifically stated that neither HIV tests nor private HIV-related personal information should be required of employees or job applicants.

Despite this robust evidence base, according to UNAIDS, 35 countries currently have official HIV-related travel restrictions openly acknowledged and enforced by the government. These restrictions vary from outright entry bans, which bar PLWHA from entering the country, to restrictions on stays longer than a specified period of time or to obtain employment visas or residency status. Others have inconsistent policies and/or intentionally misrepresent their policies with HIV-related restrictions. Such policies and practices, and the number of migrants impacted by them, are difficult to track because of differing or ambiguous definitions and a lack of data. Some of the most restrictive policies subject immigrants to mandatory HIV testing, either when applying for residency or for an employment visa, which is frequently required by states for legal residency.

The two primary justifications provided by governments for mandatory HIV tests for migrant workers and other HIV-related travel restrictions are to protect public health and reduce the cost burden on the country’s healthcare system imposed by providing HIV care services to foreign nationals. While countries have the right to employ measures to protect their populations from communicable diseases of public health concern, HIV is not transmitted by casual contact, meaning there is no scientific basis for attempting to control its spread via immigration policies. Furthermore, countries that do not have HIV-related travel restrictions have not reported any negative public health consequences compared to those that do, and recent analysis suggests that even migration from countries with generalized HIV epidemics does not pose a public health risk to destination countries.

In fact, immigration policies banning or restricting entry or employment based on HIV status often have the opposite effect of their protective intention, causing direct harm to the health of both of immigrants and citizens. They marginalize PLWHA, regularly discourage people from accessing HIV testing and treatment, and reinforce stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes against PLWHA in the general population. Regulations requiring HIV tests of immigrants can promote the idea that foreigners are dangerous to the national population and a public health risk, as well as creating a false sense of security by reinforcing the notion that only migrants are at risk for infection. Additionally, such attitudes can adversely impact the host country’s own HIV epidemic, as citizens who are unaware of their HIV-positive status, underestimating their own HIV risk and avoiding testing due to stigmatization, are more likely to transmit the virus to others, driving up infection rates.

State-enforced HIV screening of migrants costs far more than it saves in treatment costs. Screening travelers and migrants for HIV is impractical and expensive.[5][13][19] Labor migrants (both regular and undocumented) bring significant economic benefits to their host countries, in addition to themselves, and this cost-benefit balance remains even when migrants are HIV-positive and rely on the host country’s health care system for treatment and support.

Fields of Application:

  • National public health associations and their members
  • Human rights and HIV advocacy groups
  • UNAIDS
  • The World Federation of Public Health Associations

Action Steps:

The WFPHA joins with UNAIDS, the World Health Assembly, and other HIV and human rights organizations (e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ILO) to call on all countries that still maintain and/or enforce HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, or residence to eliminate such restrictions, ensuring that all HIV testing is confidential and voluntary and that counseling and medical care be available to all PLWHA within its borders, including migrants and foreign nationals.

The WFPHA affirms the following principles:

  • All people have the right to confidential and voluntary HIV testing and counseling.
  • Persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) have the right to privacy, to work, and to appropriate medical care.
  • All HIV-related travel and immigration restrictions currently in place should be removed.
  • Agencies and businesses who employ foreign nationals should not use HIV tests as a means to discriminate against potential employees.
  • Governments should provide HIV prevention and treatment services that are equally accessible to citizens and foreign nationals.
  • Migrant workers should have access to culturally appropriate HIV prevention and care programs in languages that they can understand.

The WFPHA recommends that:

  1. Public health associations in every country should:
    1. Develop policies opposing HIV-related travel restrictions;
    2. Document and/or support human rights and HIV advocacy groups in documenting immigration policies that explicitly discriminate, or allow employers to discriminate, against migrants based on HIV status;
    3. Document and/or support human rights and HIV advocacy groups in documenting any HIV testing practices that are not voluntary or confidential;
    4. Inform their members and the public that HIV-related travel restrictions and compulsory HIV testing of foreign nationals is a violation of human rights and does not protect public health or reduce health care costs; and
    5. Advocate for the removal of any and all HIV-related travel restrictions enforced or condoned by their country governments.
  2. UNAIDS should take steps to ensure that its protocols to research and investigate countries’ HIV-related travel restrictions are sufficiently thorough by monitoring and documenting any reported instances of HIV-related discrimination targeting immigrants, particularly when presented with evidence demonstrating that recognition of a country’s removal of HIV-related travel restrictions is unwarranted, in order to ensure that governments are not able to misrepresent their policies in order to gain undeserved recognition for supporting human rights with regard to HIV/AIDS.

WFPHA supports the removal of all HIV-related travel restrictions and travel related mandatory testing.

#D4CA Challenge: UN Global Pulse calls for research proposals to analyze business data to combat #climatechange

Note: This was cross-posted to my own blog.


Rose Schneider, chair of the IH Section’s Climate Change & Health Working Group, shared this information about the Data for Climate Action challenge. It’s an initiative by the UN’s Global Pulse to recruit researchers and data scientists to “leverage private big data to identify revolutionary new approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation” – that is, use corporate datasets, which have been de-identified and made available by participating companies, for projects or analyses that “generate innovative climate solutions.” According to the press release:

Data for Climate Action will target three areas relevant to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on climate action (SDG 13): climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and the linkages between climate change and the broader 2030 Agenda.

The challenge aims to generate original research papers and tools that demonstrate how data-driven innovation can inform on-the-ground solutions and transform efforts to fight climate change. It builds upon the model of data science competitions pioneered by organizations like Kaggle, and company-specific initiatives to share big data for the public good, such as the “Data for Development” challenges hosted by Orange.

Researchers who are selected to participate in Data for Climate Action will have four months to conduct their research. A diverse panel of experts in climate change and data science will evaluate final submissions based on their methodology, relevance, and potential impact. Winners will be announced in November of 2017.

The data being offered includes retail transaction data, social media posts, meteorological and air quality data, and user-generated data on road conditions. Data sets can be combined with each other or with other publicly available datasets like those featured on Data is Plural. Individuals or teams can submit proposals, and the only apparent requirement is that all participants be at least 18 years old.

They’ve apparently extended the deadline from April 10th to the 17th, so any analysts or programmers who aspire to code for the public good still have ten days to get their applications together and apply.

APHA Component letter to @UNAIDS: South Korea’s #HIV immigration restrictions

After two years, two APHA policy statements (one interim and one permanent), dozens of e-mails (and perhaps just as many drops of blood, sweat, and tears), and a few phone calls, we have finally sent a letter to UNAIDS urging it to revoke its recognition of South Korea’s status as a country without any HIV restrictions – until it actually produces and enforces policies that actually reflect that status.

Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Laura Altobelli, our Section Chair; Mona Bormet, our Advocacy/Policy Committee’s advocacy coordinator; and all of the Components who signed on to this hard-won letter (and the policy proposals that led up to it):

If there is one thing I have learned through this odyssey, it is that the work of advocacy is exhausting. It takes the old adage of “marathon not sprint” to a whole new level. The patience required to work within the boundaries, and according to the rules, of whatever framework you are trying to leverage to produce change can be maddening at times, but I suppose that is the inevitable price we pay to work with others. The larger your advocacy “vehicle” is, the more likely it is to be effective, but the more restrictions you have to work within. Or around, as the case may be.

On a more positive note, we also got a corresponding policy approved for adoption by the World Federation of Public Health Associations at their assembly (which kicked off today!). It will be posted here as soon as it is published, with potentially more letters to follow. Stay tuned.

The full text of the letter, followed by an embedded PDF, is below.

Dear Executive Director Dr. Michel Sidibé:

On behalf of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), we write to notify you of a new APHA policy statement, “Opposition to Immigration Policies Requiring HIV Tests as a Condition of Employment for Foreign Nationals,” which was adopted at the Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting.1 As you may know, APHA was founded in 1872 and is the oldest organization of public health professionals in the world. It has a long-standing commitment to promoting global health and protecting human rights, recognizing that these two go hand-in-hand.

HIV-related travel restrictions are recognized as a violation of human rights and have been well-established as ineffective at reducing the spread of HIV. Such policies further marginalize people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), discourage people from accessing HIV testing and treatment, and reinforce stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes against PLWHA in the general population. According to APHA’s policy statement, “[immigration] policies that mandate HIV testing of [foreign nationals] as a condition of obtaining a visa for employment…have no basis in science and violate migrant workers’ human rights to confidentiality and informed consent to testing, exposing them to exploitation by their employers.”

Increasing awareness of the harms of mandatory testing and accompanying pressure from multilateral institutions and human rights advocates has begun to prompt countries to lift travel bans and change their immigration policies. We recognize that UNAIDS has been instrumental in this effort and laud the organization both in its leadership on this initiative and the progress that it has made. APHA’s policy statement specifically cites the work of the UNAIDS International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions and notes that “[a]dvocacy efforts using [the Task Team’s findings] have resulted in several countries loosening these restrictions or, in some cases, dropping them entirely: the number was reduced from 59 to 45 countries in 2011 and, as of September 2015, to 35.” APHA’s policy statement calls on UNAIDS and others to “continue to call on all countries that still maintain and/or enforce HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, or residence to eliminate such restrictions, ensuring that all HIV testing is confidential and voluntary and that counseling and medical care be available to all PLWHA within its borders.” We urge UNAIDS to continue this work to make further progress in the remaining countries that enforce HIV travel restrictions.

The policy statement also recommends that “UNAIDS take steps to ensure that its protocols to research and investigate countries’ HIV-related travel restrictions are sufficiently thorough by monitoring and documenting any reported instances of HIV-related discrimination targeting immigrants, particularly when presented with evidence demonstrating that recognition of a country’s removal of HIV-related travel restrictions is unwarranted, in order to ensure that governments are not able to misrepresent their policies in order to gain undeserved recognition for supporting human rights with regard to HIV/AIDS.”

One such example of misrepresentation of HIV-related immigration policy can be found with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which subjects foreign nationals applying for visas to work or study under several visa categories to mandatory HIV testing.2,3 Recent decisions by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination4 and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea5 both confirm the ongoing existence and enforcement of mandatory testing for E-2 visa applicants and recommend that they be struck down. Unfortunately, despite this discriminatory requirement, ROK representatives declared at the 2012 International AIDS Conference that their government had removed all HIV-related travel restrictions and, as a result, the country was granted “green” (restriction-free) status by UNAIDS6, while other states with HIV-related restrictions similar to those enforced by ROK7 are still classified as “yellow” on this map. This inconsistency in the application of UNAIDS’ assessment criteria could threaten the progress made on reducing HIV-related travel restrictions. We strongly urge UNAIDS to revoke ROK’s status as a country with no HIV-related travel restrictions until it eliminates all mandatory HIV testing policies.

Finally, we express our continued commitment to the UNAIDS goals of reducing HIV transmission, fortifying the rights of all who live with HIV/AIDS, and eliminating stigma and discrimination.

Sincerely,

Laura C. Altobelli, DrPH, MPH
Chair, International Health Section

Willi Horner-Johnson, PhD
Chair, Disability Section

Randolph D. Hubach, PhD, MPH
Chair, HIV/AIDS Section

Lea Dooley, MPH, MCHES
Chair, Population, Reproductive, and Sexual Health Section

Gabriel M. Garcia, PhD, MA, MPH
Chair, Asian Pacific Islander Caucus

Titilayo A. Okoror, PhD
Chair, Caucus on Refugee and Immigrant Health

Gabriel Galindo, DrPH, MPH, CHES
Chair, LGBT Caucus of Public Health Professionals

Benjamin Mason Meier, JD, LLM, PhD
Chair, Human Rights Forum


https://aphaih.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/apha-rok-hiv-travel-restrictions-letter.pdf