World Suicide Prevention Day 2019

Author’s Note: This article discusses suicide and may be triggering for individuals with lived experience. While resources will be presented later on, this website has a list of country specific resources for those who need them. If you or someone you know is struggling with passive or active suicidal ideation, please reach out for help. 

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the USA is 1-800-273-8255.

Every 40 seconds someone, somewhere in the world, takes their own life. That amounts to over 800,000 deaths per year. On September 10th each year, World Suicide Prevention Day, the world comes together to reflect on the lives lost and bring suicide prevention to the forefront of the conversation. 

What Suicide Looks Like Around the World

Like most things in global health, there’s no single causal factor and no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Preventing suicide globally will require an understanding of the way individual, interpersonal, societal, and cultural factors interact to affect suicidality. High income countries, on average, have higher rates of suicide than low- and middle- income countries (LMICs), with the exception of LMICs in South-East Asia where the regional suicide rate is the highest in the world (17.7 deaths per 100,000 people). While rates may be higher elsewhere, suicide isn’t just a problem for high-income countries. The majority of suicides actually occur in LMIC settings, highlighting these countries as important stakeholders in the global conversation around suicide. 

Image Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

Like the rates themselves, at-risk sociodemographic groups vary from region to region. Suicide is the second leading cause of death, globally, for young adults (18-29 years of age). Middle aged men in high-income countries generally have a higher risk, while adolescents and aging adults in LMICs are more likely to take their lives. 

Globally, males are 2-3 times more likely to complete suicide than women. This has long been blamed on differences in care seeking behaviors and socially acceptable coping mechanisms deemed acceptable for different genders. But it’s important to keep in mind that women are generally more likely to experience suicidal ideation and more likely to attempt suicide. Men, however, have historically used more lethal methods of suicide and more likely to take measures to prevent intervention. 

The means of suicide attempts vary drastically and adapt to environments. Pesticide poisoning accounts for about one-third of global suicides. Almost all of these deaths occur in rural subsistence farming communities. Self-inflicted firearm injuries account for a large proportion of suicides in the Americas. Urban contexts with much stricter firearm regulations, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, experience a higher number of deaths related to jumping from buildings and bridges. 

What We Can Do

Suicide may look differently depending on where we sit on a map, but the truth remains that the pain and suffering that causes and is caused by suicide cuts across every sociodemographic variable and exists in every corner of the world. Despite its inclusion in both the WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (Target 3.4), suicide remains a low-priority agenda item for policy-makers worldwide. Only about 40 countries currently have national strategies or action plans in place to respond to suicide, and even fewer of these are in LMIC settings where the majority of suicides occur. 

While national strategies with government engagement will be crucial to eliminating suicide, suicide prevention requires multisectoral and multilevel approaches that treat suicide as the complex public health problem that is. It is the community and the individuals close to a victim of suicide that will suffer the most in the aftermath and have the most power in targeted prevention efforts delivered to the individual. 

Primary care professionals, especially those serving communities that are underserved by specialists, can and should be more familiar with using depression screeners like the Patient Health Questionnaire or Beck Depression Inventory to assess suicidality in the exam room. Educators can advocate for school-based intervention and encourage (not punish) help-seeking behaviors. And while we can’t all be psychiatrists, suicide crisis line volunteers, or counselors, we can all be kind people to those around us. Use today to raise awareness for the issue. Educate yourself (and others) about suicide prevention resources available in your community. As friends and family members, we can all do a better job of dismantling the stigma around mental health and identifying when those close to us are experiencing acute stress or grief that may serve to trigger or exacerbate existing suicidality. 

Where we live might affect what suicide looks like, who is at risk, and how often it happens. Our professional roles may dictate at what level we help break the cycle. But today is a reminder that we are all responsible, as stewards of humanity, for reducing the number of suicides in our world. In the time it took you to read this article, five people will have taken their own life. Every suicide death is one too many, so now is the perfect time to consider: what will YOU do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Looking for a starting point? I’ve compiled a wealth of resources that may be helpful, in addition to the links embedded in the text throughout the article. 

Helping Individuals At-Risk:

List of International Suicide Crisis Lines
Learn the Signs Factsheet (Take 5 to Save Lives)

Helping Someone in Crisis (Take 5 to Save Lives)

Find a Mental Health First Aid Course (USA)

Suicide Prevention: A Resource for General Physicians (Available in Multiple Languages)

Get Involved in World Suicide Prevention Day:

Download and post a WSPD banner in your native language

“Light a Candle” for victims and survivors of suicide

Post on social media using the hashtags: #wspd, #suicideprevention

Data:
Look up your country’s suicide rates

Suicide Factsheet (WHO)

Suicide Prevention: A Global Imperative (WHO)

World Suicide Prevention Day Fact Sheet (IASP)

National Prevention Strategies:
Does your country have a national action plan for suicide prevention? 

National suicide prevention strategies: progress, examples and indicators (WHO)

Evidence based strategies for safer access to pesticides (WHO)

Realizing the full potential of pharmaceutical industry partnerships

Successful partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and global health organizations have been increasing access to medicines and vaccines since the 1970s. From early partnerships in the Expanded Program on Immunization, to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and Access Accelerated the research-based pharmaceutical industry, which spends over $149 billion on research and development (R&D) every year, has an important role to play in global health.

Over the last 50 years the pharmaceutical industry has learned that global health is about more than just medicines and vaccines, and with the integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals, public-private partnerships are increasingly important. According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, the industry understands that global health requires building and supporting strong health systems, developing public health education and strengthening standards and regulations. This is why in 2018, 17 out of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies (accounting for 70 percent of global pharmaceutical revenues) developed a business strategy, supported by goals and targets, to address access to medicines in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), according to an Access to Medicine Foundation report

Good, but not good enough

However, much of the increased access to medicines has been made by a small percentage of pharmaceutical companies, and has overwhelmingly been focused on a handful of diseases. Of the 20 companies assessed by the Access to Medicine Foundation report, five companies (GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, Novartis and Sanofi) were found to be conducting 63 percent of R&D on products urgently needed by people in LMICS; and nearly all of the R&D from these companies was focused on five diseases: malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. 

While overall, pharmaceutical companies are entering LMIC markets, the industry still puts profits first.  Between 2008 and 2018 more medicines for profitable non-communicable diseases were developed for people in high-income countries, than medicines for diseases of poverty. Additionally, only four out of 20 pharmaceutical companies supported international trade agreements designed to ensure the world’s poor benefit from innovative medicines and vaccines. 

Closing the gaps

Public perception does matter to the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Reputation Institute, between 2017 and 2018 the pharmaceutical industry saw a 3.7 percent decline in its reputation score, and overall the industry had a significant decline in the public’s perception of industry transparency, openness and authenticity. The decline of public trust and confidence in the industry has also led to a decline in the public’s willingness to buy by eight percent between 2017 and 2018. One way to improve company reputation is through global health partnerships, and with recent negative media attention on the industry, between the opioid epidemic and price-fixing drugs, it is no secret that the industry could use a reputation boost.

So how can the global health community capitalize on this? The Access to Medicines Foundation has an effective recipe for engaging pharmaceutical companies in global health: one, setting clear priorities endorsed by global health experts; two, advocating for publicly funded mechanisms to reduce investment risk and shape less profitable markets; and three, finding sustainable funding support from multiple donors, including the government. One example of a mutually beneficial partnership is GAVI, which used pooled procurement mechanisms to encourage pharmaceutical companies to enter fragile markets in LMICs to strengthen the global vaccine market. 

In 2018 the reputation scores for the top 22 pharmaceutical companies were made public, creating an opportunity for global health organizations to engage poorly ranked companies. Global pharmaceutical sales are expected to reach over $1 trillion by 2022, so resources for global health partnerships are abundant, and organizations should consider targeting partnerships with companies impacted by negative public perception; turning a bad reputation into increased affordable access to life-saving medications. 

 

“Tejas means friend” and other lies we tell ourselves.

If you hear me speak more than a few sentences, you’ll hear the unmistakable accent. And as soon as I can find a natural way to fit it into the conversation, I’ll tell you flat out: I’m from Texas.

As a Texan, I was required to take one year of Texas history in the seventh grade, a statewide tradition since 1946. In Texas history, you’ll undoubtedly learn a few facts that every one of us 29-million Texans has engraved in our hearts.

1.     You don’t pick bluebonnets. They’re a sacred part of our state’s landscape.

2.     Texas was a sovereign nation once: the Republic of Texas. 

3.     California may have more people, but we’re bigger in size.

4.     “Tejas means friend”.

I’ve always found the root of the state’s name to be fascinating, because it has evolved with the land itself and represents the story of Texas. The word traces back to the Caddo word for “friend”, taysha. That word would be misspelled and mispronounced to be Tejas and eventually, Texas. For those of us whose hearts are deeply intertwined with the “Lone Star State”, the root of the word feels right. It embodies our roots, who we were, and the Southern hospitality on which we grew up. The origin of Texas’ name does NOT embody who we are today.

Texas has become the frontline of continued inhumane policy experimentation by the Trump administration. To deter undocumented entry to the United States and tamp down the number of asylum claims made at ports of entry, Trump and his nominated officials began separating children from their caregivers. 2,654 children were taken from their parents, guardians, and chaperones during the peak of this policy’s enforcement, and most of those children were detained in Texas.

The science around this matter is still developing, but one thing is certainly clear: this is bad news for the cognitive development and mental health outcomes of these children. In fact, the picture is becoming clearer that family separation policies produce rates of toxic stress and trauma that are as detrimental to the child psyche at the violence as the violence and insecurity they are fleeing. Researchers, and even the United Nations, cite evidence that separating children from their caregivers creates the type of emotional disturbance and dysregulation seen in survivors of torture.

We aren’t talking about acute emotional disturbance that will recede after reunification. The child’s brain has evolved to be incredibly respondent to its environment. Continued exposures to “fight, flight, or freeze” (especially in the absence of a trusted attachment figure) train the brain to bypass emotional inhibition and complex, rational thought to depend on more primitive survival mechanisms. This means permanent alteration of the brain, shrinking the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus (the parts of the brain that largely control decision making, working memory, and personality expression).  Their brains, and often their relationships with the parents, may never recover. 

“Here we have taken away what science has said is the most potent protector of children in the face of any adversity—the stability of the parent-child relationship”

– Jack Shonkoff

It’s not just theoretical damage happening in research studies void of a human face. Children inside these Texas detention centers have reported high rates of insomnia, decreased ability to concentrate, diminished literacy (even in their native languages), severe mood swings, and feeling constant states of panic and fear. And when they leave, their medical records (including any psychiatric care they’ve needed or received) are often incomplete. Many of these children will receive asylum in the United States, and we will have to face the mental health epidemic we created with a mental health system that is underfunded and culturally inadequate.

Sweeping separation of families and detainment of children was theoretically stopped, but the Human Rights Watch has found that nearly 200 children have been subject to the continuation of this policy since last year. There is no law on the books in the US that requires the separation of families at the border. This was a policy decision that can be rescinded as quickly as it was haphazardly implemented.

These children have often experienced trauma before they ever arrive at our border. They have left the familiarity and comfort of home. They are often physically vulnerable at the end of their migration journey. And they are welcomed with something that, for most of them, is even more traumatic: facing the hostility of a foreign country all alone.

This isn’t exclusively a Texan issue. ICE detention centers now exist in all 50 states. And it isn’t uniquely American, as 100 other countries have policies that allow children to be detained as part of standing immigration policy. But Texas has become ground zero for what the inhumane treatment of children looks like. Texas is no longer a land of Southern hospitality. It certainly isn’t embodying the state motto of “friendship”. And no one should be angrier about what’s happening in our home state than Texans ourselves. 

This article was written in memory of the children who needlessly died in Texas as a result of inhumane immigration policy. These faces represent the failure of all of us.

From top left to bottom right:

Mariee Juarez, aged 2, died after leaving a detention center in Dilley, TX

Carlos Hernandez Va’squez, age 16, died in US custody in Brownsville, TX

Jakelin Caal Maquin, age 7, died in US custody in El Paso, TX

Juan de Leo’n Gutie’rrez, age 16, died in US custody in Brownsville, TX

Malaria SBC Evidence Discussion Webinar: Prescriber and Patient Interventions, 8/6

How can research findings inform and improve social and behavior change (SBC) programs? What questions can SBC practitioners keep in mind to help sift through research, interpret publications, and apply lessons learned? Join Breakthrough ACTION for the third in a series of online guided discussions following a journal club format about malaria SBC evidence on August 6, 2019, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (EDT). More information about the article and how you can prepare for and participate in the online discussion is found below.

Featured presenter

Dr. Clare Chandler, Co-director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Antimicrobial Resistance Centre

About the article

In the article Prescriber and patient-oriented behavioural interventions to improve use of malaria rapid diagnostic tests in Tanzania: facility-based cluster randomised trial, the impact of a health worker training and health worker patient-oriented training were compared with the standard government training on rapid diagnostic tests. This facility-based cluster randomized trial demonstrated that a combination of prescriber and patient behavioral interventions can reduce prescription of antimalarials to patients without malaria to near zero. Small group training with SMS messaging was associated with a significant and sustained improvement in prescriber adherence to rapid diagnostic test results.

Preparing for the discussion

Download and read the article.
Download and use the Discussion Guide, which has questions to consider as you read and to help you follow along during the webinar discussion.

Register to Attend

Building Global Health Funding Opportunities

By Amanda Pain

Sustainable funding in global health is often a rallying cry among practitioners. A consistent funding stream can make or break the effectiveness of a global health program, but this funding can be hard to come by. The need for additional funding for global health, especially in regards to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, is great. In fact, researchers estimate an additional $371 million per year is needed to achieve SDG 3 by 2030 in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Overall funding for global health has plateaued since 2010, and changing political landscapes and priorities can make government funding ephemeral. With the current Trump administration’s proposed cuts to global health funding, organizations need to look for new funding streams.

Historically, the private sector has always played a role in funding global health initiatives. Private sector funding can not only offer more consistent funding for a program, but can also be more flexible in adapting programs to meet community specific needs in LMICs. Corporations also know that giving back to communities, and developing philanthropic endeavors, is good for business. While there are several private sector funders, many corporations are looking for non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have missions that align with company culture; and at times competition for these funding sources can be fierce. Therefore, looking beyond existing corporate funders to growing companies with nascent, or undeveloped philanthropy programs, presents global health organizations with a opportunity to secure sustainable funding, and assist in creating a corporate philanthropy program from scratch.

How can organizations find these successful growing companies?

Companies today have been waiting longer to announce an I.P.O. (initial public offering), sometimes waiting for Series F or G rounds of funding before going public. However, once a company receives Series C funding from venture capitalists and investors it is considered to be growing successfully, as well as making a profit. Additionally, after eBay set aside funds for charitable giving in 1998 before going public this became a growing trend in the tech industry. This means global health organizations do not necessarily have to wait until a company goes public before reaching out to partner on potential philanthropy initiatives. One example of a tech company partnering with global health organizations is the Tableau Foundation, which aims to make the world a better place with data. 

Of course organizations want to seek out companies where a potential partnership can be mutually beneficial, therefore identifying growing companies and understanding the business platform will be necessary before pitching ideas for philanthropic endeavors. Crunchbase.com is a platform that analyzes start-ups to help investors identify successful companies. Another resource is Gartner annual vendor ratings that showcase company strengths. Global health organizations can use these resources to identify viable companies as potential sustainable funders.  

While investigating growing companies will require staff time and resources the potential for a sustainable partnership with the private sector is worth the effort. Helping design a company’s philanthropic programs is an opportunity for global health organizations to build funding opportunities that are flexible and consistent, rather than trying to morph organizational mission and goals into the prescribed priorities of current funders.