Global Health News, Week of August 28-September 3

Global Fund round 11 is now open for proposals.

GREAT LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

A seven-part webinar series, called the “Outstanding Presentations Workshop,” began this Wednesday and is available for free to all who register. Each one-hour seminar will be streamed live over the next few weeks on Wednesday and will be recorded for later viewing.  Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to improve your presentations and spare your audiences death by PowerPoint. More information is available here, and the schedule can be accessed here.

POLITICS AND POLICY

  • In Uganda, the landmark legal case of Jennifer Anguko, a mother who died while she was in labor for 12 hours in a government hospital, will begin in early September.
  • Critics of the World Health Organization say it needs to redefine and reposition itself within the increasingly complex and convoluted field of global health. These experts suggest that the world will not suffer if the WHO cuts certain programs while narrowing its focus.
  • In the United States, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are promoting the use of IUDs as the “most effective form of reversible contraception available and safe for most women.”
  • The Global Fund may cut its contributions to China by half.
  • USAID Admin Dr. Raj Shah announced that $23 million in new aid will be directed towards the Horn of Africa crisis.
  • Anonymity is no longer a right of people seeking HIV/AIDS tests in China, and the change has lead to a significant drop in the number of tests being performed.
  • The Asian Development Bank has called for Asia-Pacific countries to collaborate on combating HIV/AIDS at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Tension between the United States and Pakistan will not prevent USAID from continuing to support health, energy and education systems says the USAID Pakistan Chief.
  • The epidemics of diabetes, heart disease and cancers that have stricken the populaces of wealthy countries are spreading to the developing world, yet the United Nations lacks an agreement, let alone an overall goal, on how to limit the preventable illnesses and deaths arising from these so-called non-communicable diseases. The British Medical Journal reports many developed countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are resisting specific targets for reduction in fats, sugars and salt in processed foods.

PROGRAMS

  • Overall, more newborn children are surviving, but slower progress in cutting death rates among babies in the first weeks of life is putting the global goal of reducing child deaths by two-thirds in jeopardy.
  • One expert says as the question of aid effectiveness has moved to the centre of development debates. If donors want to make their aid more effective, then they need to engage strategically with the private sector.
  • In the Washington Post, Michael Gerson makes the “pro-life” case for increased support for contraception and family planning worldwide.
  • UNICEF and international NGOs are working to raise awareness and encourage West African communities to invest in the construction of more pit latrines. Pit latrines, say advocates, can drastically reduce the spread of diarrhea, cholera and worms.

RESEARCH

  • A study published in Lancet finds that the workers who took part in the efforts to rescue people from the World Trade Center on 9/11 are at a high risk of suffering physical and mental illness.
  • A study by the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Uganda and Zambia found high rates of syphilis and HIV co-infection among pregnant women, but showed that “integrating rapid syphilis screening and HIV testing for pregnant women was feasible, cost-effective, and helped to prevent transmission of syphilis and HIV from mother-to-child.”
  • A genetically engineered virus may be the key to combating cancer, says a group of scientists.
  • Believed to only help children under four, researchers have determined that the rotavirus vaccine also reduces deaths in children between the age of five and fourteen.
  • Researchers who have tracked Haitian cell phone SIM cards relative to the cholera outbreak are optimistic that their findings will lead to future use of the same technology for other outbreaks.
  • Scientists may have found a critical weakness in Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. Researchers say the discovery provides a promising target for new malaria therapies.
  • Engineers at Michigan State University are developing a low-cost mobile phone application that can detect certain types of cancer.
  • Danish scientists say mosquito populations are dropping in many parts of Africa, even in parts where there are no human efforts such as insecticide spraying or bed net distributions underway.
  • A study published in the British Medical Journal reports a 24% reduction in deaths in children who received vitamin A.
  • A new approach to malaria vaccines grows the parasite inside mosquitoes and extracts vaccine components from the salivary gland.

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

  • A study published in Nature says that the last three waves of cholera can all be traced back to the Bay of Bengal.
  • Despite a massive humanitarian effort after the 2010 earthquake, females in Haiti remain neglected, rights activists say, lacking access to care as they give birth to babies in squalid conditions, often as a result of sex in trade for food or other necessities.
  • UN FAO warns that the bird flu is on the rise in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
  • Reports from the Libyan capital Tripoli say a humanitarian crisis appears to be emerging following the ouster of long-time ruler Muammar Qaddafi. There is a shortage of medicine, fuel, food, water, and power supplies, and growing piles of uncollected garbage.
  • Polio has been reported in China and Kenya.

Thanks to Tom Murphy and Mark Leon Goldberg, Tom Paulson, Isobel Hoskins, and UN Wire.

Dark Star Safari: Is aid in Africa making things worse?

I was encouraged to read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari by a co-worker in back in Texas when I mentioned that I was interested in a career in international health.  “You should definitely read this book.  It tells the truth about the corruption of aid agencies and how they’re actually hurting Africa.”

Map of Africa, with Paul Theroux's route from Dark Star Safari drawn in a dotted line
Theroux’s travel route in Dark Star Safari

She was at least partially right.  Over the course of Theroux’s “safari” across the continent, he lapses into several ranting session about selfishness and self-importance of aid workers (“they were, in general, oafish self-dramatizing prigs, and often complete bastards,” p. 146), the futility of various aid projects, and the corrupting influence that foreign aid has on African governments and people.  He takes it upon himself to diagnose the problem.  “Where are the Africans in all this?  In my view, aid is a failure if in forty years of charity the only people still dishing up the food and doling out the money are foreigners.  No Africans are involved – there is not even a concept of African volunteerism or labor-intensive projects.” (p. 272)  Unfortunately, Theroux never bothers to actually visit an aid agency at all during his trip.  If he had, he might have learned the majority of employees of aid agencies in Africa are Africans.1

Despite this lack of research, there is some truth to Theroux’s perceptions of and rants about the damage that foreign aid does to African countries.  It creates a culture of dependence, stifles sustainable growth, discourages investment, and burdens poor countries with massive debt.  Real per-capita income on the continent is lower now than in the 1970s, and the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day has doubled in the last two decades.2  Corruption siphons off huge amounts of donor funds, and the continuous flow of aid keeps inefficient and abusive governments in power. 

Fortunately, there are organizations that seek to promote education and economic programs that will have lasting effects in the region.  For example, Tostan works with villages in Sénégal and neighboring countries by training local people to lead education modules that focus on hygiene, literacy, and human rights; through their program, they’ve gotten over 4,500 villages to collectively abandon FGM.3  The Acumen Fund provides mid-size loans to early-stage enterprises providing healthcare, water, housing, or agriculture; one of their loans financed the Kenyan Company Advanced Bio-Extracts, the first African company to produce artemisinin for antimalarial drugs.4  These groups bring a fresh approach to the decades-old problem of the stagnation of African communities and economies.

I was not discouraged by Theroux’s tirades; as a field, I feel, or at least I hope, that public health is less prone to “throwing money” at problems and seeks to implement long-lasting behavior changes.  However, despite the author’s vitriol and lack of knowledge on his chosen tirade, his observations are still a powerful reminder that public health professionals can fail people by not giving them the tools to continuously implement the changes we try to effect.

How effective is our work towards reaching the MDGs?

By Elvira Beracochea, MIDEGO

Are we really making a difference? Should we account for our work and present transparent results, good and bad to our peers, host country partners and funding agencies?

This year the IH section hosted the second panel on “Aid Effectiveness and Accountability.” This panel is a follow on to the one we had last year. I am happy that the topic of Aid Effectiveness is raising more attention. I want to thank two guest presenters: Michael Hammer, Executive Director of the One World Trust, who came from the UK for this panel and Elisabeth Sandor of the OECD, who came from Paris for this panel.

One World Trus (www.oneworldtrust.org) is a fifty-year old non-profit organization in the UK evaluating and holding accountable organizations such as DfID, Aga Khan Foundation, etc. Their accountability report is a must for those working in IH. Last year the OECD decided to include health as its tracer sector and is monitoring progress towards the MDGs and the commitments made in Paris Declaration.   Continue reading “How effective is our work towards reaching the MDGs?”