By Abbhirami Rajagopal
Six million people die annually as a result of tobacco. Many governments have adopted the WHO framework for tobacco control and have since taken measures (policy changes, cessation programs, etc.) to reduce mortalities and morbidities that occur due to tobacco. Not surprisingly, big tobacco companies like Philip Morris International have pushed back against countries that have enacted stringent packaging laws.
In a much-awaited decision, Australia won an international legal battle to uphold its tobacco policies that include the plain packaging laws. Australia has enacted some of the toughest measures to reduce the harm caused by tobacco and plain packaging laws are among them. These laws are intended to prevent the tobacco companies from displaying their distinctive designs, colors or even their brand logos (companies can include their names and logos, but they cannot have flashy, enticing packaging). Instead, the companies would be required to use olive-green packs with health warnings and graphic color images that would cover nearly 75% of the front of the packs. The Plain Packaging Act passed by the Australian parliament became law in 2011 and, shortly thereafter, Hong Kong-based PMI sought legal action against Australia citing that, by stripping logos off the packs, these stringent laws violated the bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong, thereby severely diminishing their brand value.
This is not the first time Philip Morris has dragged governments into legal battles over stricter anti-smoking and tobacco laws.
While global rate of lung cancer mortality was increasing between 1990 and 2013, owing to stricter anti-tobacco measures, Uruguay saw a 15% reduction in lung cancer mortality. PMI, a company whose revenues were nearly $80 billion in 2013, sued Uruguay, a small country of 3 million with a GDP of about $56 billion, in 2013. The lawsuit was brought to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2010 and the company is seeking $25 million in damages from Uruguay, once again, citing violation of bilateral investment treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland. The ICSID is expected to settle this case by arbitration.
The upholding of the anti-tobacco laws in Australia will hopefully set a precedent and allow countries to move forward with legitimate public health actions to curb the global tobacco epidemic without interference from tobacco companies.
Here is another short anti-tobacco video (PSA?) from the WHO marking World No Tobacco Day this year. Like last year’s video, it portrays Big Tobacco as the sinister bad guy who controls us all without us knowing it. I know these videos are meant to appeal to a wide audience, and send a strong and simple message, but I wish that the anti-tobacco videos would feature more actual information and statistics, rather than just showing us that Big Tobacco is some big, bad puppeteer.
Every year, on 31 May, WHO and partners mark World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 600 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.
Four national health leaders describe how their countries are fighting tobacco industry interference that has moved out of the shadows and into courts of law. Professor Jane Halton, Secretary of the Department of Health of Australia, Doctor Richard Nchabi Kamwi, Minister of Health and Social Services of Namibia, Mrs Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, Minister of Health and Care Services of Norway and Dr Jorge Venegas, Minister of Public Health of Uraguay describe the situation in their countries.
October 10 was World Mental Health Day.
October 15 was Global Handwashing Day.
POLITICS AND POLICY
- The U.S. Army has proposed major cuts to its work on HIV, especially in the vaccine field. Leaders of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and other biomedical research organizations oppose the cuts.
- The WHO plans to recommend tighter nutritional standards in food aid for young children, a move activists say is necessary to improve donations from countries such as the United States.
- The US Department of Defense is funding platforms that will completely rethink how malaria drugs are developed.
- Former Bush Administration official Andrew Natsios argues the case for foreign aid: “Singling out foreign aid for disproportionate cuts—which is exactly what has happened—is a serious mistake the United States as a world leader will pay for in the future.”
- A survey of 507 Americans at the end of September sought to capture what, exactly, Americans know about the foreign aid budget. Particpiants were asked four questions about their impressions of foreign aid and opinions on why it is important to American interests. Go here to read the full fact sheet that also includes more details about the study’s methods and see below to review the results in more detail.
- The World Health Organization’s chief on Monday urged governments to unite against “big tobacco”, as she accused the industry of dirty tricks, bullying and immorality in its quest to keep people smoking.
- Berk Ozler examines some recent reports about the challenges surrounding male circumcision. In the World Bank Development Impact blog, he offers two suggestions for how to improve the programs.
- A partnership between Pampers and UNICEF to deliver neonatal tetanus vaccines is on track to eliminate the disease by 2015.
- A $258 million initiative sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at preventing AIDS in India appears to have paid off overall, researchers say, resulting in more than 100,000 fewer new HIV infections over five years. Many aren’t quite ready to judge this project, Avahan, a success, however. The project failed in three of the six Indian states where it was tested.
- Are the Millennium Villages an intervention that can reach scale? Supporters say yes and detractors are skeptical. Madeline Bunting covers the debate in the Guardian Development.
- A report on the MGDS by United Nations Development Program, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission says that social protection programs can have a wide positive impact.
- A cancer diagnosis can leave lasting psychological scars akin to those inflicted by war, according to a new survey. More than decade after being told they had the disease, nearly four out of 10 cancer survivors said they were still plagued by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
- Researchers have found that vitamin D can be used to activate the immune system’s response to TB.
- The Paul G Allen Family Foundation is supporting the Infectious Disease Research Institute phase I TB vaccine trial with a two-year $300,000 grant.
- We know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for the heart, but can a healthy diet really overcome the effect of genes that boost your risk for heart problems?
- Vitamin E supplements significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men even after they stopped taking them, scientists reported Tuesday. Given the popularity of vitamin E for those 60 and over, the researchers wrote, “the implications of our observations are substantial.” Those studied took 400 international units (IUs) a day.
- New studies find that young people diagnosed with HIV will now likely survive for close to 46 years thanks to improved antiretrovirals
- A Norwegian study found that pregnant women who took folic acid supplements in the first two months of pregnancy were less likely to have children with severe language delays.
- “Tobacco Control is Tuberculosis Control,” says a new study in the British Medical Journal.
- The NIH has announced that it is providing University of California San Francisco $718,136 to support its anti-malaria research.
- A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, University of Hong Kong and the Public Health Foundation of India and published in the Lancet shows that an Indian program to focus HIV intervention projects in high risk groups has dramatically reduced infection rates.
DISEASES AND DISASTERS
The Advocacy/Policy Committee would like to invite you to participate in our first Advocacy Day, led in partnership with the Global Health Council. The day, scheduled for Thursday, November 3rd, 2011, immediately following the annual meeting in Washington, D.C., will be an opportunity for us to voice support for a continued focus on international health to our elected officials. With the intense Congressional pressure to cut the budget, our voices can make a real difference. As a participant during this exciting day, you will be provided with training materials on effective advocacy techniques to ensure your message is clearly heard. Even if you do not have advocacy experience, you need not hesitate to sign up because you will be teamed with others. Please consider joining your fellow International Health Section members on Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 on Capitol Hill to advocate for a healthy globe. Interested parties should register here. Please note that registration will close on October 14th. Any questions should be directed to Peter Freeman, Advocacy/Policy Committee Chair, at email@example.com or 773.318.4842.
The University of Washington has launched the first full year of its Global Health Minor program!
POLITICS AND POLICY
- Tobacco companies knew that cigarettes contained a radioactive substance called polonium-210, but hid that knowledge from the public for over four decades, a new study of historical documents revealed.
- Latin American leaders have agreed to accelerate their efforts to address maternal health at the 51st Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization.
- Journalist Georgianne Nienaber looks at the impact of PEPFAR and how it may be impacted by budget battles in Congress.
- Earlier this week, the World Health Organization released a report analyzing air pollution levels in nearly 1100 cities in 91 countries. The analysis was based on air particulate levels between 2003 and 2010.
- When it came out a while ago that the CIA had used a fake vaccination scheme to try to find out where Osama bin Laden might be in Pakistan, many said it would undermine real health and humanitarian efforts. Here’s one group’s story.
- Foreign aid has acquired a bad reputation in recent years, as something usually wasteful and useless. Yet all this sound and fury has overshadowed the evidence that aid often can work.
- A report by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health finds that over 100 countries have increased financing for maternal and child health initiatives.
- The humanitarian impact of the world economic crisis became clearer this week, as the UN warned of huge job losses, a rise in the number of people afflicted by chronic undernourishment, and the “extraordinary price” being paid by children as “austerity programs” constrict the developing world.
- There is enough water in the world’s rivers to meet the demands of the expanding global population, but the rivers have to be better managed, according to a series of studies released today at the 14th World Water Congress in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil.
- UNICEF has called on the IMF and World Bank to ensure that children are not negatively impacted by austerity measures carried out by various countries.
- The New York Times shows how male circumcision is one of the most effective and simple solutions in HIV reduction, but has so far been hard to implement. Meanwhile, a group of economists, including Bjorn Lomborg, are casting doubt on the cost-effectiveness of voluntary male circumcision campaigns as an HIV prevention measure.
- The New York Times features an article about the simple innovation of using vinegar to detect if a woman has cervical cancer by applying it with a brush to the cervix.
- The Global Fund, the world’s largest funder of global health, is set to radically shake up the way it disburses and manages donor money, in a move to boost efficiency that could reallocate a third of its financing in order to save more lives.
- On Tuesday, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization announced that it will be expanding its target vaccine areas to directly address diarrhea and pneumonia.
- UNFPA has announced that it is now collaborating with UNICEF to combat Female Genital Mutilation.
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION
DISEASES AND DISASTERS
- Roads may accelerate spread of antibiotic resistance: Samples from villages by major roads in Ecuador compared to more rural villages shows antibiotic resistant E. coli is spreading along roads.
- The recent heavy flooding caused by the monsoon in Pakistan, most devastating in Sindh, has affected the lives of over five million people. The Health and Nutrition Cluster is appealing for US$45.9 million. WHO requires US$14.8 for response for Health, Nutrition and Water and Sanitation intervention.
- New enterovirus causes respiratory disease: Promed reports on 6 clusters of respiratory illness associated with human enterovirus 68 in Asia, Europe, and the United States during 2008–2010.
- More than 20 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean lacks basic sanitation and 15 percent has no access to drinking water because of poor management, said experts at a meeting that ended Thursday in Brazil.
- The likelihood of water-borne disease outbreaks is high in areas in Philippines recently devastated by Typhoon Nesat.
- Aid groups are criticizing the U.S.government delay on deciding whether to resume large-scale food donations to North Korea. The charities warn that many vulnerable people in the impoverished communist state could die from starvation.
- In a new report on rabies, the WHO finds that 45% of cases in the world take place in Southeast Asia.
- A decade-long study of 135,000 men found that those who did not have children had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who did, raising new questions over the links between fertility and overall health,U.S. researchers said on Monday.
- More money is needed to save lives in famine-ravaged East Africa, with the UN saying it’s something like $700 million through year’s end. The World Bank announced from Washington it would boost its aid to area countries to nearly $1.9 billion. As if famine weren’t enough, Nick Kristoff tells us that as Somalis stream across the border into Kenya, at a rate of about 1,000 a day, they are frequently prey to armed bandits who rob men and rape women in the 50-mile stretch before they reach Dadaab, now the world’s largest refugee camp.
- An explosion of new technologies and treatments for cancer coupled with a rapid rise in cases of the disease worldwide mean cancer care is rapidly becoming unaffordable in many developed countries, oncology experts said on Monday.
TOTALLY UNRELATED TO ANYTHING – Twitter knows what you’re feeling!