Global Health News Last Week

Note: There will be no news round-up next week, as the IH section will be conducting its usual array of activities during APHA’s Annual Meeting.  Please tune in for updates on section sessions and activites at the conference.  Meanwhile, you can get your global health news fix from the DAWNS digest, Humanosphere, or the Healthy Dose.

October 16 was World Food Day.
October 17 was International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

POLITICS AND POLICY

  • Scientists are warning officials negotiating a global treaty on mercury that banning the deadly chemical completely would be dangerous for public health because of the chemical’s use in vaccines. 
  • The Washington Post runs an editorial critical of the GOP presidential candidates’ hostility toward foreign aid.
  • An influential panel of MPs warned that changes in UK aid policies may make overseas aid more prone to corruption and misuse.
  • Attendees at the Asia Pacific Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights have called on countries in the region to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation has released a report which finds that global HIV/AIDS funding dropped by 10% in 2010.

PROGRAMS

  • HP Signed a Memorandum of Understanding with USAID to collaborate in the fight against global poverty through initiatives directed at issues such as public health.
  • GAVI CEO Seth Berkley pens an op-ed in Huffington Post on the economic value of childhood vaccines.
  • The Pan African Parliament has passed a resolution that urges African nations to prioritize maternal, newborn and child health programs.
  • USAID is initiating research to find out whether developing world families will adopt a new cooking technology and adapt their cooking methods to save their health.
  • At an event in Washington, the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council called for increased accessed to contraception worldwide. 
  • Microfinance initiatives to fund development could benefit from reinvigorating their aims and taking on new, integrated approaches, according to experts at the 2011 International Forum on the Social and Solidarity Economy in Montreal.

RESEARCH

  • A new study, by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Gilead Sciences Inc. and universities in Belgium and Italy, suggests that a microbicide gel, which was originally developed to fight AIDS in Africa, could lower the incidence of herpes in many women.
  • RTS,S a malaria vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is showing great of promise in the early stages of its huge clinical trial.  The American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Council Member and Science Director at the PATH Malaria Control Program, Rick Steketee, explores the impact of the new RTS,S clinical trial results and what this breakthrough means for science and neglected tropical disease research. On the other hand, Sarah Boseley wonders where the money will come from once the vaccine has passed its trials, and Karen Grepin is not as excited about the new GSK malaria trial results as many others.
  • Adults who have fallen behind on mortgage payments exhibited higher rates of depression and are skipping meals and medications because they cannot pay the bills, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found.
  • Teenage drivers have fewer crashes after they’ve been driving for a while, but new research in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that a few months behind the wheel do not improve their driving skills much.
  • A recent study finds that the best way to fight TB in patients with HIV is to treat as early as possible.

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

  • The famine in Somalia isn’t getting much public attention, but not because things are improving. Aid workers predict things will get worse before they get better. Much-needed rain is coming, but the rainfall could deepen the crisis for the four million people there who need help.
  • Numerous UN agencies are ready to be deployed if Southeast Asian nations ravaged by flooding request for assistance.
  • A report by Roll Back Malaria Partnership released at the start of the Gates Foundation’s Global Malaria Forum says that the world is making positive steps towards eradicating malaria. Specifically, 29 countries are on track to stop malaria within a decade.
  • Environmental hazards sicken or kill millions of people — soot or smog in the air, for example, or pollutants in drinking water. But the most dangerous stuff happens where the food is made — in peoples’ kitchens.
  • World Health Organization officials say the rapid and extensive globalization of food production has increased the incidence of food contamination worldwide.
  • Speculators in the agricultural commodities markets are forcing grocery prices to rise too quickly and erratically, according to some top economists marking World Food Day Sunday.
  • Climate change poses an immediate and serious threat to global health and stability, as floods and droughts destroy people’s homes and food supplies and increase mass migration, experts warn.
  • A survey of 87 countries showed more than half the countries reported more or much more awareness of mental illnesses in the past three years. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of new money behind that awareness.

Admitting Failure: Trendy, but (at least for NGOs) not Prudent

This blog post is in response to the Second Aid Blog Forum: Admitting Failure, a topic forum proposed by anonymous blogger J at Tales From the Hood.

Admitting failure is apparently trendy these days.  As nonprofits and NGOs spend countless hours polishing their annual reports and filling them with rosy success stories to placate donors and stakeholders, a growing chorus of bloggers and development pundits are calling on aid organizations to be up-front and honest about their failures so that others can learn from them.  The idea took off when Engineers Without Borders Canada built a website where development groups could share failures and exchange lessons.  A “Fail Faire” was even held in DC last week to “celebrate” failure. 

While all of this openness and honesty is heartwarming, would I, if I were running an NGO, admit to (that is, publicize) a failed project or program?  To me, that answer is simple: Hell no.

Is there value to sharing failures that could be lessons for your own organization or others?  Absolutely.  But how much good does it do the average layperson to hear about a failed project?  And, once they get a hold of the story, what are the chances that it will come back to bite your organization in the ass?

Take, for example, the field day that the AP had with the results of an audit of grants at the Global Fund.  The Fund, which maintains a policy of “full transparency and zero tolerance of corruption,” published the results of an ongoing audit last year that discovered that several million dollars of grants (representing a very small portion of total funds disbursed) had been lost to fraud and corruption in four countries.  It then began to pursue legal action to recover the funds and prosecute the individuals responsible.  Sounds great, right?  Did the press or anyone else respond with gratitude or acknowledge the up-front and open nature of the Fund in publishing its findings?  If only.  It became a runaway news “scandal,” with the AP painting the “celebrity-backed” Fund as being “plagued by fraud.”  The result: Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and the European Commission froze their disbursements

While it is true that the Global Fund is a uniquely high-profile organization that deals in numbers with many zeros, I think the general tendency of people to react poorly to failure holds true across the board.  Particularly in the current atmosphere of fiscal austerity, the last thing people want to see is their tax dollars or donations being “wasted” on failed projects that were not originally designed to help them in the first place.  While most Americans support foreign aid, I imagine that a lot of them would change their tune if they thought that it did not work.  People have (reasonable, IMHO) objections to their tax dollars being used for “trial and error” projects.

There is, however, true value to learning from failed projects – this is part of the reason that researchers publish (albeit reluctantly) the results of unsuccessful experiments in professional journals and share them at conferences.  But that is precisely the point – the failures are shared with an audience that can appreciate them and the lessons they bring.  The aid community would benefit from creating supportive forums through which they can exchange lessons about failure, whether that be conferences like “Fail Faires” or practice-based journals in which such stories can be published.

Many organizations could stand to make their annual reports, particularly the finance portion, more transparent in order to give donors a better idea of their operations.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig has a great summary of resources that describe good standards and best practices.  But NGOs shy away from laying bare individual project failures, and for good reason.  Unless an individual has background knowledge on how aid and development works, it is difficult to put these stories into context.  It is a whole lot easier to simply decide to hold your donation (or call your Congressman) than it is to have faith in a charity’s ability to learn from its mistakes, especially when stories of ill-conceived projects abound.

Global Health News Last Week

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.

PROGRAMS

  • 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.

RESEARCH

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

Global Health News, Week of September 26-30

SECTION NEWS
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 pffreeman@gmail.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.

PROGRAMS

  • 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!

Global Health News Last Week

SECTION NEWS
Attention IH section members! We are still in need of moderators for the scientific sessions at this year’s annual meeting. According to our program committee, the following sessions are still available:

Monday, October 31
10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.: International Health Programs & Policy 1

2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.: Act Global, Think Local: Domestic applications of international health lessons; Child Survival & Child Health 1

Tuesday, November 1
8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Builidng Partnerships and Coalitions for better International Programs; Emerging, Re-emerging & Neglected Tropical Diseases

10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.: International Health Communication/ Behavior Change Communication

12:30 p.m. 2:00 p.m.: HIV/AIDS 2

Wednesday, November 2
8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: HIV/AIDS 3; Innovations in International Health 2

Please contact Omar Khan (ih.apha@gmail.com) for more information, or to volunteer!


USAID celebrated its 50-year anniversary this week.

The benefits of breastfeeding are being showcased around the world
for Breast Feeding Week.

POLITICS AND POLICY

  • US organizations will find it easier to deliver aid to parts of Somalia controlled by a pro-Al Qaeda group – the threat of prosecution if it ends up in the wrong hands has been reduced  after an announcement by the State Department.
  • Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez was sworn in as the new Assistant Administrator for the Global Health Bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
  • Although Congress resolved the debt ceiling debate, the way the budget package is being shaped — particularly by combining International Affairs with defense in a single “security” category, global poverty spending is getting severely handicapped.
  • Blood tests for tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis may be putting patients’ lives at risk through providing misleading results, and should not be used, according to a WHO policy statement.

PROGRAMS

  • The inaugural charter of the Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders was signed at Temple University yesterday.
  • Tom Paulson of Humanosphere breaks down the 2010 Gates Foundation annual report, with some interesting commentary.
  • Jaclyn Schiff of UN Dispatch says we can look for more global health leadership coming from the city of Houston (my hometown!), as Dr. Peter Hotez, whom Schiff calls “an international health force of nature,” and an arm of the Sabin Vaccine Institute move there.
  • The Measles Initiative today announced it has helped vaccinate one billion children in more than 60 developing countries since 2001, making significant gains in the global effort to stop measles.
  • India’s health minister announced Tuesday a new initiative underway to boost the country’s rate of immunizing newborns by collecting mobile phone numbers of all pregnant mothers to monitor their babies’ vaccinations.

RESEARCH

  • A multi-resistant strain of Salmonella Kentucky could be spreading globally, suggests a study by Institut Pasteur. Case numbers have risen in Europe and the US, and infections have also been acquired in various parts of Africa and the Middle East. The strain has also been found in food animals in Africa.
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturer iBio, Inc announced the successful animal testing of a malaria vaccine candidate in trials sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • A new study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene shows a relationship between a kind of river flow and cholera outbreaks.
  • A new study in the Lancet shows that text messaging can be an effective tool in malaria treatment and prevention.
  • PLoS Medicine published a new study on HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa. Among its key findings was the startling fact that sex between men (MSM) accounts for nearly one quarter of all new HIV infections across the region.
  • According to a new study, children of depressed mothers in developing countries are 40 percent more likely to be underweight or stunted than those with mothers in good mental health.
  • A cheap and portable blood test could provide a breakthrough for diagnosing infections in remote areas of the world, a scientific study says.
  • Using WHO data, researchers found that children who experience abuse and develop mental health disorders are at increased risk for chronic physical problems later in life.
  • A new study in the journal Nature Medicine finds that a credit card shaped device used for testing HIV, known as “Lab-on-a-Chip,” has had a successful trial run in Rwanda.

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

  • Mass treatment of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis with ivermectin has been hampered by severe reactions if the patient also has Loa loa. A new map developed by WHO’s African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control will help communities identify low risk areas for Loa loa and distribute ivermectin for lymphatic filariasis control safely.
  • The CDC reports that the annual number of HIV infections in the USA is holding steady at about 50,000, and that African American MSM are at particular risk.
  • AIDS remains a metaphor for inequality, argues Michel Sidibe in the LA Times. In the world’s wealthier nations, where access to medicine is widespread, AIDS is becoming a chronic disease rather than a death sentence. But in the eveloping world, 1.8 million people die of AIDS each year.
  • Global cholera incidence has increased since 2000, with Haiti’s large outbreak tipping the largest burden away from Africa for the first time since 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Sunday.
  • Tens of thousands of Somalis have died and more than half-a-million children are on the brink of starvation. Western aid isn’t flowing to where the worst of the famine is — partly due to the “war on terror.”
  • The head of World Food Program in Ethiopia says the country’s emergency food stocks are almost gone, the latest trouble caused by the drought in the Horn of Africa.

TOTALLY UNRELATED TO ANYTHING – Apparently Hollywood has discovered its next Greg Mortenson: Sam Childers, the “Machine Gun Preacher,” is the subject of much hubbub and an upcoming movie starring Gerard Butler.  This man claims to have been a gangbanger and drug dealer who found Jesus and then took up arms to rescue child soldiers from the LRA.  Global health blogger Brett Keller offers some commentary into Childers’ outlandish (and, frankly, dubious) story, while anonymous aid blogger “J” at Tales from the Hood has a few choice words.