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.

A New Leaf: GSK Breaks from the Big Pharma Ranks by Sharing Malaria Data

Blog contributor: Jessica M. Keralis

International pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced last Wednesday that the company would release information on over 13,000 malaria drug candidates into the public domain.1,2 The company will also create an “open lab” where independent researchers can use GSK facilities and expertise for their own research projects.  The company’s CEO, Andrew Witty, said in a speech in New York that drug companies have to balance social responsibility with the need to make a profit in order to “earn the trust of society.” 1,3

While such a move is certainly laudable, and has been cautiously praised by organizations such as Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières, it is a small step against the typical business flow of Big Pharma.  When Witty announced his plan at Harvard last year to put potential drugs for neglected diseases into a “patent pool” for other scientists to investigate, none of the other major drug companies followed suit. 2, 3 GSK has only recently turned over this “new leaf”: only a few years ago, the company was directly targeted by Oxfam’s “Cut the Cost” campaign criticizing the higher prices of medicines charged by pharmaceutical corporations in developing countries.4 The pharmaceutical industry came under fire in 2001 when 39 pharmaceutical companies (GSK included) tried to prevent the South African government from importing generic versions of patented drugs.5 It appears, however, that GSK has been taking steps in the right direction.  Oxfam spokesperson Rohit Malpani said that “Big Pharma seems to be realizing slowly that poor people in developing countries face huge and different barriers to good health, and so…the industry must change its existing “strong patents, high cost” way of doing business.”6

GSK’s recent moves are certainly encouraging.  However, it will still take a lot of work for such steps to bear any real fruit.  Drug discovery is a long and expensive process, so organizations that participate in GSK’s “open lab” initiative will need to figure out how to carry their projects forward after their time in the lab is over. 2 Professor Peter Winstanley of the Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that while there’s a slight possibility that we may have new drugs from this in the next five years, it is more likely to happen over the next 10 to 20 years, and that will take a lot of work, some luck, and a lot of money.” 1