Global Health Weekly News Round-Up

Politics and Policies:

  • The White House has ruled that young immigrants who will be allowed to stay in the United States as a part of a new federal policy will not be eligible for health insurance coverage under President Obama’s health care overhaul.
  • Japan is preparing for an increase in tobacco prices to seventy five percent more than the present.
  • China is planning to cut the prices of 95 cancer, immunology and blood related drugs by about 17 percent to reduce the growing number of chronic, age-related diseases in the country and make health care affordable.


  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announces 2013 Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Premium rates.
  • The Red Cross calls for funds to halt cholera epidemic in Sierra Leone.
  • Cuba launches its first nanopharmacetical drug- a tweaked variety of cyclosporine to help to prevent transplant rejection.


  • According to the Australian researchers more pregnant women are being diagnosed with some form of cancer. They said that this could either me due to increased mother’s age which increased the possibility of cancer or due to increased interaction with health services during the pregnancy.
  • A study has warned that the U.S. obesity rates will be soared by the year 2030. This will increase the burden of illness and also their health care cost and decrease the productivity.
  • According to a study there is a link between obese pregnant women with sleep apnea and chances of their neonates having this problem.
  • A paper published in the journal Genetics says that compiling large amount of data into useful information for the patients and doctors will help to make them better decisions by knowing the possibility or likelihood of developing / passing along a hereditary  disease. It will make a better sense of genome data using informatics approach.
  • According to the scientist the females who undergo radiation therapy for the cure of cancer have their DNA‘s damaged. This causes two proteins PUMA and NOXA, to trigger the death of cells causing early menopause. Blocking the action of these two proteins will help to prevent infertility in the females undergoing chemotherapy.
  • The scientists at the Harvard School of public health say that the people who consume two or more sugary drink per day have increased chances of developing obesity.
  • According to a study published in the journal Science, newly formed memories can be erased from the human brain.
  • According to the recommendations by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants should be given to the sexually active adolescents as a reliable method of birth control.
  • According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, females who are on high antioxidant diet like fruits and vegetables have reduced risk of developing a heart attack.
  • The scientists at UCLA AIDS institute have discovered that variation in progression of speed of HIV in people vary due to the killer T-immune response that occur early on during this infection. It targets an epitope called IW9 on HIV protein.
  • A study done by the Mayo Clinic Arizona has showed that the spilt-dose preparation technique for colonoscopy has improved the polyp detection rates, precancerous rates, overall quality of preparation and colonoscopy completion rates.
  • A recent study has shown that the efficacy of drugs for treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s and obesity can be boosted by the nanoparticles to target the mitochondria- the power house of the cell.
  • According to a study published in the journal Lancet, the child mortality rates in Niger (one of the world’s poorest countries) have declined nearly fifty percent over the last decade.
  • DNA barcoding will help to authenticate the natural products. It allows the scientists to use short standardized regions of genetic material to identify the species and compare them to reference genetic sequences.
  • According to a report published in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, the increasing demand to move personalized medicine research forward is fueling the growth of biobanking market.
  • In Botswana vinegar swab is being used to prevent cervical cancer. Pap smear method to diagnose the disease is not possible at times due to lack of laboratories and other facilities.
  • According to a study done by a group of British and Australian researchers the toxic venom of snake can be modified to provide benefit to an organism. The scientists are trying to explore if this discovery can help to find cure for cancer and diabetes.
  • A microscopically thin film made up of hydroxyapatite can prevent caries and will make the teeth look brighter.
  • A study done by the researchers show that the patients and their relative abuse doctors.
  • According to a consumer group, children should avoid consuming too much of canned tuna fish to avoid mercury poisoning.
  • According to a study children exposed to high levels of mercury increase their chances of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • According to Spanish study kid’s score higher in developmental tests if their mothers get enough vitamin D during pregnancy.

Diseases and Disasters:

  • According to the Consumer Reports, the FDA, and the attorney General for the state of Illinois, arsenic levels are reported high in rice.
  • Hundreds of children in North India have been infected with Japanese Encephalitis.
  • Flood situation has deteriorated in North Eastern India.
  • Flood in Cameroon have killed 30 people and affected at least 26,000.
  • Kane County Health Department (Illinois) is conducting a food-borne illness investigation into six cases of Salmonella that are linked to Aliano’s Ristorante in downtown Batavia.
  • Singapore sees more haze, air quality reduced.
  • Kroger (US) has recalled spinach in 15 states to avoid the selling of Listeria-tainted product.
  • A public health alert have been issued by Department of agriculture’s Food Safety and inspection Service (FSIS) for boneless beef trim products imported from Canada that might be contaminated with E.coli O157:H7.

The Danger in Overlooking Environmental and Occupational Health

A black-and-white photo of a gold mine in the 19th century.
Flickr, U.S. National Archives

I often get quizzical looks from public health professionals when, after explaining that I am interested in international health, I tell them that I got my MPH in Environmental Health. For example, while riding the shuttle from the airport to the Convention Center for the APHA Annual Meeting this past November, I struck up a conversation with an Environmental Health professor. She seemed puzzled when I told her that I was a member of the International Health section and then explained that my MPH focus (and my current job) was in environmental and occupational health. She then (very politely) invited me to the Environmental Health Section’s social hour.

While I certainly appreciated the invitation, I remain puzzled (and slightly frustrated) that there is relatively little discussion of environmental and occupational health issues in international health. The field is dominated by discussion of the Big Three diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB), sanitation, tropical worms, MCNH issues, malnourishment, and poverty. While these are all very important issues deserving of attention and funding, EOH should by no means be left out: after all, every human being is affected by the environment around him or her, and nearly all of us hold some kind of occupation to put food on the table.

One story in particular caught my eye a few weeks ago. Nearly 300 children in Zamfara state in northern Nigeria have died from lead poisoning due to mining activity over the last two years; another 742 are currently being treated for high blood lead levels. Lead poisoning fall squarely under environmental health – my cubicle neighbor is a nurse for the Texas Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program – but this story had all of the trappings of a “classic” IH scenario: poor people in small villages in a developing country, Doctors without Borders, and sick African babies.

Mining is a significant issue, and a heated debate, in the field of development. Proponents of mining include the World Bank, which maintains that mining provides jobs, government revenues, and local economic benefits, and that it can provide sustainable development to communities with appropriate regulation. Critics argue that the pollution and environmental damage generated by mining operations outweigh the benefits, that it exploits local communities, and that the revenues are largely kept by local elites and foreign shareholders. And we all know that resources are too often followed by bloody conflict: civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia, and armed conflict in the DRC, are just a few examples that come to mind. There are a number of health ramifications as well: constant exposure to rock dust makes miners more susceptible to tuberculosis, which they can spread to their families. Artisanal gold mining in particular, which supplies at least one fourth of the world’s total gold supply, is one of the most significant sources of the release of mercury into the environment.

Despite the hazards and health risks, however, the issue gets relatively little attention compared to the traditional global health villains of sanitation and infectious disease. This is unfortunate because all of the same factors play into mining in impoverished communities: residents and farmers take up mining and mineral extraction to improve their livelihoods because it pays better and provides more security than subsistence farming. There are issues of sustainability, ownership, exploitation, and corruption. Somit Varma, director of the Oil, Gas, Mining & Chemicals Department of the World Bank/IFC, has said that “the social and economic characteristics of small-scale mining fully reflect the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals, including: health, environment, gender, education, child labour, and poverty eradication.”

Advocates are becoming more vocal in drawing attention to “non-typical” international health issues, including cancer and mental illness. We should add environmental and occupational health issues to that list as well. While these issues are inevitably more complicated to prevent, screen for, and treat than the Big Three or NTDs – after all, you can’t pass out condoms or implement DOTS for lead poisoning or silicosis – they still impact the world in a major and often devastating way and are still deserving of our attention.