Global Health News This Week

Richard Holbrooke, an American diplomat who worked for peace in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the founding President of the Global Business Coalition against AIDS, passed away on Monday due to complications in surgery.

The State Department has launched the Foreign Assistance Dashboard (v. 1.0), which allows visitors to see how the government’s foreign aid money is being spent. The website is still in its beginning stages and there is a lot that has not yet been published, but it is a step in the right direction. In related government news, Secretary Clinton announced the full release of the first QDDR on Wednesday.

The Gates’ seem to be establishing themselves as the new “Big Brother” of global health, which makes some journalists uncomfortable – most recently with regard to ABC’s new “Be the Change” global health series. The Gates Foundation (along with the WHO, UNICEF, and NIAID) has also recently announced the “Global Vaccine Action Plan,” following the Gates’ call this past January to make the next ten years the “Decade of Vaccines.” They also provided funding for the development of a new polio vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Leeds.

The Canada-based organization Aids-Free World is accusing the UN of endangering women and children in their push to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Swine flu (H1N1) has reared its ugly head again in the UK, shocking doctors by its severity and spread.

An article in the Lancet revealed that TB cases have risen by 50% in London in the last ten years, making it the tuberculosis capital of Western Europe.

The WHO released its 2010 World Malaria Report this week.

Doctors in Germany claim to have cured a man of both cancer and HIV, though critics maintain that the treatment – a transplant of bone marrow and stem cells from a naturally HIV-resistant individual – is not a reasonable option for the general population.

Make Peace, Not War: State Department’s Quadrennial Review Emphasizes Conflict Prevention

The whole world is buzzing this week about the latest “gate”scandal. This time it is “Cablegate,” sparked by a series of US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, which apparently shocked the world by demonstrating that things are not always as they seem on the surface with international politics. Aside from my confusion about why exactly this was news (isn’t it generally accepted in the diplomatic community that everyone is collecting information to send back their HQs?) and my dismay that work to combat human rights violations could be compromised, I was encouraged by the fact that release demonstrated that the State Department is very interested in the the UN and invested in stability and conflict prevention. For example, diplomats were asked to gather intelligence on Ban Ki-Moon’s plans for Iran, as well as information on Sudan and the Darfur conflict, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran, and North Korea. (The jury is still out on whether this constitutes actual spying, which is illegal at the UN according to international treaties.) The State Department’s own Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review affirms this. The review is expected to be released in mid-December. Meanwhile, a draft summary revealed greater emphasis on improving civilian response to conflict. While response has (of course) been mixed, many organizations, including Oxfam America, have praised its emphasis on conflict prevention and response.

Photo credit: Dr. Diane Budd, MSF

This has enormous public health implications as well. In war, obviously, people die. They also get injured, sick, raped, tortured, and traumatized. As APHA’s policy statement on armed conflict and public health points out, the damage that is done to population health and health systems as a result of armed conflict is colossal, devastating, and expensive. In addition to high mortality and injury rates, there are numerous, and often unseen, morbidity complications, including psychological trauma and severe or disabling injuries. Women are left more vulnerable as men are killed, and are targeted for rape, forced impregnation, and sexual slavery by armed groups. Children suffer from malnutrition and are often targeted for ethnic cleansing. Health systems are impaired (if not completely disabled) as equipment is destroyed, supply systems break down, and health workers flee, and they often face a higher burden due to the increased health care needs of the population ravaged by the violence. It is also really expensive: Medact estimated in 2002 that the financial burden of the Iraq war could exceed $150 billion, which would address the health care needs of the world’s poorest over four years.

The policy paper calls for a change in the mindset of public health professionals that war is “an inevitable force in the world” and argues that the profession should embrace the role of conflict prevention as a form of public health prevention. The State Department has indicated that it wants to take that step – shouldn’t we as well?