Global Health News Last Week

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.


POLITICS AND POLICY

PROGRAMS

  • Sanitation and hygiene are sensitive and unpopular subjects, but funding them is essential to fighting disease, ensuring basic rights and meeting millennium development goals.
  • The Gates Foundation’s European director Joe Cerrell comes to the defense of the beleaguered Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, arguing to improve on its “impressive record and ensure that millions more lives are saved and the progress against global disease is secured for generations to come.”
  • Almost four months into the Horn of Africa crisis, aid agencies are involved in much soul-searching as to whether they could have responded more quickly to the drought and famine.

RESEARCH AND INNOVATION

  • A Japanese company, the Sumitomo Chemical Company, unveiled a new kind of insecticide treated bed net at a product launch in Kenya.
  • Pregnant women who load up on fruits, veggies and whole grains have a reduced risk of having babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or cleft lip, according to one of the first studies to look at the connection between diet and birth defects.
  • A study by Stanford researchers has determined that infant health can be improved when a mother has a low-fat high fiber diet up to a year prior to getting pregnant.
  • A study published in the British Medical Journal says that if current smoking trends continue until 2050, TB related deaths will jump by 40 million.
  • Though young, there is a lot of potential in what mHealth can offer in developing countries. Amanda Glassman shares some ways that it can be improved.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington have reported some highly problematic findings regarding a common method of birth control in eastern and southern Africa. They are problematic in that they indicate a popular injectable hormone, Depo-Provera, used by perhaps 140 million women worldwide (and often in poor settings) signficantly raises a woman’s risk of HIV infection.
  • Test subjects in a Spanish HIV vaccine trial have shown a 90 percent immune response.

DISEASES AND DISASTERS

  • A cohort of American and British researchers say that by investing in AIDS treatments, money can be saved in the long term.
  • What should be the top priorities in global health? Infectious diseases? Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)? Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)? A research scientist wonders at the confusion amid this sea of bad acronyms.
  • Former US President Carter is leading the fight against guinea worm making a request that WHO members provide $93 million in funding to wipe out the disease.  DfID has committed to support the push against guinea worm by announcing it will allocating £20 million to the effort.
  • The business news channel CNBC has published an extensive report on the lucrative and growing Dangerous World of Counterfeit Prescription Drugs.

Another Way to Die: Millions Struggle to Survive Every Day without Access to Clean Water

“This is the world’s most precious natural resource. We need to control as much of it as we can.” –Dominic Greene, Quantum of Solace

I think it is safe to assume that everyone who wanted to watch it has seen Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond installment (but if you have not, be advised – there are spoilers ahead). The film’s villain is Dominic Greene, environmental philanthropist and major player in “Quantum,” the mysterious global terrorist network. Greene’s plot for world domination involves funding a coup in Bolivia in exchange for a large tract of desert. Both the CIA and MI6 believe he is after oil, and the film leads the audience in the same direction until Mr. Bond and Camille stumble across a massive dam built by Greene’s organization, whose purpose is to control access to, and charge exorbitant amounts of money for, water – “the world’s most precious natural resource.” [End spoilers.]

While the premise, as with all Bond movies, is far-fetched, Mr. Greene is definitely onto something. Water is indeed one of the most precious resources we have, too often taken for granted by those of us who have it in abundance. No clean water means no sanitation, which reduces people to living in illness and squalor – unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause approximately 80% of all diseases in the developing world and kill more people than all forms of violence.1 The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe was the worst in Africa in 15 years, infecting nearly 100,000 people and killing over 4,000. The search for safe water in Bangladesh has led to people depending on arsenic-contaminated wells. In the slums of Nairobi, which have recently attracted attention as destinations for “slum tourism” (whatever that means), residents extort each other by selling water for inflated prices, and excrement crowds the streets.2 Progress on MDG 7 (the “sanitation goal”) has been slow, with many global health experts lamenting that the world will be nowhere close to reaching it by 2015. The concept of not having a toilet can barely be grasped by most people in the developed world, but millions suffer that reality each day.

The UN recognized this critical need by declaring access to clean water to be a human right this summer.3 While this is a good symbolic step, it accomplishes little without concrete action. Attacking this issue is arguably more difficult than some of the other global health issues that attract more attention: digging wells and building toilets is more involved and more expensive than, say, providing mosquito nets for malaria or designing cell phone apps to promote maternal health and prenatal screening. We cannot afford to turn our backs on those who simply do not have what all life on this earth requires. No one deserves to live a life where not having clean water is just another way to die.

This entry was contributed on behalf of Blog Action Day, an annual effort by Change.org to unite bloggers in drawing attention to and promoting discussion on an issue that is globally relevant.

More cell phones than toilets: Mobile technology emerges as the new lifeline for the world’s poor

A report on inadequate sanitation, released by the UN University, made waves earlier this year when it reported that while 45% of India’s population owned cell phone, only 31% of them had access to improved sanitation in 2008.1  Headlines proclaiming “India has more cell phones than toilets” found their way into several of my e-mail news digests.  “It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet,” said Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (IWEH), and chair of UN-Water.  With the focus on the Millennium Development Goals growing more acute as the deadline approaches, people were understandably astonished.  

It is shocking to think that so many of the world’s poor cannot access appropriate sanitation.  However, the widespread use of cell phones should not be juxtaposed against the conditions of poverty, but should rather be seen as a way to empower the poor to improve their conditions.  The cell phone market has seen explosive growth in the last decade: 90% of the world’s population will soon be within the coverage of wireless networks,2 and there are already an estimated five billion cell phones used globally.3  Villages without running water or electricity often have at least one mobile phone, and people can switch out their own SIM cards for access.  They are being adopted faster than basic services such as routine medical care and schools.2  When a basic toilet costs 15 times more than a basic cell phone ($3001 compared to $203), it becomes easier to understand the discrepancy between access to sanitation vs. mobile technology.  If mobile penetration is so widespread, then, should it not be viewed as a tool and an opportunity for innovation?  

A man holds a cell phone in front of a woman with four children.
Photo taken from mHealth Alliance Executive Director David Aylward's blog entry in the Global Health Magazine.

Some governments and organizations have already caught on.  In Rwanda, for example, the government provides free cell phones to rural health workers to register expectant mothers, get answers to their questions from a health expert, and send monthly status reports to doctors.2  Other programs send reminders to HIV-positive pregnant women to take ARVs and work to reduce stock-outs of drugs in rural clinics.  Pharmaceutical companies are also working with application developers to fight drug counterfeiting: customers will be able to submit a numeric code on drug packaging via SMS and get a reply that states whether the drug is “NO” or “OK,” along with the drug’s name, expiration date, and other information.4  And I have already featured Tostan’s Jokko Initiative, which applies their literacy lessons to cell phone usage and includes a lesson on the health-related utility of SMS.  Other applications include facilitating electronic banking and providing information on crop disease and weather to farmers.2  

Progress on the MDGs should not be overlooked, and the importance of access to sanitation is should certainly not be downplayed at all.  With an expected return between $3-34 for every dollar spent on sanitation, it is absolutely worthwhile to stress the importance improving people’s access to this need.  Now, if only we could develop an app to improve sanitation – that would be perfect.

Sun, Sea and Sanitation – APHA 2008 in San Diego

By Isobel Hoskins

A visiting UK editor’s impressions of the APHA conference….

I didn’t attend that many scientific sessions at APHA this year, being preoccupied with meetings about Global Health database and visiting exhibitors in the vast exhibition but those I did go to seemed to keep bringing up sanitation and hygiene as the key to so much disease prevention. Its really part of next years’ theme, Water and Health.

First, the speech by the US Assistant Secretary for Health Joxel Garcia reminded us that the major impacts on public health last century in the developed world were achieved by vaccines and sanitation. I was thinking- is enough effort now being applied to doing this for the developing world? Or are more glamorous projects getting the money. The Millenium Development Goal for sanitation is apparently behind where it should be. Continue reading “Sun, Sea and Sanitation – APHA 2008 in San Diego”