“The nearly two-year conflict in Syria has taken tens of thousands of lives, destroyed entire neighborhoods and sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing. But more quietly, it has also eaten away at the country’s health care system,” IRIN reports. Many pharmaceutical factories, “which used to produce more than 90 percent of the country’s drug needs,” have shut down or cut production, the news service writes, adding, “Those medicines that are available have also risen in price, and amid skyrocketing unemployment and rising food prices, many Syrians — especially those displaced from their homes by the violence — are struggling to afford their usual medication.”
Access to Health Services
Noting the recognition of International Human Rights Day on December 9, Purnima Mane, president and CEO of Pathfinder International, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, “[E]very person should be able to make decisions about her or his body,” making reproductive rights a human rights issue. “From the London Summit on Family Planning supported by Melinda Gates, where thousands gathered to commit future investments in family planning, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strong advocacy to ensure U.S. leadership in global health that includes reproductive rights as human rights, to the work that’s happening on the ground in myriad countries around the globe to provide contraception, improve maternal health, ensure HIV prevention and treatment, and much more — progress is happening,” Mane writes, noting some of the barriers and challenges that remain in “[e]stablishing reproductive rights as human rights for all” (12/9).
“[W]e are losing the global fight against bad medicines,” and though “[s]ome progress is being made,” the “problem is that … crackdowns tend to focus on counterfeit drugs” while a “much bigger public health problem … is substandard drugs that are the result of shoddy manufacturing and handling — or perhaps worse, deliberate corner-cutting,” Roger Bate, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in an opinion piece in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.” He continues, “In poor countries, a frightfully high number of bad drugs reach patients through legitimate supply chains and even donor programs underwritten by U.S. and European taxpayers,” increasing the risk of harm to patients and the development of drug-resistant disease strains.
Vaccines “save lives by protecting people against disease,” but they “also are an engine for economic growth — far beyond their health benefits,” GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley writes in a CNN opinion piece. GAVI and its “many partners, including prominent companies,” “recognize that in addition to the humanitarian need, countries such as Tanzania are emerging markets that can fulfill their economic ambitions only if they also can ensure good health for their citizens,” he states. Berkley describes efforts to increase vaccination rates in Tanzania, and he writes, “[W]e know for a fact that vaccines — in addition to saving lives and improving health — are the cornerstone of a vibrant economy, fuel growth and serve as a magnet for foreign investment. Indeed, research has shown vaccines to be among the most cost-effective investments in global development.”
As part of its ongoing series, titled “The State of AIDS,” GlobalPost published two articles examining the epidemic in different regions. In Eastern Europe, rates of HIV/AIDS diagnoses have risen in several countries, including Ukraine and Russia, according to the first article, which discusses some of the potential reasons for the increases. Also, “with the economic crisis affecting much of Western Europe, there is concern that declining health spending and cuts to research budgets could hurt AIDS treatment across the continent, even in nations that are leading the way in HIV/AIDS prevention and care like the United Kingdom,” the news service writes (Ames, 12/7).
“There is currently a $3.6 billion funding gap on malaria in Africa, according to the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, whose board concluded its 23rd meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on December 7,” Devex’s “Development Newswire” blog reports. Of the total, eight African countries — Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Niger, and Sierra Leone — need $2.4 billion to maintain their malaria prevention and treatment efforts over the next two years, “with Nigeria alone requiring nearly half that amount,” according to the blog (Ravelo, 12/10).
The Lancet examines Indonesia’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality, one of the Millennium Development Goals President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has identified as a national priority. Indonesia’s risk of maternal death is one in 150, compared with one in 4,000 in developed nations, and the government has set a goal of reducing mortality to 102 for every 100,000 live births by 2015, one-quarter of the rate in 1990, according to the journal. Gita Maya Koemara Sakti, recently appointed as director of maternal health, explained the Ministry of Health “has adopted a four-step plan that starts with bolstered family planning campaigns,” the Lancet writes. Other efforts include providing free maternal health care through the national social assistance system, improving the national midwifery program, and providing more funding to rural health clinics, the journal notes. The Lancet includes quotes from other government officials and non-governmental organization representatives regarding these efforts and the challenges faced (Webster, 12/8).
GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog features an interview with freelance reporter and artist-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle Joanne Silberner, a former NPR correspondent, about her recent series for PRI’s “The World,” titled “Cancer’s New Battleground — The Developing World.” Produced in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the series examines cancer prevention, control, and research efforts in Uganda, Haiti, India, and the U.S., according to the blog. Silberner said she was “astounded” to learn “there are more deaths from cancer (in the developing world) than if you added up the deaths from HIV, [tuberculosis], and malaria,” the blog notes. She also said she was “surprised” to learn about the stigma against cancer in the developing world, which “keeps people from coming in [to clinics]” and “keeps local governments from supporting treatment efforts.” Silberner also said coverage of global health issues is important to raise awareness and knowledge in the U.S. (Judem, 12/6).
New Public-Private Partnership Will Allow Brazil To Produce Patented ARV For National Treatment Program
For the first time, Brazil in 2013 will enter into a new type of public-private partnership that allows the nation to produce a generic version of the antiretroviral (ARV) drug atazanavir sulphate, which will be under patent through its producer Bristol-Myers Squibb until 2017, Inter Press Service reports. Under the “productive development partnership,” Farmanguinhos, “a technical-scientific unit of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Health Ministry’s largest pharmaceutical laboratory,” will make the drug, one of 20 ARVs the government distributes at a cost of about $425 million annually, according to the news service.
The “progress and momentum” behind stopping mother-to-child HIV transmission is “reason to celebrate,” Charles Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Peter Twyman, CEO of Keep a Child Alive, write in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.” However, “as we set our sights on an AIDS-free generation, we must once again ensure that children currently living with HIV are not left behind,” they state. “Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the same level of progress with access to services for children who are already living with the virus,” they write and describe the challenges children and their families face in gaining access to HIV treatment and care, including stigma and fear and a lack of antiretroviral drug formulations for children.