“Twenty years ago this month, the first text message was sent through the airwaves,” Sharon D’Agostino, vice president for worldwide corporate contributions and community relations at Johnson & Johnson, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, adding, “Since then, text messages have been used to communicate all sorts of information. Most inspiring to me is how the technology once used to send a holiday wish is transforming the way women and families receive the information they need to be healthier — no matter where in the world they are.” She discusses several initiatives working with mobile technologies to improve health education and access, and states, “The ubiquity of the mobile phone provides the perfect method to deliver critical health information, as more than a billion women in low- and middle-income countries have access to a mobile phone” (12/20).
Access to Health Services
“Multidrug-resistant [tuberculosis (TB)] is at epidemic proportions in some parts of the world — a growing problem the U.S. is surprisingly unprepared for,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Noting “[t]he U.S. beat back multidrug-resistant tuberculosis [MDR-TB] in the 1990s,” the newspaper continues, “Today, however, a new threat is emerging as drug resistance worsens abroad and far more dangerous strains develop and spread, including some that are all but untreatable with standard drugs.” The Wall Street Journal examines reasons behind a resurgence of MDR-TB in the U.S., treatment and control efforts, and how “funding and expertise are in decline” (12/19).
“Health programs integrating services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV into regular maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) clinics, rather than operating PMTCT services as stand-along programs, are showing positive results in Kenya, experts say,” PlusNews reports. “Some 13,000 Kenyan children contract HIV annually; the country is among some 22 nations accounting for 90 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV,” according to the news service. PlusNews examines how “[t]he government is now moving towards the integration of HIV and other public health services, part of efforts to strengthen the overall health system,” in order to reach its goal of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission by 2015 (12/19).
“Global efforts to combat malaria are under threat from new strains of drug-resistant malaria, which are cropping up in Southeast Asia,” particularly in Cambodia, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Thailand and Vietnam, NPR’s “Shots” blog reports. “Although the resistance is still limited to Southeast Asia, WHO officials worry that it could spill out of the region,” the blog notes. “Shots” includes a video report from NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien on efforts to properly treat the disease in Thailand (Beaubien/De La Cruz, 12/18).
Seattle Times Examines Partnership Between Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Uganda Cancer Institute
The Seattle Times examines a partnership between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI). In 2008, “the two institutes formally agreed to collaborate on clinical care and research projects, and more recently a major building project at Uganda’s only cancer-research center,” the newspaper writes. Corey Casper, director of the UCI/Fred Hutchinson Research Center Cancer Alliance, “says [the partnership] has the potential to demonstrate ‘that you can do first-rate research that can alter the impact of cancer care in the developing world, and that the craft of oncology can be practiced as well in Africa as it is in the developed world, just like it is with HIV,'” according to the Seattle Times (Silberner, 12/16).
In a Huffington Post “Impact” blog post, Tom Murphy, founder of the development blog “A View From The Cave,” examines Rwanda’s efforts to reduce cancer incidence by implementing screening programs for breast and cervical cancers and vaccinating girls and young women for human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer. Discussing the new programs, Minister of Health Agnes Bingawaho said, “We are a government that is evidence-based and result-oriented. … We always go for a policy first — the science in front of everything. We develop a strategy plan, followed by an implementation plan and then fundraise,” according to Murphy. He discusses Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s push for accountability within the government, the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution recognizing non-communicable diseases as a global problem, and efforts by Merck and the GAVI Alliance to vaccinate more girls against HPV (12/18).
“The remarkable gains made in the treatment of malaria over the past decade are under threat because of insufficient increases in funding over the past two years, according to an annual progress report by the World Health Organization,” the Guardian reports (Boseley, 12/17). In its World Malaria Report 2012 (.pdf), the [WHO] notes that rapid expansion in global funding for malaria prevention and control between 2004 and 2009 leveled off between 2010 and 2012,” the U.N. News Centre writes (12/17). “Global funding for malaria control remained at $2.3 billion in 2011, the WHO said” in the report, Bloomberg notes, adding, “Money available for combating the mosquito-borne disease is expected to peak at about half of the $5.1 billion that’s needed annually to provide bed nets, tests and drugs to all the people who need them, the WHO said” (Bennett, 12/17). “This means that millions of people living in highly endemic areas continue to lack access to effective malaria prevention, diagnostic testing, and treatment,” according to a WHO press release (12/17).
“Lawmakers on Monday approved legislation calling for government-funded contraception and sex education classes in the Philippines, a first in the heavily Catholic nation,” CNN reports (12/17). The House of Representatives and the Senate … approved the Reproductive Health (RH) bill on third and final reading, pushing the controversial bill a step closer to being signed into law,” the Philippine Star writes (Diola/Cerda, 12/17). “Voting 13-8 with no abstention, the Senate passed the RH bill on third and final reading,” Inquirer News notes, adding, “At the House of Representatives, lawmakers voted 133 to 79 with seven abstentions to approve its version of the measure” (Ager/Santos, 12/17).
Experts Warn Banning Thimerosal From Use In Vaccines Would Harm Immunization Campaigns In Developing World
“A group of prominent doctors and public health experts warns in articles to be published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that banning thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, would devastate public health efforts in developing countries,” the New York Times reports. “Representatives from governments around the world will meet in Geneva next month in a session convened by the United Nations Environmental Program to prepare a global treaty to reduce health hazards by banning certain products and processes that release mercury into the environment … [b]ut a proposal that the ban include thimerosal … has drawn strong criticism from pediatricians,” the newspaper writes (Tavernise, 12/17).
“On Thursday (Dec. 14), [Nigeria] signed five grant agreements with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,” with some of the money going “to provide for antiretroviral therapy treatment and prevention services, particularly on mother-to-child HIV transmission,” Devex’s “The Development Newswire” blog reports. Of the total $335 million, $265 million will go toward HIV/AIDS activities, while $70 million will be used for TB initiatives, the blog notes (Ravelo, 12/14). “For Nigeria, [the] grant agreements address a tremendous need: Nigeria has the second highest number of people living with HIV in the world and only 30 percent of people requiring HIV treatment are receiving antiretroviral therapy,” a Global Fund press release states (12/13).