“A new virus from the same family as SARS which sparked a global alert in September has now killed two people in Saudi Arabia, and total cases there and in Qatar have reached six, the World Health Organization said” on Friday, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/23). “Of the six known cases … two have been fatal” and “[o]nly two were clearly connected,” as they were members of the same family, according to the New York Times (McNeil, 11/23). In 2003, nearly 8,500 people worldwide were infected by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and about 900 of those people died, the Associated Press/CBS News reports. “The WHO said it was continuing to work with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other international health partners to gain a better understanding of the [current] virus,” the news service notes (11/23).
“More than one-quarter of people diagnosed with tuberculosis [TB] at a clinic in India’s largest city of 18 million have a strain that doesn’t respond to the main treatment against the disease, according to preliminary data from a new diagnostic being tested,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper obtained “preliminary and not peer reviewed” data from TB clinics in Mumbai, and Puneet Dewan with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation TB program in India “said the WHO and Indian authorities are taking the data seriously because it appears to confirm other studies in recent years of similarly high rates of multi-drug-resistance, in which patients don’t respond to the two most powerful TB medicines.” According to the newspaper, “The WHO and India currently estimate India has about 100,000 of the 650,000 people in the world with multi-drug-resistance” (Anand/McKay, 11/23).
UNAIDS’ World AIDS Day report: Results, released on Tuesday, said the goal of eventually ending the global AIDS epidemic “is more than merely visionary” and “is entirely feasible,” primarily because of “historic success” in scaling up HIV programs and improving access to antiretroviral drugs to treat and prevent HIV, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/20). According to the report, “[t]wenty-five countries, many in hard-hit Africa, have at least halved new HIV infections in the past decade, with particular progress made toward protecting children from the deadly virus,” Agence France-Presse writes (11/20). “UNAIDS says that half the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children,” PlusNews writes. “But the epidemic is not over in any part of the world, and is gaining pace in some,” the news service continues, noting the number of new infections has increased in the Middle East and North Africa (11/20). The report “stresses that countries must dramatically ramp up both [prevention and treatment efforts] if the world hopes to meet the ambitious goals agreed upon last year at a special session of the United Nations,” ScienceInsider writes (Cohen, 11/20).
The WHO “has unveiled a new set of priority actions to better address preventable health conditions in Africa,” presented on Tuesday at the 62nd WHO Regional Committee for Africa session in Luanda, Angola, Devex reports (Valdez, 11/20). WHO Regional Director for Africa Luis Sambo said in a statement, “This strategy (.pdf) aims to scale up health promotion interventions in order to contribute to reducing the leading causes of preventable deaths, disabilities and major illnesses from communicable and non-communicable diseases, violence and injuries, maternal and child health conditions, and new and re-emerging threats to health in the African Region.” According to the statement, the document lists five principles intended to guide the implementation of seven priority interventions, which include “strengthening the stewardship role of the ministry of health; strengthening national technical and institutional capacity for health promotion; sustaining institutional capacity for health promotion at national, regional and local levels; and gathering and disseminating evidence on best practice and effective health promotion approaches” (11/20).
UNAIDS’ new World AIDS Day report: Results, released on Tuesday, “shows that unprecedented acceleration in the AIDS response is producing results for people,” according to a UNAIDS press release. Between 2001 and 2011, “a more than 50 percent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections has been achieved across 25 low- and middle-income countries — more than half in Africa, the region most affected by HIV,” the press release states, adding, “In addition to welcome results in HIV prevention, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths by one third in the last six years and increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment by 59 percent in the last two years alone.” According to the press release, “The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children,” and the number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped because of increased access to antiretroviral treatment.
According to a new report (.pdf) released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Kuala Lumpur, many tuberculosis (TB) programs “under-diagnose, under-treat or completely leave children with TB out, despite the increase in pediatric TB, and rising numbers of children who are infected with drug-resistant forms of TB strains,” PlusNews reports. The report, based on “data collected over three years from over 2,000 children with TB in 13 MSF projects across six countries,” found that diagnosis of children using the most commonly used TB test is inaccurate and pediatric TB drug formulations and treatment guidelines are inadequate, the news service notes. MSF called for the development of new TB tests that do not require sputum samples or laboratory infrastructure and “urged WHO to provide clear guidance to drug manufacturers on needed fixed-dose combinations of first-line drugs to support implementation of the new WHO-recommended dosages,” PlusNews writes (11/16).
The Wall Street Journal examines how “Greece has seen decades of advances in public health rolled back, as a flood of illegal immigrants, a dysfunctional government and budget cuts ravage a once proud health-care system.” Noting “[o]ver the past two years, more than 50 endemic cases of [malaria] and more than 100 imported cases have been identified in Greece,” the newspaper writes, “The return of malaria, a scourge in developing countries, to Greece is a disturbing indicator of the nation’s decline since it crashed in 2009 under the weight of a debt binge.” The Wall Street Journal examines the history of malaria’s return to the country and how the government is responding. “In addition to malaria, public health officials say they are worried about rises in everything from infectious respiratory-tract diseases and skin conditions to tuberculosis and HIV,” the newspaper notes (Granitsas, 11/14).
In a guest post on the Global Health Technology Coalition’s “Breakthroughs” blog, Mandy Slutsker, senior project associate with the ACTION Partnership, describes a new report that calls for increased efforts to fight tuberculosis (TB) among children worldwide (Lufkin, 11/13). The report, titled “Children and Tuberculosis: From Neglect to Action,” “makes some core recommendations for donor governments and high burden countries to tackle the rates of children with TB and the knock-on financial and social difficulties faced by millions,” according to the TB Europe Coalition (11/13). In the GHTC’s blog, Slutsker writes, “It’s time for civil society, health care workers, governments, and the private sector to come together and ensure no child dies from this preventable and treatable disease” (11/13).
“A yellow fever outbreak in Sudan’s Darfur region has killed 67 people so far,” and “the number of cases has more than doubled since the start of the epidemic last month,” the WHO said in a statement on Wednesday, the U.N. News Centre reports. The report “stated that the outbreak has now affected 17 localities in central, south, west and north Darfur, with 194 cases reported — a significant increase from the 84 initial cases reported at the start of the outbreak,” according to the news service (11/7). “WHO announced in the report a plan of action to counter the spread of the disease, including a vaccination campaign and training of medical cadres,” the Sudan Tribune writes. The Ministry of Health “said it needs four million vaccine units to counter the outbreak,” according to the newspaper (11/7). “The report’s recommendations also include strengthening disease surveillance in eastern Darfur, continuing laboratory testing of patients from newly affected localities, and finalizing a vaccination plan that identifies resources available as well as partners to implement it,” the U.N. News Centre writes (11/7).
“With $2.5 trillion in mineral reserves, South Africa has the largest mining sector in the world,” but “[t]he work can be devastatingly toxic for the body,” with “inhumane and untenable” working conditions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. “South Africa’s 500,000 mine workers have the highest recorded rate of [tuberculosis (TB)] among any demographic in the world,” he states, noting that cramped working and living conditions put them at an increased risk of the disease. Overall, “mine-associated TB gives rise to 760,000 new cases annually in Africa,” and “costs South Africa alone $886 million each year in health care costs and in impoverishment when family providers are too sick to work, or die,” according to a study conducted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tutu writes. Therefore, the 15 SADC nations this summer pledged to take “concrete steps” to fight the disease, he notes.