The March issue of the WHO Bulletin features an editorial on global shortages of medicines; a public health round-up; an article on breast cancer awareness; a research paper on interventions for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; and a paper on the global burden of cholera (March 2012).
An inexpensive test and single-dose treatment could help save the lives of nearly one million infants annually if pregnant women in low-income countries were offered rapid tests for syphilis, experts from the Global Congenital Syphilis Partnership said on Thursday, Reuters reports. “A team of researchers led by Rosanna Peeling and David Mabey at the [London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)] found in a study due to be published soon that introducing rapid tests to increase access to syphilis screening was both feasible and cost effective,” the news agency writes.
Using data from cancer registries worldwide, researchers from the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) found that 169.3 million years of healthy life were lost to cancer in 2008, according to a study published on Tuesday in the Lancet, HealthDay News reports. Using “a measure called disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) to assess not only the impact of fatal cancer, but also the effects of disabilities among cancer survivors,” the researchers also found men in Eastern Europe and women in sub-Saharan Africa had the largest cancer burden worldwide; increased access to treatment has not improved survival outcomes for several common cancers; and lower-income countries have higher average levels of premature death due to cancer, while higher-income countries have higher average levels of cancer-related disability and impairment, according to the news service. Study co-author Freddie Bray, deputy head of the IARC Cancer Information Section, said in a Lancet press release, “Our findings illustrate quite starkly how cancer is already a barrier to sustainable development in many of the poorest countries across the world and this will only be exacerbated in the coming years if cancer control is neglected,” the news service notes (10/15).
T. Jacob John, a former professor of clinical virology an the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, who has served on several Global and National Committees on Immunization and Polio Eradication, writes in this opinion piece in India’s Hindu, “While one year has passed without polio caused by natural poliovirus, we can claim complete eradication only after we ensure the absence of wild and vaccine polioviruses in the population.” He provides a brief history of polio eradication efforts, globally and in India, and continues, “For certification of eradication, two more years should pass without any case of wild virus polio. … We must continue working as if we still have poliovirus lurking somewhere, only to show up when least expected” (1/8).
“For the first time in India, 12 people have been detected with totally drug-resistant lung tuberculosis (TDR-TB), a condition in which patients do not respond to any TB medication” and for which the mortality rate is 100 percent, the Hindustan Times reports. “Doctors treating these patients say the absolute resistance is a result of the patients being prescribed wrong antibiotics,” the newspaper reports (1/7). “While Iran first reported TDR-TB cases three years ago, India seems to be only the second country to report this deadly form of the disease,” the Times of India notes (Iyer, 1/7).
Scientific American examines how strains of cephalosporin-resistant gonnorhea have “been emerging in Japan, and moving east and west from there, for at least a decade.” The magazine writes, “Rapid international travel allowed the resistance mutation to hopscotch the globe,” noting antibiotic-resistant strains that have been identified in Sweden, England, Norway, the Philippines, Spain, and France. “‘We can’t go back to older antibiotics,’ says Peter Leone, who is board chair of the National Coalition of STD Directors and medical director of North Carolina’s STD prevention program. ‘Once resistance emerges in gonorrhea, it is there for good. Cephalosporins are all we have left,'” he added, according to Scientific American. The magazine writes that efforts “to educate physicians and patients, to track resistant strains and to develop new treatments … must be carefully targeted and well coordinated with one another,” and concludes, “If not, truly untreatable gonorrhea, and its expensive, destructive consequences, could be the worldwide result” (McKenna, 5/4).
The WHO has disputed a study published last week in the Lancet “that claims nearly twice as many people are dying of malaria than current estimates,” VOA News reports. The WHO “says both its estimates of malaria deaths and those of the Lancet study are statistically the same for all groups in all regions,” with one exception, VOA writes, noting, “WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says there’s a notable statistical difference in regard to children over five and adults in Africa.”
“There have been 1,623 cases of all strains of flu in Mexico recorded so far for January, 90 percent of them H1N1 [swine flu],” compared to “about 1,000 flu cases in Mexico during all of last year,” of which roughly 250 cases were swine flu, Health Secretary Salomon Chertorivski Woldenberg told reporters on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. The news service notes, “Despite the spike, the number of cases is well within a normal flu season for Mexico, which can see from 5,000 to 11,000 incidents of all strains,” Woldenberg said. “The low appearance of the H1N1 virus the past two years is one reason it’s drawing so much media attention in Mexico,” the AP writes, adding, “Public nervousness about H1N1 has been high since the first outbreak in spring 2009, when the virus initially appeared to have a high mortality rate and Mexican authorities closed restaurants, schools, museums, libraries, and theaters to stop its spread” (2/1).
“While India has drastically reduced the spread of HIV over the past decade, new strains of the virus that cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are troubling medical scientists in this country,” Inter Press Service reports (Devraj, 11/29). According to SciDev.Net, “[S]cientists have found new strains of the HIV-1 subtype C — which is responsible for half of the world’s HIV infections — are evolving rapidly in this country.” “The scientists, led by Udaykumar Ranga, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, have identified five different strains of HIV-1C,” the news service writes, adding, “The proportion of some of these new strains of the HIV-1C went up from two percent in 2000-2003 to 30 percent a decade later, said their study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry this month” (Bhatta, 11/30).
“Growing resistance to a key anti-malarial drug derived from a shrub used in traditional Chinese medicine is threatening to roll back gains made in combating the disease,” according to experts attending a U.N.-sponsored malaria conference that concluded on Friday in Sydney, Australia, the U.N. News Centre reports. Malaria “therapies based on artemisinin — an extract from the sweet wormwood bush used for centuries in Chinese medicine as a fever cure — were” formulated in combination with other antimalarials to form artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) that the WHO thought would be effective for years, but resistance to the ACTs has begun to appear in some areas, the news service notes. “Specifically, [the Roll Back Malaria Partnership] noted, artemisinin resistance has been detected in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam,” the news service writes (11/2). Agence France-Presse examines efforts to fight drug-resistant malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (Rook, 11/4).