KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report

In The News

G33 Group Pushes To Re-Open WTO Talks On Food Subsidy Rules

“The combined effects of the global economic slowdown and increasing climatic shocks are threatening food security in developing countries, prompting many to re-open World Trade Organization (WTO) discussions on limits to support for farmers,” IRIN reports. “A group of developing countries — known as G33 — is asking to exceed their agreed domestic support limits when they buy, stock and supply cereals and other food to boost food security among the poor; they want these changes to be exempt from any legal challenge,” the news service writes. “Essentially, these countries want the freedom to buy grains at set prices from producers and to use that grain to build stockpiles for distribution,” IRIN adds (Kindra, 10/21).

“The proposed rule change was officially put forward by the G33 coalition of developing countries last November, but India is widely acknowledged to be the driving force behind the bid,” according to The Guardian, which notes, “Debate on the issue is heating up as negotiators prepare for the [WTO’s] next high-level meeting, which is due to take place in Bali in December” (McClanahan, 10/21). “Developed countries and some developing countries are concerned that the G33 proposal — which is backed by India, China and Indonesia — could affect food security in neighboring countries,” IRIN writes, adding, “They fear these measures could lead to surpluses in stocks, which the G33 members might dump in the global market, disrupting global prices” (10/21).

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Working Group On SDGs Moving Toward Discussions On Specific Goals

The Guardian profiles Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s representative to the U.N. and co-chair of the open working group on sustainable development goals (SDGs). The group is tasked with “the design of a new set of ambitious, global goals that will apply to all countries and help orient international attention — and resources — towards tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems,” the newspaper writes, adding, “To do this, he and Csaba Kõrösi, his Hungarian counterpart, will have to bring together governments who disagree on issues such as women’s rights, diplomatically fend off demands from NGOs and campaign groups insistent that their issue takes priority, and grapple with country blocs and bureaucratic, inter-governmental processes.” The Guardian continues, “Between now and March, the working group is looking for broad consensus on what the main issues are and how they affect all countries, says Kamau. The group will then get into detail on specific goals, and by September 2014 should have a set of proposals ready to unveil at the U.N. General Assembly” (Provost, 10/21).

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Medical Workers In Syria Struggle With Safety, Ethics, New York Times Reports

“[W]hile the Obama administration claims credit for pushing President Bashar al-Assad into giving up [Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile], some experts say the real credit lies with the doctors who risked their lives — and confronted thorny questions of medical ethics — to bring to light the use of chemical weapons,” the New York Times reports. “Many Syrian doctors have fled; those who remain describe dire conditions where even the most basic care is not available,” the newspaper writes, noting, “By varying estimates, more than 100 doctors have been killed and as many as 600 have been imprisoned.” The newspaper examines Médecins Sans Frontières’ decision to release a statement in August warning of possible chemical attacks, risking exposing their unapproved operations in rebel-controlled territories. The New York Times also features a video interview with one of the article’s authors (Stolberg/Barnard, 10/21).

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Devex Examines Implications Of WHO Pre-Approval For Chinese-Manufactured Vaccine

“The first-ever pre-approval by the [WHO] of a Chinese-manufactured vaccine has ‘opened the door’ for Chinese producers to supply low-cost drugs and vaccines to developing countries, according to Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH,” Devex reports. “Davis hopes the approval of a low-cost, easy to administer Japanese encephalitis vaccine known as ‘JE SA 14-14-2’ — and which PATH helped shepherd through WHO’s regulatory process — will pave the way for national vaccination campaigns in Asian countries to fight the debilitating, often fatal disease,” the news service writes, adding, “In an exclusive interview with Devex, he added the announcement suggests some Chinese manufacturers are more interested now than in the past in exporting health commodities to low-income countries.”

“That could mean lower prices for global health organizations and governments, as well as new opportunities to scale up other health and vaccination campaigns,” Devex notes. “China’s entry into the export market for low-cost health products could spell greater competition in the sector and lower prices, making the difference between a program that is donor-supported and an ongoing national vaccination campaign,” the news service writes, adding, “The successful pre-approval also suggests international [non-governmental organizations (NGOs)] can play an important role as technical advisers and collaborators in helping to align developing country health needs with emerging pharmaceutical producers’ interests and regulators’ standards, said Davis, who urged global health NGOs to use the same due diligence criteria as for-profit companies” (Igoe, 10/22).

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Recent Paper Calls For Greater Focus On Strep Throat In Developing World

“Getting parents to take sore throats more seriously and treating them more aggressively with penicillin could save thousands of lives in poor countries relatively cheaply, doctors from India and South Africa say,” the New York Times reports. Noting “[s]trep throat [is] caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria [that] can lead to rheumatic heart disease, in which antibodies produced by the immune system also attack the heart muscle and the joints,” the newspaper writes, “The authors of a recent paper [.pdf] in the journal Global Heart estimate that a quarter of all sore throats are caused by strep A bacteria and that such infections lead to as many as 500,000 deaths a year, almost all of them in poor countries.” The newspaper notes, “[s]trep tests available in these countries usually take too much time, requiring days to observe the growth of bacteria,” adding, “Cuba, Costa Rica and Martinique have sharply reduced rheumatic fever by public education about sore throat, screening for strep by symptoms, and treating quickly” with a penicillin shot (McNeil, 10/22).

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Editorials and Opinions

Policymakers Face Challenges With Emerging Synthetic Biology Field

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Laurie Garrett, a journalist and senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a feature essay about the emerging field of synthetic biology, in which scientists can use genetic information to create new organic life forms, and the policy implications. “Governance, in short, is focused on the old world of biology, in which scientists observed life from the outside, puzzling over its details and behavior by tinkering with its environment and then watching what happened. But in the new biology world, scientists can now create life themselves and learn about it from the inside,” she states. Garrett writes about the controversy surrounding “‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC) — work that could have both beneficial and dangerous consequences” — particularly as it pertains to H5N1 avian influenza virus research and the response from the WHO, the U.S. and other countries.

“Scientists and security experts will never come to a consensus about the risks of dual-use research in synthetic biology,” she writes, adding, “What this means is that political leaders should not wait for clarity and perfect information, nor rush to develop restrictive controls, nor rely on scientific self-regulation. Instead, they should accept that the synthetic biology revolution is here to stay, monitor it closely, and try to take appropriate actions to contain some of its most obvious risks, such as the accidental leaking or deliberate release of dangerous organisms.” She discusses several recommendations for action, concluding, “Now that synthetic biology is here to stay, the challenge is how to ensure that future generations see its emergence as more boon than bane” (November/December 2013).

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Food Systems Must Be Transformed To Ensure Food Security, Good Nutrition

“Even though we produce 1.5 times enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet, nearly a billion people go hungry while over a billion are malnourished,” Eric Holt Gimenez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Food for Thought” blog. “Ensuring environmental sustainability, food security and good nutrition around the world — as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) asserts — will require a radical transformation in how we grow, process and distribute our food,” he states, noting, “The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reached a similar conclusion in their 2013 report [.pdf], ‘Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now For Food Security.'”

“Luckily, we have many examples of good food systems in the making,” Gimenez continues, highlighting the use of agroecologically managed smallholder farms, urban farms, and community-supported agriculture groups throughout the world. “We know what practices make a food system sustainable; why don’t we enact enabling policies to prioritize them?” he asks, writing, “The simple answer is that the institutions that produce the agreements, laws and regulations shaping our food systems don’t yet have the political will to make sustainable food systems a priority, and they are still a long way from addressing the structural changes needed for food system transformation.” However, “[t]he movements for food sovereignty, food justice, agroecology, climate justice, women’s rights and labor rights are spreading, and their influence on our food system is growing,” he states, adding, “These developments and many others indicate that the catalyst for transforming food systems — political action — is already in the making, and that the global food movement is on the move” (10/20).

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Panel At World Health Summit Addresses Social Media's Role In Global Health

SciDev.Net Director Nick Ishmael Perkins writes in a SciDev.Net opinion piece about a panel he moderated at the recent World Health Summit that addressed social media’s role in global health. “The most overwhelming [contribution] is social media’s reach and [its] ability to multiply audience figures with a previously inconceivable efficiency,” he writes, noting the panel spoke about social media’s capabilities for crowdsourcing, idea innovation, and behavior change. However, he says the panel raised six challenges, including monitoring for “duty of care”; developing “a strategy to deliver health outcomes”; sorting an overwhelming amount of data; risking “countervailing voices” in “unmoderated conversations”; upholding human rights; and overstating representation. “Asked what one bit of advice they would offer institutions thinking of engaging more substantively with social media, all the panelists agreed it would be to think carefully about context, rather than scale,” Perkins adds (10/21).

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From the Global Health Policy Community

New Report Examines DOD's Infectious Disease Efforts Related to Global Health

The Kaiser Family Foundation today released a new report, titled “The U.S. Department of Defense and Global Health: Infectious Disease Efforts,” that “provid[es] an overview of the Department of Defense’s infectious disease efforts related to global health,” according to an email alert. “The report looks at how the department’s infectious disease activities are organized internally and coordinated with other U.S. government agencies and partners,” the alert states, adding, “It identifies the various department funding streams for infectious disease efforts and spotlights the department’s work to address two of global health’s key infectious disease challenges, HIV/AIDS and malaria.” According to the alert, the new report “builds on ‘The U.S. Department of Defense and Global Health,’ a Kaiser Family Foundation report released last fall that provided the first comprehensive look at the department’s role in global health (10/22).

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USAID Blog Provides Statistics On Reach Of U.S. Food Assistance Programs

Noting World Food Day was observed on October 16, Kate Oberholzer, an information officer with Food for Peace, provides statistics about the reach of USAID food assistance programs in the agency’s “IMPACTblog.” “USAID food assistance programs feed people in emergency contexts and engage in longer-term development activities so that one day we can live in a world where no one needs food assistance,” she notes, highlighting the number of people who have benefited from these programs, the number of countries in which they operate, and the tons of food that have been distributed, among other data points (10/21).

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Blog Examines Implications Of New Global Health Investment Fund On Global Health Financing

Writing in the Global Health Governance blog, research intern Courtney Page examines the future of global health financing, highlighting the launch of the Global Health Investment Fund (GHIF) by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last month, which she states “is the first to allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to finance late-stage research and development of high-impact technologies and vaccinations that have the potential to save millions, with the potential earnings for investors.” She describes how the new fund works, and writes, “It has provided a new and creative way to bring innovation solutions and effective treatments into the global marketplace to make our society stronger and healthier; it has attracted an entirely new stream of revenue that would have been invested elsewhere, but can now be invested in the healthy futures of individuals, communities, and nations around the world” (10/21).

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Journals Release Reviews, Commentary On HIV Translational Medicine Ahead Of Conference

“Ahead of the inaugural Cell/The Lancet translational medicine conference ‘What Will It Take To Achieve An AIDS-Free World?,’ to be held in San Francisco, Calif., on November 3-5, Cell, The Lancet, and the Lancet Infectious Diseases [on Monday published] a set of new reviews and comments analyzing the changing landscape of HIV/AIDS research,” a Lancet press release states. The Lancet published two reviews, one by Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and colleagues, and another by Steven Deeks of San Francisco General Hospital and colleagues, the press release notes. The Lancet Infectious Diseases also published two reviews, one by David Clifford and Beau Ances from Washington University, and another by Judith Currier and Jordan Lake from the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, according to the press release. Finally, in a comment published in both Cell and The Lancet, Anthony Fauci and Hilary Marston of NIAID “highlight the transformation that the field of HIV/AIDS has undergone since AIDS was first recognized in 1981,” the press release states (10/22).

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