Also In Global Health News: Congo Polio Outbreak; Aid Groups Ordered Closed In Afghanistan; Subsidized Malaria Drugs In Kenya; Gates Grand Challenges; Contraception In The Philippines

Polio Outbreak In Congo Leads To Emergency Immunization Effort

“Eighty-five deaths and 184 cases of paralysis were reported in the port city of Pointe Noire, the epicenter of the Republic of Congo’s first polio outbreak in a decade, the World Health Organization said in a statement yesterday,” Bloomberg reports. “The outbreak is the biggest this year after an epidemic in Tajikistan in Central Asia, which infected at least 458 people, frustrating efforts to eliminate the ancient crippling disease,” the news service writes (Gale, 11/9). “The government in Brazzaville, the nation’s capital, has declared an emergency and announced plans to vaccinate the entire population with oral drops three times with help from the WHO, UNICEF and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the New York Times reports. Though “[p]olio normally strikes young boys and girls equally, killing no more than 20 percent of those it paralyzes … [i]n Pointe Noire, 85 percent of the cases are in teenagers and adults, most victims are male, and the death rate is much higher,” the newspaper adds, noting how political instability in the region has complicated efforts to vaccinate the population in the past (McNeil, 11/9). 

Afghanistan Orders An Estimated 150 Aid Groups To Shut Down

“Afghanistan has ordered around 150 aid groups, including four foreign organizations, to shut down for failing to submit reports on their projects and finances, a government official said on Tuesday,” Reuters reports. Afghan law requires NGOs to “submit reports every six months to the ministry, disclosing details about their funding and activities, [Ministry of Economy spokesman] Amarkhil said.” The announcement by the Ministry of the Economy comes after “the commission shut down 172 NGOs, including 20 foreign groups” for failing to submit paperwork in May and “after a decree by Karzai in August calling for all private security firms to be disbanded, a move which spurred concern in Washington that aid work could suffer,” Reuters writes (Burch, 11/9).

Kenyan Newspaper Finds Pharmacies Inflate Prices Of Subsidized Malaria Drugs

According to a Daily Nation investigation, some pharmacies in Kenya “are making massive profits from highly subsidised malaria drugs that are meant to make the treatment more accessible to majority of Kenyans.” Some of the subsidized drugs, made available through the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria (AMFm), were found priced “anywhere between Sh50 and Sh240 instead of the recommended price of Sh40 for an adult dosage.” AMFm has been launched in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with the goal of reducing the price of effective malaria medication. The article includes quotes from drug distributors and government officials, including Willis Akhwale of the Ministry of Public Health, who said, “We shall need to liaise with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board to see how this can be stopped.” According to the article, Akhwale “intimated that there was nothing much the government could legally do since it was a willing buyer willing seller transaction” (Gathura, 11/9).

Seattle Times Examines Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Grant Program

The Seattle Times looks at the evolution of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which has provided large grants for projects aimed at “solving some of the developing world’s most vexing health problems.” According to the article, most previous grant recipients “aren’t receiving” more money. “Some disappointed scientists say the loss of funding will slow progress on research that has lifesaving potential – but needs more time to mature. … Foundation officials say the program was an experiment that’s simply running its intended course. Most grants were for five years. There was never a guarantee of more funding, although many scientists assumed promising projects would be continued,” the newspaper reports. The article includes quotes from grantees and foundation officials and looks at how “[t]he goal of the second-generation program, called Grand Challenges Explorations, is quick results” (Doughton, 11/8).

AFP Reports On Family Planning Advocates’ Efforts To Allow Contraception In The Philippines

Agence France-Presse examines current efforts aimed at addressing legal restrictions on contraception in the Philippines. “Tight controls have for years hampered efforts by health agencies to distribute artificial contraceptives in the devoutly Catholic country, even as its population has boomed to 94 million,” AFP writes. Lawmakers are currently considering a bill – introduced in July – which marks family planning advocates’ fifth attempt since 1998 to change domestic laws. Supporters of the bill “hope it will succeed this time amid a new political energy following elections in May that saw contraception advocate [President Benigno] Aquino rise to power,” the news service writes. Lawyer Josephine Imbong said of the legislation, “It suppresses fertility, which is not a disease, and it devalues spousal rights” (11/8).

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