Also In Global Health News: Faster Technology For Creating Flu Vaccines; Ukraine’s ARV Shortages; Testing University Students For HIV In SA; Polio Eradication; Haiti Housing Plan; Women’s Shelters In Afghanistan

Researchers Find Flu Vaccine Created Using Faster Technique As Effective As Traditional Vaccine

A seasonal flu vaccine “made using quicker cell-based manufacturing methods was at least as effective at preventing flu as conventional vaccines grown in chicken eggs,” researchers reported Tuesday in the journal Lancet, Reuters reports. The clinical trial, conducted by researchers at Baxter International, involved more than 7,200 healthy adults aged 18 to 49 from 36 centers in the U.S. who received either Baxter’s flu vaccine or a placebo during the 2008-2009 flu season, according to the news service (Steenhuysen, 2/16). The study revealed Baxter’s vaccine was “more than 70 percent effective in preventing the seasonal flu” – a “rate [that] is similar to what egg-based vaccines have demonstrated in past studies, the researchers wrote,” the New York Times reports. The finding – the second trial to demonstrate “a cell-culture influenza vaccine to be as effective as conventional ones” – “clears a hurdle in the government’s effort to move toward a manufacturing process that could allow for a more reliable supply of seasonal flu shots and quicker responses to pandemics,” the newspaper writes (Pollack, 2/15). An accompanying Lancet Comment reflects on the potential for cell-based manufacturing methods for vaccine production (Glezen, 2/15). 

Growing Pressure On Ukraine To Solve Country’s ARV Shortages

The Associated Press/Washington Post reports on the impact Ukraine’s antiretroviral drug shortages are having on patients living with HIV/AIDS. “Only some 20,000 of Ukraine’s 93,000 people with AIDS or on the verge of developing it were getting treatment before the supply disruptions that began about two months ago. Now even they are having trouble accessing drugs,” according to the news service. While local groups blame government corruption for the  shortages, the government has maintained its greatest error was being “late in procuring the drugs” and has “said the supply crisis has actually been a good thing, because delays allowed the government to invite new bidders, lower costs and buy more drugs for more patients this year.” International aid agencies – who supply an estimated 40 percent of the country’s AIDS budget – are “now threaten[ing] to deprive Ukraine, where the government controls AIDS treatment, of crucial AIDS funding until supply chains are restored,” according to the news service (Danilova, 2/15).  

South Africa Launches Voluntary HIV Testing Campaign Targeting First-Year University Students

South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday launched a voluntary HIV testing campaign targeting university students during their first weeks of school, the Mail & Guardian reports. Through the program, students will receive free testing and counseling, the newspaper writes. (Vena, 2/14). “South Africa has one of the most severe HIV and AIDS epidemics in the world … We chose to reach out to students as they are our future leaders who can enable positive change in society,” Motsoaledi said during the launch held at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Medical School in Johannesburg, Sowetan reports (Monama, 2/15). The university campaign is a collaborative effort between the South African National AIDS Council, Innovative Medicines of South Africa, Education South Africa and PEPFAR, Times Live reports (McLea/Prince, 2/14).

Polio Eradication Skeptic Reverses His Position

Donald Henderson – who is known for his efforts in eradicating smallpox – recently “changed his mind” about whether polio could be eradicated, the New York Times reports. “I see as much greatly augmented the probability that we can stop wild polio virus,” Henderson told a reporter just two days after he had reached “the opposite conclusion” in an earlier interview with the same reporter. “It’s not my wont to turn on a dime like this. I don’t think I’ve done anything like this before,” he said. According to the newspaper, Henderson reversed his position after a conversation with Circo de Quadros, a former director of PAHO. “While nothing has changed about the virus or the vaccine, several things Dr. de Quadros told him were persuasive, he said, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s committment and new efforts against polio at the WHO (McNeil, 2/14). 

Haiti Resettlement Plan Does Not Include 192,154 Families

Inter Press Service reports on the Neighborhood Return and Housing Reconstruction Framework, which was recently obtained by Haiti Grassroots Watch. The framework reveals that 192,154 families “will be left out in the cold,” IPS writes. According to the framework, “[r]eturn and reconstruction will not change the tenancy status of earthquake affected households: the goal is to restore owners and renters to an equivalent status as before the earthquake, but in safer conditions.” Sanon Renel of the Housing Reflection and Action Force coalition called the plan an “official policy of apartheid.” Priscilla Phelps, senior advisor for housing and neighborhoods for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission who likely co-authored the plan, said, “With a few exceptions, the reconstruction is not going to make people homeowners who were not homeowners before.” IPS notes that “the document has never been approved by the government of Haiti. … Nor has the document ever been held up to public scrutiny or discussed at fora where local urban planners, construction firms or other stakeholders … De facto, it is the plan” (Regan, 2/14). 

Following Reports Of Corruption, Afghan Government Considers Greater Oversight Of Women’s Shelters

The New York Times reports on new regulations being considered by the government of Afghanistan that would place greater authority over the country’s women’s shelters into the hands of Afghan officials. “The shelters, nearly all of them supported by Western charities and governments, provide havens for women and girls fleeing sexual and physical abuse, and give the runaways an alternative to seeking help from the authorities, who often forcibly return them to their families – and sometimes subject them to further abuse,” the newspaper continues. The proposal follows reports of corruption and mismanagement at the shelters, according to the newspaper (Norland, 2/15). “The new regulation, which needs cabinet approval, would see victims of domestic abuse subjected to compulsory forensic examination, barred from leaving without ministry approval and registered with the police,” Reuters writes (Robinson, 2/15). Human Rights Watch “urged the government to support, rather than control, the work of shelter providers to ensure that women fleeing domestic violence are able to find safe and secure refuge,” a press release by the group notes, adding that the “proposed regulation contains some positive measures, such as setting out minimum standards of food and heating, requiring shelters to provide education and literacy services, and requiring that any police interviews with women or girls in shelters must be carried out by female officers” (2/13).

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