Also In Global Health News: Grants To Fight Malnutrition; Bird Flu Elimination; Nutrition Groups Angered Over Nestle Board Appointment; Funding Challenges For HIV Program In Zimbabwe

Nature News Examines How Gates Foundation Grants Aim To Fight Malnutrition

Nature News reports on nearly $20 million worth of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aim to fight malnourishment in Asia and Africa by getting “nutritionally enhanced rice and cassava to market.” According to the publication, the grants will help with the “development, testing and marketing of Golden Rice, which is fortified with vitamin A, in the Philippines and Bangladesh, and BioCassava Plus, a tuber fortified with vitamin A, iron and protein in Kenya and Nigeria.” Lawrence Kent, head of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation, said, “I’m optimistic that biofortification can help to improve people’s health and lives because we are using sustainable foods that people already grow” (Nayar, 4/14). On Wednesday, the foundation in a press release named the recipients of the “two grants to fund the development of rice and cassava with enhanced micronutrients” (4/13).

Bird Flu Elimination Unlikely Over Next Decade, FAO Report Says

There is little chance over the next decade of eliminating the H5N1 (bird flu) virus from the six countries here it continues to occur, according to a new report (.pdf) by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), CIDRAP News reports. Though the virus has been eliminated in many of the more than 60 countries that have reported cases since 2006, it “remains endemic in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and Egypt,” the report states. “The FAO says the elimination effort faces three major obstacles in these countries: the structure of the poultry industry, the quality of veterinary and animal production services, and the level of commitment by all sectors,” the news service reports. The report offers a list of lessons learned over the past five years, as well as a list of possible technical and non-technical solutions to controlling the virus. Continuing bird flu outbreaks increase the risk of a human pandemic strain developing, according to the report (Roos, 4/13).

Nutrition Groups Criticize Former UNICEF Director For Not Refusing Nestle Board Appointment

Nutrition advocacy groups are criticizing Ann Veneman, former UNICEF executive director and U.S. agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush, for not refusing a seat on the board of Nestle, because they argue the multinational food company “violates a global code on marketing of breastmilk substitute,” Reuters reports. The International Baby Food Action Network and Baby Milk Action accuse Nestle of changing “the way it markets infant formula only when forced by binding regulations or campaigns that expose its practices,” the news service writes. IBFAN, who promotes compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – a code that is followed by approximately 150 countries, endorses a boycott of Nestle products. UNICEF, which promotes breastmilk as the first choice for infants six months and younger, “distanced itself from Veneman,” with UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado saying she could not comment on Veneman’s “personal choices.” She added, “I can confirm that UNICEF does not take funding from Nestle. I can also confirm that Nestle violates the code.” Nestle shareholders are expected to vote on Veneman’s appointment on Thursday during their annual meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland (Nebehay, 4/13).

Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS Program Funding Challenges

PlusNews IRIN examines the funding challenges Zimbabwe has faced with recently implementing WHO HIV treatment guidelines, which were introduced nearly one year ago. The newer drugs recommended in the WHO guidelines “are estimated to be one-and-a-half times more expensive than” older medicines. “With HIV/AIDS funding levels already worryingly low, AIDS activists have expressed concern that if these new expensive regimens are adopted, many people may fail to access treatment in the long run,” the news service writes. Owen Mugurungi, national coordinator of the health ministry’s AIDS and TB unit, acknowledged the new drugs are expensive, but said it could result in savings over the long-term. “When you do a cost-benefit analysis adopting the new drug regimen is recommendable … our hope is that our development partners will assist us [in funding] the implementation of these new guidelines, we cannot do it alone,” he said (4/12). Zimbabwe media reported on Wednesday that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria turned down one of the country’s grant applications. “Zimbabwe still has an option to apply for money through Round 11 of the fund due in December,” the Zimbabwe Guardian reports (4/13).

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