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Also In Global Health News: Syphilis In China; HIV Vaccine Development; Tracking Malaria Outbreaks; Ecuador’s Maternity Law

Journal Perspective Piece Discusses Rising Number Of Syphilis Cases In China

In 2008, almost 9,500 babies were born with syphilis in China, “a 12-fold increase over a five year period,” according to a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece, the “China Real Time Report” blog reports, adding that the resurgence of the disease is “a consequence of China’s rapid economic development” (Canaves, 5/6). “[F]emale sex workers and men who have sex with men disproportionately bear the burden of the Chinese syphilis epidemic, in part because unsafe sexual practices in these populations are driving the rate of infection and in part because the stigma attached to their sexual behaviors discourages them from obtaining needed care. In China, at least one third of men who have sex with men are married, and the transmission of syphilis to their wives and then children is an important consideration,” according to the perspective piece (Tucker/Chen/Peeling, 5/6). 

“Syphilis, a bacterial disease, is curable with antibiotics if treated early, but can cause paralysis, blindness and death if left untreated. Mothers can pass syphilis to unborn babies, which can lead to deformities, neurological problems, stillbirths or death in early infancy,” the BBC writes (5/6). According to the Associated Press, “social stigma remains a huge barrier for people infected with any sexually transmitted disease, making it important for tests and treatment to be moved out of doctors’ offices and into brothels, clubs and communities where high-risk groups gather” (Mason, 5/5). 

New Study Offers Clues For HIV Vaccine Development

“A computer model [described in a study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature] proposes a solution to a long-standing mystery in HIV research – why a small percentage of people infected with the virus never develop full-blown AIDS. The answer lies in how the immune cells that recognize invaders are educated, and suggests new strategies for designing an HIV vaccine,” Nature News reports (Katsnelson, 5/5). For the study, researchers examined how HLA B57 – a gene carried by many of the individuals with “a natural immunity” to HIV – “affects an immune-system organ called the thymus, leading to the stronger array of T- cells,” Bloomberg Business Week writes. “Vaccines one day might provoke the same reactions in people without natural immunity, the scientists said” (Narayan, 5/5).

Reuters AlertNet Reports On Modeling Tool Being Used In E. Africa To Help Predict Malaria Outbreaks

Reuters AlertNet describes how scientists at the Kenya Medical Research Institute together with Kenya Meteorological Department and the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology have developed “a scientific model that uses weather predictions, information about the reproductive mechanisms of mosquitoes, and data on geographical formations of particular areas to predict surges in malaria.” The piece details recent malaria outbreaks in regions of East Africa and suggests ways that modeling can help better target insecticides to reduce the development of resistant mosquitoes and improve responses by policy makers and health officials.  “So far, the model has worked effectively in tests in western areas of Kenya, including Nyanza province, Western province and the Rift Valley province, as well as in Tanzania and Uganda,” the news service writes (Esipisu, 5/5).  

IPS Examines How A Law In Ecuador Has Led To Dips In Maternal Mortality

Inter Press Service examines how Ecuador’s “Law of Free Maternity and Child Care, which is based on the principle that “[e]very woman has the right to free, high-quality health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, as well as access to sexual and reproductive health programmes” has changed conditions for women in the country. According to IPS, the law has led to “a steep decline in maternal mortality [in the country], and United Nations agencies refer to its law as a model for other Latin American countries, where deaths of women in childbirth and the postnatal period are either stationary or rising” (Ortiz, 5/4).

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