Opinions: MDG Progress; Drug Patents; Aid For Scientific Research; Avoiding Food Crises; Hunger In India; U.S. Commitments To PEPFAR, Global Fund

MDGs Are Less About Timeline, More About Identifiable Progress

“Between the catastrophes of the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods, there was actually some good news this spring on the global health front, which offers hope that the United Nations’ ambitious Millennium Development Goals might not be at a standstill. Though a great deal remains to be done, all of us are living longer, fewer mothers are dying in childbirth, and fewer children are dying before school age,” Eli Adashi, professor of medical science at Brown University, writes in Boston Globe editorial.

Adashi reflects on factors contributing to dips in premature adult death, maternal mortality and deaths among children under age 5 between 1970 and 2010, as described in a series of articles published in May by British Medical Journal by Christopher Murray of the University of Washington. Despite such gains, he writes, “much remains to be done, especially in the vast expanses of sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and the former Soviet Union. Every year, nearly 24 million adults die prematurely, 343,000 mothers-to-be succumb to preventable causes, 3.1 million newborns fail to reach the one month mark, and 2.3 million children will be lost before they reach 5 years of age.”

“We needed the hard reset Murray has provided. And not a moment too soon, given the forthcoming U.N. summit on development goals and the target year of 2015. We needed to know that in the right context, progress was possible. And yes, we needed to reaffirm that the development goals, as currently defined, will not be universally attained by 2015,” he continues. “The stretch millennium goals may not be fully met, but their very existence prodded us along toward a place we have never been before. In other words, it is not about the timeline. It is about making progress. As long as we are, we are heading in the right direction. Sure, we should seek to get there faster. However, getting there at a more moderate pace is far better than not getting there at all” (8/30).

Going After Big Pharma Won’t Improve Africa’s Health

“The misguided battle against pharmaceutical companies’ patent rights will only make Africa’s health crisis worse,” Alec van Gelder, project director at the International Policy Network, argues in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that examines the repercussions that “trampling over intellectual property rights” could have on drug companies’ future incentives to produce new drugs.

Van Gelder details the arguments posed by global health advocates in favor of scaling back intellectual property rights as a way to drive down cost and increase access to patients in need around the world, before noting, as the “campaign about intellectual property and access to drugs continues, lower-profile diseases, such as respiratory infections and diarrhoea, remain bigger killers in the poorest countries. … If the activists were right that prices and patents are the main barriers, the treatments for these diseases, which are very cheap and off-patent, should be widely available. But anti-infectives and oral rehydration treatments remain scarce in the world’s poorest countries.” In addition, van Gelder points to how the experience with HIV/AIDS drugs “has proven that we need not tear up drug patents to achieve” treatment access.

“The real global public health problem is that for every aid dollar African governments receive for health care they divert up to $1.14 of their own resources to other areas. And aid for health care more than doubled from $8 billion in 1995 to $19 billion in 2006,” van Gelder concludes. “The WHO and international activists are diverting attention from this investment crisis with their campaign against intellectual property. The poorest will not be saved by fashionable campaigns against Big Pharma. Killing off patents will kill off innovation and patients” (8/29).

African Governments Should Be Careful About Turning Down Foreign Aid For Scientific Research

“The desire to ‘nationalise’ science – to take direct financial and management control of it – is an increasingly common refrain on the African continent,” Linda Nordling, a journalist who covers African science policy, education and research, writes in a SciDev.net opinion piece that explores the potential future outcomes from the change.

The article details the decision by the Ugandan government earlier this year to not renew a low-interest science loan from the World Bank, vowing instead to expand their own domestic science budgets, and looks at increased commitments to science and technology in Kenya and Tanzania. “African governments have been pledging to spend more on science and technology for 30 years. But poor public finances, combined with flagging political will, have stopped them turning their promises into concrete action,” Nordling writes, before noting several ways countries are looking to finance research now.

“The latest attempts to raise national science budgets in Africa have been a long time coming and should be welcomed with open arms. But if science nationalism is allowed to run rampant, it could pose a serious threat,” Nordling concludes. “If a government turns down an offer of outside funding because it wants to prove a point about self-reliance, rather than through a genuine desire to build up a strong science base, the results could be disastrous” (8/26).

U.S., International Community Must Take Immediate Action To Avoid Future Food Crises

A Foreign Policy opinion piece – written by Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta and the center’s Director of Policy for Agriculture, Trade, and Energy Jake Caldwell – looks at recent events that have resulted in “widespread food-price volatility.” After assessing the current situation, Podesta and Caldwell write, “We still have neither a strategy nor a solution to ending global hunger.”

They put forward a series of short-term and long-term recommendations to improve the situation. “In the short term, the United States must implement U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to commit $3.5 billion to food security assistance. … [T]he United States and other developed countries must renew long-neglected investments in agriculture assistance across the developing world, targeting small farmers as the fundamental drivers of economic growth,” they write, adding that the U.S. must also improve how “assistance is targeted.” Podesta and Caldwell also recommend that the U.S. “lead efforts to ensure open and well-regulated agricultural markets.”

According to the writers, “lasting gains in agricultural productivity will require something more – action to confront climate change.” They conclude: “Unless we take immediate action, we are destined to race from food crisis to food crisis for generations to come, with grim consequences for the world’s poor and our own national security” (8/26).

To Address Hunger, India Must Fix Social Problems

“The story of why hunger persists in India is long, sometimes depressing, and full of paradoxes, the central one of course being the fact that the country actually has a booming economy and robust food stocks. But really it’s a story of poor planning, social exclusion, gender inequality, and above all, a government that’s failing to translate new capital into broad prosperity for its people,” Purnima Menon, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, writes in a Foreign Policy opinion piece.

Menon expands on this idea in the piece, looking at how gender inequality, governance and related issues contribute to hunger in India. “India’s hunger problem is not necessarily fatal,” Menon writes. “If the country can take some decisive action, reaching out to women and the poor and excluded and scaling up the social safety net in effective ways, it could make radical changes in a comparatively short time. Countries such Brazil, China, and Thailand have made huge leaps in nutrition in their countries, all in a short period of time. India can hardly afford to be left behind” (8/26).

U.S. Congress Should Make Good On U.S. Commitments To PEPFAR, Global Fund

A Dallas Morning News editorial calls upon the U.S. Congress to “rebuff the president and make good on U.S. commitments” to PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Global Fund, in a piece that reflects on how President Barack Obama has scaled back commitments he vowed as a presidential candidates to these programs.

The piece outlines several reasons the U.S. commitments to global HIV/AIDS programs are important, detailing the numbers of patients that would be affected by slowing the increase in funding as well as the signal this might send to other donor countries as well as the countries in greatest need. “Some in the administration prefer shifting the focus from fighting global AIDS to battling other health problems, including those that afflict young mothers. Both are worthy goals, but why cut short AIDS funding – when AIDS remains the leading worldwide killer of women in their reproductive years?” the editorial asks. “This is not a fight on which the U.S. can relent, not with 2 million people dying from this disease each year” (8/25).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

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