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Opinions: U.S. Medical Emergency Response; Micronutrients; Rotavirus Vaccine; Antibiotic Development

U.S. H1N1 Response Highlights Need For Improvements

“[D]espite the tireless efforts of public health and health-care workers, America’s experience with H1N1 shows that the nation is not prepared to deal with a flu pandemic,” former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Republican Senator Jim Talent write in Washington Post opinion piece that examines U.S. preparedness for medical emergencies. The writers chaired the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

“We don’t know how to repeat our warning or our recommendations more plainly: In the judgment of our bipartisan commission, such an event [like a more deadly virus or a biological attack] is not only possible but likely; and it could result in the death of a few people or hundreds of thousands, depending on whether our government develops the complete chain of response, including links for surveillance, diagnosis, stockpiles of medical countermeasures and effective distribution networks,” Graham and Talent write. “The necessary investment of public funds is relatively modest. What has been in short supply is leadership. The announced review [by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] is a good first step. But will real action follow, and will it happen in time?,” Talent and Graham conclude (1/4).

Get Micronutrients Into The World’s Food Supply

In a New York Times opinion piece, columnist Nicholas Kristof focuses on the absence of micronutrients – such as folic acid, iodine and zinc – in the developing world. Calling them a “miracle substance,” Kristof writes that “there’s scarcely a form of foreign aid more cost-effective than getting them into the food supply.” In the column, he discusses the harm that can result from children and pregnant women receiving inadequate amounts of micronutrients, including Honduran babies he met with significant birth defects.

“The most cost-effective way to distribute micronutrients isn’t to hand them out. Mary Flores, a former Honduran first lady who is active in nutrition, notes that impoverished women can be hard to reach, and even if they are given folic acid pills they sometimes won’t take them for fear that they actually are birth control pills. So micronutrients instead are often added to such common foods as salt, sugar, flour or cooking oil,” Kristof writes. He concludes, “As the United States reorganizes its chaotic aid program, it might try promoting what just may be the world’s most luscious food: micronutrients” (1/2).

Opinion Piece Highlights WHO’s Push For Routine Rotavirus Vaccines

In a New York Times opinion piece with 10 ideas for the new decade, Bono, a founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, highlights the fight against rotavirus.

“[O]ne of the brightest bits of news in 2009 is that rotavirus vaccines have been shown to work not only in nations with low child mortality, but in the poorest countries, where diarrhea (not a killer in our house) caused by rotavirus infections takes the lives of 500,000 children a year,” Bono writes. “The World Health Organization just this summer issued a strong recommendation that rotavirus vaccinations be part of every nation’s immunization program. From this vantage point, I like the look of the next decade” (1/2).

Experimental Antibiotics Should Be Given Orphan Drug Status

“Without effective antibiotics, modern medical care is not possible. … As resistance to our current agents increases, society needs to invest in new ones,” Anders Ekblom, head of development at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, writes in Times opinion piece. Ekblom welcomes policymakers’ acknowledgement that “funding provisions and regulatory incentives” are necessary, but he writes that “another possible innovative solution, which has been established in law in the U.S. and the EU for more than 25 years” exists. “It is the Orphan Drug legislation, developed in the early 1980s to encourage companies to develop drugs for rare diseases,” Ekblom writes.

“Inclusion of antibiotics to combat resistant strains in the orphan drug category, with some possible changes to adapt it for antibiotics specifically, would bring two immediate benefits. First, it would provide pharmaceutical companies with the incentive to re-enter a neglected area. Second, it would speed up the process in an area where time is of the essence,” according to Ekblom. “Here is a fast, efficient and simple way to find effective drugs that could save patients around the world today and in the future” (12/31).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.