“International relief officials reported an increasingly grim aid crisis stemming from the Syria conflict on Tuesday, with two million people there not getting desperately needed help, and a sudden acceleration of refugees overwhelming the ability of neighboring countries to absorb them,” the New York Times reports. “In the province of Homs, so many doctors have fled that only three surgeons remained to serve a population of two million, the officials said,” according to the newspaper. “The World Health Organization said that a United Nations mission to Homs last week had found that more than half a million people needed aid, including health care, food and water,” it writes, adding, “The mission found that the biggest hospital in Homs had been destroyed, and that only six of the 12 public hospitals and eight of the 32 private hospitals were still functional.” The newspaper notes, “At the United Nations, the head of UNICEF and the European Union’s top relief official said that only about one-third of the three million people in Syria who needed help were getting any, and that combatants on both sides would be held responsible for respecting international law protecting civilians during war” (Cumming-Bruce/MacFarquhar, 9/11).
Access to Health Services
The Economist reports on a demonstration by about 300 people living with HIV and activists outside the headquarters of China’s Henan provincial government in Zhengzhou on August 27. “Many of the … participants were infected in government-backed blood-selling schemes in the 1990s,” the magazine writes, adding, “Tens of thousands contracted HIV this way. The government has never admitted responsibility.” According to the Economist, “As the Communist Party prepares for an imminent leadership change it is more than usually anxious to keep the AIDS scandal quiet.”
The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) “is planning to boost support for medical research, technology and innovations,” as well as “encourage collaboration and capacity building aimed at poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases,” SciDev.Net reports. The agency’s draft Medical Research Strategy for the Pacific “outlines how AusAID will support research both at the ‘preventative end and at the curative end’ to create new medical products such as diagnostics, drugs or vaccines, and to improve the clinical treatment of people in poor communities” and “says there are hardly any financial incentives for commercial investment in diseases affecting the poor, who bear the biggest burden of disease,” according to the news service. “The strategy fits within the Australian government’s overall policy of making aid more effective,” SciDev.Net states, noting an AusAID spokesperson based in Canberra said, “Practical research will help inform where and how the resources of Australia and its partners can be most effectively and efficiently deployed” (Jackson, 9/10).
“An increasing number of developing countries are introducing universal health care coverage — and creating new models to do it — according to research … by the Results for Development Institute and others, published in the Lancet as part of its universal health care coverage series,” IRIN reports. “Lessons learned from countries like Ghana, India, and Rwanda are already shaping the way countries like South Africa are beginning to pilot their own bids for universal coverage,” the news service writes. “The research, which surveyed nine developing countries in Africa and Asia (which are now part of a joint learning network on the issue) found that the new models vary considerably but have several common characteristics, including increased revenue and health budgets, larger risk pools and use of the private sector,” IRIN adds, and details some of the findings (9/11).
“Right now, in Leesburg, Va., the office of the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a so-called ‘trade agreement’ — the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’ — that could put the lives of millions of innocent civilians at risk” by potentially limiting access to life-saving medications, including antiretroviral drugs, Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy, writes in the Huffington Post Blog. “The process is secret: USTR refuses to publish a draft negotiating text, so any American who isn’t cleared by USTR to see the text can’t say for sure exactly what USTR is doing right now,” he writes, adding, “But because there was a previous leak of the chapter of the draft negotiating text that dealt with intellectual property claims, people who have followed these issues closely have some idea of what USTR has been doing on our dime.”
In a post on IntraHealth’s “Global Health Blog,” Rebecca Kohler, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development at IntraHealth, writes about an event held last week on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) that “focused on the vital role of women’s health in foreign policy.” She writes, “I was encouraged by the level of commitment to a robust global family planning program on the part of our U.S. Congresswomen and the convention delegates. But I also was inspired by the effective role the U.N. Foundation plays in informing, mobilizing, and activating Americans across the country about critical health and development challenges.” Noting that the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2012 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health “shows that the more informed the public is about global health issues, and how U.S. foreign assistance is saving lives, the more likely they are to support increased funding for health beyond this country’s borders,” Kohler concludes, “Informed and activated Americans are a driving force for change, and the DNC advocacy event was a great reminder that despite the hyper focus on domestic issues during this campaign, people can and do care about global issues” (9/10).
“Kenya has launched an investigation after researchers claimed HIV-positive women were being routinely sterilized without their consent in government hospitals,” the Guardian reports. The African Gender and Media Initiative issued a report “based on interviews with 40 women, suggest[ing] the practice was widespread and ongoing,” according to the newspaper. “The report also includes examples of coercive tactics used by medical staff to obtain consent — for instance, threatening to withhold antiretroviral medication or baby milk if the woman did not agree to the procedure,” the newspaper writes. “‘These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,’ Shariff Shahnaz, the director of public health, told the Daily Nation newspaper,” the Guardian reports (Mojtehedzadeh, 9/4).
The Coca-Cola Company and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have announced the expansion of a pilot project, called “Project Last Mile,” that uses Coca Cola’s “‘expansive global distribution system and core business expertise’ to help deliver critical medicines to remote parts of the world, beginning in rural Africa,” Pharma Times reports. “The public-private partnership was established in 2010 to help Tanzania’s government-run medicine distribution network, Medical Stores Department, build a more efficient supply chain by using Coca-Cola’s” delivery system model, the news service writes, adding, “The latest phase of the partnership, developed in cooperation with the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Accenture and Yale University, will increase the availability of critical medicines to 75 percent of Tanzania and expand the initiative to Ghana and Mozambique” (Grogan, 9/26).
“India has had a positive global impact through its supply of vast quantities of low-cost, good-quality generic medicines, which have saved or prolonged millions of lives … [b]ut there are also many factors that may hinder the continuation of the [country’s] role as chief supplier of medicines to developing countries,” Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre in Geneva, writes in an Inter Press Service opinion piece. He examines the history of generic drug production in India and says the 1995 World Trade Organization TRIPS agreement negatively affected the country’s ability to produce generic drugs. Though “India has one of the best patent laws in the world that still gives some space to its producers to make generic drugs, … it is also true that the old policy space has been eroded because many new drugs have, since 2005, been patented by multinational companies that are selling them at exorbitant prices,” Khor writes.
In the BMJ Groups blog, Amanda Glassman, director of the global health policy program at the Center for Global Development (CGD), and her colleagues at CGD examine “whether [universal health coverage (UHC)] as a post-2015 development goal is a good idea.” They write, “While we support the notion and concept of UHC, it may not be a useful banner for the global health community to rally around in pushing for a post 2015 development goal.” The authors describe four reasons for this opinion, saying, for example, that “the concept of UHC is not easily understood or defined” and “there is still limited empirical evidence connecting general health care utilization and/or financial risk protection to health impact.” They conclude, “Universal health coverage is important for all countries to pursue, but it is not yet a universally agreed analytical concept that will be useful as a post 2015 development goal” (9/25).