The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published on its website a transcript of a speech about women’s health, delivered by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the World Medical Association in Geneva on Tuesday. “For too long, too many women and girls have had their lives marred by illness or disability, just because they didn’t have access to health services. When we deprive women of the care and support they need to stay healthy or get well, we’re also robbing them of hope for the future. … So under President Obama, we’re putting a new focus on women’s health — at home and abroad,” she said, according to the transcript (5/22).
Access to Health Services
“U.N. Development Goals for better drinking water have already been reached, but a closer look shows that the measures fail to truly account for the lack of access to safe water,” Scientific American reports in a feature story. “[J]ust because water is pouring out of a spigot does not mean that it is safe to drink,” the article states, adding, “In poorer areas, where infrastructure and sanitation are often much worse, even sources of water that have been ‘improved’ are frequently at risk for contamination by human and animal feces, according to recent analyses.” The magazine details a number of studies on the issue and concludes, “[W]hether there are 800 million or 1.8 billion people who lack safe water, the scourge of preventable deadly diarrheal and other waterborne diseases will continue to plague too many” (Harmon, 5/21).
U.N. SG Ban Praises Commission On Life-Saving Commodities, Says More Effort Needed To Improve Maternal, Child Mortality Rates
At the opening of the U.N. Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the commission but “said that much remains to be done to save the lives of the 800 women and more than 20,000 children who die every day from preventable causes,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/22). Devex notes that the commission “aims to increase access to lifesaving medicine and health supplies, … includ[ing] oxytocin, which helps stop bleeding among mothers after giving birth, and antibiotics such as amoxicillin, which treats pneumonia among newborns.” The commission finalized its recommendations on Tuesday, the news service notes (Ravelo, 5/23).
In a guest blog post on the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks,” Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, and Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, summarize a Capitol Hill briefing “on the research agenda for beginning to end the AIDS epidemic” that took place Wednesday. “[R]esearchers, policymakers, and advocates joined our organizations and the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus” at the briefing to discuss “the research agenda needed to bring the epidemic to a close, with special focus on” combination interventions for treatment and prevention; “progress on vaccine and cure research”; and the importance of HIV testing, they write. Collins and Warren conclude, “We need to finance the response, make strategic choices about what to bring to scale (and what not to) and stop discriminating against high-risk populations. Whether you’re a researcher, policymaker or advocate, new scientific developments are how we end the epidemic” (5/24).
Seriously Ill Children Administered Zinc In Addition To Antibiotics Respond Better, More Quickly To Treatment, Study Shows
“In a newly released clinical study, conducted in India” and published in the Lancet on Thursday, “hundreds of seriously ill infants who received zinc — an essential micronutrient for the immune system and human growth — as well as antibiotics, responded better and more quickly to treatment than those who did not,” IRIN reports, adding, “This finding is the first proof that zinc supplements may boost infant survival from infections.” According to the news service, “More than 300 infants no older than 120 days (four months), hospitalized in New Delhi, the capital, for suspected meningitis (an infection of the brain or spinal cord lining), pneumonia (a lung infection) or sepsis (blood poisoning), were given zinc in addition to antibiotics” and “were found to be 40 percent less likely to experience ‘treatment failure’ — needing a second antibiotic within one week of the first treatment, or intensive care or death within 21 days — than those given a placebo.”
UNAIDS and PEPFAR recently brought together the ministers of health and representatives of the 22 countries with the most new HIV cases among children to discuss progress on the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive agreed to at the 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on AIDS, according to a UNAIDS press release. Though “great strides have been made in reducing HIV infections among women of reproductive age and expanding access to antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women living with HIV, … progress is not being scaled up as quickly on meeting the family planning needs of women living with HIV, preventing maternal mortality and ensuring that all children living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy,” according to UNAIDS. “The meeting was the first annual face-to-face gathering of representatives from the 22 focus countries since the launch of the Global Plan,” the press release notes (5/23).
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the largest provider of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are calling for the gap between the need for and access to ART in the country to be closed, the Guardian reports. Approximately 240,000 people live with HIV in Burma, and doctors say half are in need of “urgent” ART, but national data estimates less than 30,000 were receiving ART in 2010, the newspaper writes, adding, “In a country where nearly 33 percent of people live below the poverty line, thousands of Burmese are unlikely ever to be able to afford ART, which, according to [MSF], cost $30 a month.”
Ahead of Mother’s Day on May 13, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes in this post in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, “Together we can go from 390,000 children becoming infected with HIV each year to zero,” and he highlights “three simple things we can all do to ensure babies everywhere can be born free from HIV.”
Estimated 740,000 Deaths In Africa Averted Between 2004-2008 In Association With PEPFAR, Study Shows
“The lives of more than 740,000 people in nine African countries were saved between 2004 and 2008 by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR],” according to a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on Wednesday, HealthDay News reports (3/15). “The study is the first to show a decline in all-cause mortality related to the program,” a Stanford press release notes, adding, “To measure the impact of the program, [Eran Bendavid, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford,] and his colleagues analyzed health and survival information for more than 1.5 million adults in 27 African countries, including nine countries where PEPFAR has focused its efforts” (Richter, 5/10). According to the study, “an estimated total of 740,914 all-cause adult deaths were averted between 2004 and 2008 in association with PEPFAR,” and “[i]n comparison, PEPFAR was associated with an estimated 631,338 HIV-specific deaths averted during the same period,” a JAMA press release states, noting that “all-cause adult mortality declined more in African countries in which … PEPFAR operated more intensively” (5/15).
Clinical trials are underway to test an azithromycin-based combination treatment for pregnant women, “which could tackle some of the leading preventable causes of death for babies in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who published a report on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing that “[a] large number of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with both malaria and sexually transmitted/reproductive tract infections (STIs/RTIs),” AlertNet reports (Mollins, 5/15). “The researchers looked at 171 studies from sub-Saharan Africa over a 20-year period, which showed whether women attending antenatal clinics were infected with malaria, or with a range of sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections — syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and bacterial and parasitic infections of the vagina,” IRIN writes, adding, “If left untreated, these can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and low birthweight babies” (5/16).