November 17 marked the second annual World Prematurity Day, sponsored by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog published two posts discussing premature birth.
Access to Health Services
The focus of the Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases: Translating the London Declaration into Action conference, which took place November 16-18 in Washington, D.C., was “how we can work together to put the right systems in place and implement the change needed” to control or eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020, Simon Bush, director of NTDs at Sightsavers, writes in the Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog. Sponsored by the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the conference brought together pharmaceutical company executives, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, academics, government officials, and representatives of the World Bank, WHO and other groups, Bush says.
According to a new report (.pdf) released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Kuala Lumpur, many tuberculosis (TB) programs “under-diagnose, under-treat or completely leave children with TB out, despite the increase in pediatric TB, and rising numbers of children who are infected with drug-resistant forms of TB strains,” PlusNews reports. The report, based on “data collected over three years from over 2,000 children with TB in 13 MSF projects across six countries,” found that diagnosis of children using the most commonly used TB test is inaccurate and pediatric TB drug formulations and treatment guidelines are inadequate, the news service notes. MSF called for the development of new TB tests that do not require sputum samples or laboratory infrastructure and “urged WHO to provide clear guidance to drug manufacturers on needed fixed-dose combinations of first-line drugs to support implementation of the new WHO-recommended dosages,” PlusNews writes (11/16).
Some pregnant women in Sierra Leone, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, must travel more than 50 miles for health care services, but a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic and ambulance service established in a remote region has helped reduce maternal mortality in the area by 61 percent, Al Jazeera reports. The aid group estimates the project only costs about two dollars per person annually, the news service states. As it recovers from years of conflict, Sierra Leone is relying on partnerships with non-governmental organizations to help provide health care services while it rebuilds its economy, according to the news service (Boateng, 11/18).
The following opinion pieces and blog posts address actions to prevent preterm birth, after the publication of a Lancet analysis that examines preterm birth in 39 developed countries. The analysis is meant to “inform a rate reduction target for” the report “Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth,” which was published in May by an international coalition including the World Health Organization, Save the Children, U.S. National Institutes of Health, March of Dimes and other groups.
Inter Press Service reports on World Toilet Day, observed on November 19, noting, “Currently, over 800 million people have no access to safe drinking water and over 2.5 billion people are living without adequate sanitation.” “While most developing nations have made limited progress in providing clean water, the targets for sanitation have remained virtually unreachable,” leaving “a lingering question in the minds of activists: how best can water and sanitation be given high priority in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda?” the news service writes. “A new goal on universal access to basic water and sanitation services as a fundamental human right, with a target date for achieving universal access to basic water and sanitation services by 2030 would be a good start,” Hannah Ellis, international campaigns manager for the London-based WaterAid, told IPS, the news service adds. Last week in a joint statement, the government of Finland, UNICEF, U.N. Women, WaterAid, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, “called for an end to water and sanitation inequalities in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda,” IPS notes (Deen, 11/15).
The Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Thursday announced it will “integrate” the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm), implemented in 2010 as a pilot program to provide low-cost artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) in poor and rural areas, “into its existing core system of providing grants to countries to purchase drugs, bed nets and other malaria-control measures,” Nature News Blog reports (Butler, 11/15). “During a transition period in 2013, the lessons learned from the operations and resourcing of Phase 1 of the AMFm, such as manufacturer negotiations and the co-payment mechanism, will be integrated into core Global Fund processes,” a Global Fund press release states.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Wednesday said an investigation by the group’s Inspector General into grants in Cambodia “uncovered credible and substantive evidence of serious financial wrongdoing, on procurement and other issues,” Agence France-Presse reports (11/15). In a statement, the organization said, “Immediate action has been taken to protect the health of people supported by Global Fund grants in Cambodia, by adopting safeguards in procurement, financing and management” and added it “is committed to maintaining its grants in Cambodia and to expanding safeguards to protect its investments.” The statement adds, “An investigation report by the Office of the Inspector General is being finalized, and is expected to be publicly released once it is completed in the coming weeks” (11/14). According to AFP, “The mismanaged money amounts to under $1 million and was allocated to Cambodian officials to spend on anti-malaria programs, said a source with knowledge of the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity” (11/15).
“In a breakthrough for the fight against meningitis in poor countries, researchers say the WHO has ruled that a key vaccine can be transported or stored for up to four days without refrigeration,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Called MenAfriVac and made by the Indian company Serum Institute, the vaccine costs less than 50 cents a dose and, according to the latest research, can be conserved without any refrigeration, even an icepack, at temperatures up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) for four days,” the news agency writes (11/15). “Epidemics of meningitis A occur every seven to 14 years in Africa’s ‘meningitis belt,’ a band of 26 countries stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia, and are particularly devastating to children and young adults,” Reuters notes.
Improving access to family planning for the 222 million women who lack such services would bring many benefits, including helping to reduce maternal mortality and improve infant survival, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin says in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, citing the recently released State of the World Population 2012 report. However, “[i]n many poor countries, contraceptives may not be available or families may lack the money to buy them,” and “social barriers and family resistance are also powerful barriers,” he says, adding, “So too is the lack of proper health or distribution systems or trained workers to give confidential advice.” He continues, “This huge unmet need comes despite the fact that there is almost universal agreement that access to family planning is a human right. By denying this right, we are putting other basic rights at risk across the world.”