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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).

MSF Says Additional Resources Needed To Improve ART Access In Burma

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.”

PLoS Blog Responds To U.N.'s Newly Released Maternal Mortality Estimates

Newly released “estimates of maternal mortality from the United Nations’ Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG) are good news — but not good enough,” Peter Byass, professor of global health at Umea University in Sweden and director of the Umea Centre for Global Health Research, writes in this post in the PLoS “Speaking of Medicine” blog. He briefly discusses the pros and cons of using “estimates” for maternal mortality data, and he concludes, “There is a risk involved for every woman who gets pregnant. But the global community has the knowledge and resources to manage those risks and minimize adverse consequences. Why can’t we stop mothers dying?” (5/16).

More Research Needed Into How Transgender Persons In Asia, Pacific Affected By HIV, Stigma, Report Says

A report released Thursday in Bangkok by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) says more research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which transgender persons in Asia and the Pacific are affected by HIV, are socially ostracized, and lack fundamental rights, including access to basic health care, a UNDP press release reports. The report, released to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, is “a comprehensive review of material gathered from across the region over the past 12 years” and “emphasizes that inclusive research, designed and implemented in partnership with the transgender community, is critical to enable governments, community-based organizations and supporting organizations to enhance HIV and sexual health care services specific to the needs of transgender people, and foster action by governments to adopt more socially equitable policies and practices to protect their rights,” according to the press release (5/17).

Government-Supported 'Prize Funds' Would Help Important Drugs Have Greater Social Impact

“Every year, millions of people die from preventable and treatable diseases, especially in poor countries,” World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, writes in this BusinessDay opinion piece. “In many cases, life-saving medicines can be cheaply mass-produced, but are sold at prices that block access to those who need them,” and “many die simply because there are no cures or vaccines, because so little of the world’s valuable research talent and limited resources is devoted to addressing the diseases of the poor,” he continues, arguing, “This state of affairs represents a failure of economics and law that urgently needs to be corrected.” Stiglitz continues, “The good news is that there are now opportunities for change, most promisingly through an international effort headed by the World Health Organization that would begin to fix the broken intellectual-property regime that is holding back the development and availability of cheap drugs.”

Bill Introduced In U.S. Senate Is Latest Push To Award Prizes For New Drug Development

“As Washington prepares for a major international AIDS conference this summer, developments on the drug front are once again elevating the subject of the continuing epidemic in the public eye,” CQ HealthBeat reports. The article mentions an FDA panel’s recent recommendation for the approval of Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV among healthy people at risk of contracting the virus and a bill (S 1138) introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) aimed at reducing the cost of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). The bill, which is focused on the cost of ARVs in the U.S., would “create a $3 billion ‘prize fund,’ through which [pharmaceutical] firms that bring a new HIV or AIDS medicine to market would get awards” in exchange for relinquishing patent rights to the drug, according to CQ (Norman, 5/18).

Focusing Attention On Population, Reproductive Health Issues

“As representatives of the World Health Organization Member States arrive in Geneva this week for the 65th World Health Assembly, I feel a cautious optimism about the future, and the future health of Africa,” Joy Phumaphi, co-chair of the Aspen Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, writes in this post in the Huffington Post Blog. “With two female heads of state in Africa – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Joyce Banda in Malawi – women’s health and gender equality are no longer marginalized, they have become central to a nation’s potential for development and prosperity,” she continues, adding the two “share a vision and passionate resolve to improve the lives of women in Africa — and like me they are founding members of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health.”

WHO DG Chan Addresses World Health Assembly; HHS Secretary Sebelius Speaks At Plenary Session

“Opening the 65th annual World Health Assembly (WHA) [on Monday in Geneva], World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said she sees a bright future for health development, despite financial crises that many countries are facing, which has shrunk support for many initiatives,” CIDRAP News reports. According to the news service, “Chan said the WHO can leverage its leadership role to make the most of small and wise investments” and that “[u]niversal health coverage is the best way to maintain health gains that have been made over the past decade” (Schnirring, 5/21). Focusing on innovations that bring social benefit rather than profit, as well as research and development into new treatments, also are important, Chan noted, Devex reports (Ravelo, 5/22).

USAID Committed To Improving Lives Of Children Affected By HIV/AIDS

“Despite many gains in the fight against AIDS, children still lag far behind adults in access to important medical services, including HIV prevention, care, and treatment,” Jen Pollakusky, communications analyst at USAID’s Bureau of Global Health Office of HIV/AIDS, writes in USAID’s “IMPACTblog,” noting that Monday marked the 10th anniversary of World AIDS Orphan Day. “By partnering with national governments, communities, and other organizations, USAID is committed to improving the lives of children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS — a critical step in the path to achieving an AIDS-free generation,” she writes, adding “we need to step-up our early intervention efforts for children under five years old” and “work with families to help them become more economically stable so they can access essential services and better provide for their children” (5/7).

Option For Couples To Test Together, Access ART For Prevention Can Reduce HIV Risk

“If we don’t leverage the power of innovation to transform how health services are provided and utilized, efforts to stop new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths can reach a stalemate,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes in this opinion piece in the Huffington Post’s “Healthy Living” blog. “Many of the advances in HIV prevention and treatment have come through innovation and applying knowledge in new ways,” he continues, highlighting the protective benefits of male circumcision and the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for people living with HIV.