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Maternal Deaths Drop By Nearly Half Worldwide Over 20 Years; Greater Progress Still Needed, U.N. Reports

“The number of women dying of pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in 20 years, according to new estimates released [on Wednesday] by the United Nations, which stressed that greater progress is still needed in significantly reducing maternal deaths,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/16). “The report, ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010,’ shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 — a decline of 47 percent,” a UNFPA press release states (5/16). However, “[w]hile substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal death by 75 percent through 2015,” Inter Press Service writes (Deen, 5/16). “Countries in Eastern Asia have made [the] most progress on improving the health of expectant and new mothers, said the report,” Agence France-Presse adds (5/16).

Examining Key Findings Of Policy Innovation Memorandum On Safety Of World Drug, Vaccine Supply

In her blog, “The Garrett Update,” Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), provides a detailed overview of the key findings from the council’s Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 21, a six-point policy recommendation for the G8/20 that she authored, titled “Ensuring the Safety and Integrity of the World’s Drug, Vaccine, and Medicines Supply.” She writes, “Overall we find that very little data regarding the scale and impact of the unsafe drugs, medicines, and vaccines problem is reliable,” adding, “Caution is advised when using any commonly cited data regarding medicines safety or crime” (May 2012).

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).

Treating Prenatal Maternal Infections Could Improve Birth Outcomes, Study Suggests

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).

International Community Should Unite To Ensure Adequate Family Planning Services For Women In West Africa, Globally

“For many years, in large parts of West Africa, the percentage of women who use contraception has stalled at less than 10 percent, leading many to declare that there is very little or no demand for family planning (FP) in the region. This couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Catharine McKaig, project director of family planning at the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), the USAID Bureau for Global Health’s flagship maternal, neonatal and child health program, writes in a post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. “Among women — young and old, those who have had many children and those who have had few or none — there is a sea-change happening. These women are expressing their desire for family planning methods, and our approach towards integrating maternal and child health care services with FP is producing results,” she writes, concluding, “It is an optimal moment to unite as a community supporting women’s health worldwide to ensure adequate supply and minimal cost for family planning services to the hundreds of thousands of women in West Africa who are seeking care” (5/10).

FDA Panel Recommends Approval Of Truvada As HIV Prevention Tool

“In a move that could lead to a new milestone for treatment in the evolution of the worldwide AIDS epidemic,” a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel on Thursday recommended Gilead Sciences’ antiretroviral drug Truvada be approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV among healthy people at risk of contracting the virus, Reuters reports, noting the drug is already approved to treat HIV infection (Morgan, 5/10). “The panel voted 19-3 to approve the drug for use in gay men and 19-2, with one member abstaining, for heterosexual couples in which one person is HIV-negative,” according to the Wall Street Journal (Dooren, 5/10). “The recommendation is the first time that government advisers have advocated giving antiviral medicine to healthy people who might be exposed through sexual activity to the virus that causes AIDS,” the New York Times writes (Grady, 5/10). Though the FDA is not required to follow the panel’s advice, it usually does, and “[a] final decision is expected by June 15,” the Associated Press/Fox News reports (5/11).

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.”

This Mother’s Day, Ensure Babies Everywhere Are Born Free Of HIV

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.”

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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.